|Acadia University in Wolfville, Novs Scotia, has the most reports of |
sexual assault when the data is adjusted for population.
"I find [the numbers] laughingly low," says Lee Lakeman with the Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter and a leading voice on the issue of violence against women.
"It’s just not that possible that they're that low. I can get more reports of sexual assault by walking across the street on a campus [and asking students directly]."
Over the course of six months, CBC News contacted 87 university and major colleges across Canada to request the number of sexual assaults reported on each campus to the institution between 2009 and 2013.
Over that five-year period, more sexual assaults were reported to Ryerson University in Toronto than any other university or college in Canada, according to the survey conducted by CBC News. When the data is adjusted for population, Nova Scotia’s Acadia University has the highest number of reports.
Seventy-seven schools provided a complete set of data broken down by calendar year, but 10 did not.
At Ryerson University, which is situated in downtown Toronto, 57 assaults were reported to the university between 2009 and 2013. In 2013, Ryerson had a full-time student population of almost 24,000.
"Regarding the data, unfortunately, there is little consistency in how Canadian post-secondary institutions collect and report sexual assault data," the university told CBC News in a statement. "[At Ryerson] we also collect data that includes non-community members reporting incidents that have happened within our precinct, which extends over a large area of downtown Toronto.
In light of these inconsistencies in data collection and reporting across Ontario, universities are working together to developing common definition and data. We believe it's important to have clear, consistent, comparable information to better address this very important issue."
Acadia University in Wolfville, N.S. saw 22 reports of sexual assault over five years. When adjusted for population, it has the highest rate of reporting in the country.
Stats can have dual meaning
Experts say the figures can have more than one meaning, and for that reason caution against coming to conclusions based on the raw data or the per-capita comparisons.
|The release of a video in which students at St. Mary's University in Halifax|
sing a pro-rape chant helped start a national conversation about
sexual assault on Canadian campuses
And it could mean a university has a good system for keeping track of what is reported to them.
While the data can be interpreted in different ways, experts agree that this is the first time in Canada that a snapshot like this has been available.
In fact, it could help prospective students when choosing a school.
"As a parent or a prospective student I might want to say, ‘What are you doing about sexual assault? What are you doing about prevention? What is your policy?’" says Charlene Senn, a professor at the University of Windsor who studies violence against women on university campuses.
"[A higher number of reported assaults] may well be because they have more supportive services, so I would want to know that. But if there is an absence of those services, then likely that relatively higher rate is something to be concerned about."
Sexual assault reports low overall
Overall, experts say the number of students reporting sexual assault to universities and colleges is well below national averages.
"At a certain point, we noticed there was something strange, which was that the rates of sexual assaults on the campuses were considerably lower than the rates of assaults for the surrounding cities," says Jeffrey Rosenthal, a statistics professor at the University of Toronto who analyzed the data collected by CBC News.
A recent student survey at the University of Ottawa shed some some light on the actual rates of sexual assault at a major Canadian university.
It shows as many as 44 percent of female students experienced some form of sexual violence or unwanted sexual touching while attending the university.
Yet the CBC News survey shows that over the course of five years, only 10 students reported an assault to the U of O.
|Dalhousie University, which declined to provide data for the CBC survey,|
was recently rocked by a scandal involving misogynistic comments on Facebook.
While the CBC News survey shows reports of sexual assaults to university campuses are very low, the numbers also demonstrate that reports are on the rise.
In 2013, 179 assaults were reported, a 21 per cent rise over 2012 and a 66 per cent rise over the number of sexual assaults reported in 2009.
More than 700 assaults were reported over the five-year period reviewed by CBC News.
Experts say schools ultimately need to do a better job of encouraging students to come forward to report a sexual assault, and they need to be more transparent. And they need to be far more consistent in tracking these assaults and the following-up of them.
"I think there is an ethical imperative, I think there is a political responsibility and I think in the long run it would pay off," adds Lee Lakeman.
"I think we are getting a loud message from students that they want change." Well, some of them do.