Reaching out for help after being sexually harassed or assaulted can be an incredibly challenging and emotionally draining process. Survivors of sexual harassment and violence may require different types of support, and it can be difficult to navigate the many resources available to students, each with their respective procedures.
This guide aims to briefly outline how to report sexual assault at U of T and to highlight some of the resources that are available to survivors. Some of these resources offer a place to disclose an experience of sexual violence and find support, while others offer avenues to report these experiences. These two processes are different: while disclosure simply involves sharing one’s experience of sexual violence or harassment, whether that be to a friend, colleague, or someone working in an official capacity, reporting means discussing one’s experience in detail with a designated official with the intent of beginning a formal process at a university or legal level.
My hope is that this guide will help survivors feel empowered to pursue the course of action that is right for them.
The PEARS Project
One group that survivors can reach out to is the Prevention, Empowerment, Advocacy, Response, for Survivors (PEARS) project. PEARS is a survivor-led, trauma-informed organization that provides support for survivors of sexual violence within the University of Toronto. PEARS’ team of trained student volunteers offer one-on-one support to survivors and can walk them through what options are available on campus. They can connect survivors with psychological, financial, and legal aid as needed.
The organization also works to promote a culture of consent and advocate for evidence-based policy change within the university. You can schedule a peer support session and learn more about PEARS’ practices on its website.
The University of Toronto SVPSC
The Sexual Violence Prevention and Support Centre (SVPSC) serves U of T students, staff, and faculty. It offers a range of services, from help accessing counselling, academic accommodations, and connection, to legal, medical, and housing services.
Survivors can disclose or report sexual assault to the SVPSC, although it is important to note that disclosures only result in reports when the person making the disclosure wants them to. Responders at the Centre will keep information confidential, subject to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act and university policies.
The Centre offers opportunities to formally report experiences to a designated member of the university. If the incident involves a member of the university, reporting may lead to an internal investigation and disciplinary measures. As of August 25, 2022, U of T’s Office of Safety and High Risk oversees the reporting process on incidences of sexual violence and sexual harassment. Other measures such as residence accommodations or changes to class schedules may be taken while an investigation is in process.
Regardless of whether a survivor discloses or reports their experience to the SVPSC, the Centre is designed to help survivors access counseling, academic accommodations, and referrals to medical services. Despite this objective, some student advocates have expressed frustration over the last few years with the Centre’s long wait times, lack of communication with victims, and failure to take measures to protect survivors following incidents of sexual harassment and violence.
If you’d like to get in touch with the Centre, staff members are available for phone, email, and video conference consultations Monday to Friday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm between September and June, and 9:00 am to 4:00 pm in July and August. Its contact information is available on the Centre's website.
The Women’s College Hospital Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Care Centre is run entirely by registered nurses and provides a range of services, including crisis support, assessment and documentation of injuries, sexual assault evidence kits, testing and treatment for STIs, emergency contraceptives, and more. It’s open around the clock and accepts walk-ins through the Women’s College Hospital located at 76 Grenville Street. The Centre can also be reached by phone at 416-323-6040. More information about the Centre’s services can be found at the Women’s College Hospital website.
The Assaulted Women’s Helpline offers confidential and anonymous counseling with trained counselors over the phone to survivors of sexual harassment and violence in Ontario. It can be reached at 866-863-0511. More information about what to expect if you call can be found on the helpline’s website.
Reporting to police
Survivors of sexual assault can also choose to report to Campus Safety or the Toronto police. This may involve separate processes from making a report to the SVP SC, and reporting to either body may lead to a police investigation and criminal prosecution.
If you are in immediate danger, you can call 911. If not, you can report sexual violence or harassment by calling Toronto Police Service’s non-emergency police line at 416-808-2222. You can learn more about the Toronto Police’s procedure on the website yourchoice.to.