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Shelter offering support to Western students as school grapples with allegations

Written by on September 14, 2021

A gender-based violence shelter is setting up a safe space to support students on Western University’s campus in the wake of multiple sexual assault allegations in recent days.

The London, Ont., school said it received four formal complaints of sexual violence from students over the past week, and was also looking into additional allegations made on social media over the weekend. 

That came as the university confirmed that an 18-year-old student died after being assaulted near campus. 

AnnaLise Trudell, manager of education, training and research at Anova, a local shelter, said counsellors would be on campus Wednesday, Thursday and Friday night to provide drop-in support to students, who returned last week.

“Students need a safe space right now,” Trudell said. “They’ll be able to come and discuss issues in a group space and our counsellors will be there off to the side in individual private spaces to do more of that sort of clinical counselling.” 

Western’s orientation week, which wrapped over the weekend, saw a slew of allegations come to light. 

The university said it removed students from residence and was “facilitating arrest” in connection with the four official complaints, but gave no further details on those measures. Those cases don’t seem to be connected with each other, or with the allegations made on social media, it said.

London police said Monday they received two reports regarding sexual assaults on campus last week. The force also said it was investigating online allegations of sexual assaults at Western’s Medway-Sydenham Hall over the weekend, but had received no formal reports related to them.

There were also large student parties off campus that caught the ire of local politicians and police for violating the province’s social gathering laws.

Additionally, the school said 18-year-old Gabriel Neil, a student, died after being assaulted near campus. 

Police said Neil was found seriously injured in the early hours of Saturday morning and died the next day. A 21-year old, Aliyan Ahmed, has been charged with manslaughter. Western said the person charged was not a student.

Western’s student council said Neil was a first-year health science student. 

“We know this tragedy will be difficult to process given how challenging the past few days have been for our student community,” the University Students’ Council said in a statement Tuesday. 

“Please take care of yourselves and each other. We all deserve to feel safe on campus and we know our community does not right now.”

Trudell said Anova has seen a spike in calls to its sexual assault and gender-based violence crisis line in recent days, as well as a slew of private messages on social media.

She said orientation week is a dangerous time for young women at campuses across the country.

“We see an increase in calls to crisis lines in terms of sexual assault centres across the country both during and after this week, as well as requests for counselling support,” Trudell said.

According to the Student Voices on Sexual Violence, a survey of post-secondary students across the province, one in three Western students surveyed indicated they were sexually assaulted in the previous 12 months. More than 8,000 Western students responded to the survey.

“That was on the high end,” Trudell said. “But all campuses have sexual assault numbers that are uncomfortably high.”

Western said it is offering counselling to students and options to victims such as helping file a formal complaint or accessing services without doing so, Chris Alleyne, the school’s associate vice-president of Housing & Ancillary Services said in a statement.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford condemned the alleged sexual assaults.

“As the father of four young women, I am beyond disgusted to hear about the allegations of sexual assault that took place at Western University last week,” he tweeted on Tuesday. 

“All victims of sexual violence deserve justice. All students should feel safe on campus.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 14, 2021.

Liam Casey, The Canadian Press