The University of Windsor is taking action against sexual assault.

There are more and more conversations on the issue of sexual assault, in part because of the widespread allegations in Hollywood. Researchers at the university suggest it is acknowledgement of what they have known for more than 30 years.

“The reality is sex violence is still happening,” says Dr. Dusty Johnstone, the sexual misconduct response and prevention officer at the school.

Stats suggest one in four female students will experience rape or attempted rape during their time at a Canadian post-secondary institution, with the greatest risk in the first year.

Fourth-year UWindsor student Marie-Eve Dufresne says it happened to her only a few weeks ago.

“I went to a bar, and I got groped by two guys” says Dufresne.

“It’s not just rape we want to stop, it’s this entire continuation of inappropriate and damaging sexualized behavior” says Johnstone.

Dr. Johnstone works with one of the new initiatives at the University, which is the Sexual Misconduct Prevention office.

“We are doing a lot of valuable work and making great strides in terms of education and support” says Johnstone.

Johnstone does not investigate complaints. Instead, she provides confidential support and helps survivors navigate the system, should they choose to file a formal complaint.

“I can help someone with the formal internal reporting process if that's something they want” says Johnstone. “If that incident meets criminal definitions of sexual harassment, I can also help them file a complaint with police.”

Dr. Johnstone tells CTV Windsor more and more students at the University of Windsor are seeking support, not because of an increase in assaults but because more women are seeking support.

When her office first opened in the fall of 2016, Johnstone met with two students. That number has jumped to 40.

“The process of complaints is hard, whether institutionally or whether you go to police,” admits Johnstone. “But I think there is a commitment to try to do better.”

The University of Windsor is considered a national leader in the development of programs aimed at changing the culture around sexual assault and harassment on campus.

Bystander Initiative

That is why Professor Anne Forrest and her colleagues at the University have implemented the Bystander Initiative on campus, the only program of its kind at a post-secondary institution in the country.

“We are really trying to change the campus culture” says Forrest, the assistant dean of the faculty of arts, humanities and social services.

“The way we have built the program, it embeds the sex assault prevention education into the curriculum,” says Forrest. “That in itself is a first in Canada.”

Dr. Frankie Cachon is a facilitator with the Bystander Initiative. Her course encourages both men and women to act as friends, and step in safely when they see others in potential danger. It could be as simple as staying with someone, so no one is left alone.

“This course is very much about building students capability to be leaders, to be social change agents” says Cachon. “We need to change rape culture on our campuses.”

In September, the University of Windsor made training under the Bystander Initiative available to 500 first-year students. Next fall, a three-hour workshop is being offered to every first-year student. That also is a first in Canada.

But the university is also working with other Canadian universities to implement a similar program.

While the Bystander Initiative helps with prevention, research shows women are alone more than 80 per cent of the time when a sexual assault occurs.

Flip the Script

That is why the University of Windsor has developed a new program called ‘Flip the Script’, which gives women tools to protect themselves.

The 12-hour sexual assault resistance education program is the only one of its kind in Canada, the result of ten years of research at the university. It is specifically designed for first-year students at the school.

“We ask they have a handful of techniques they feel they could and would use if they experience an attempted assault” says Facilitator Caiti Casey.

The course also gives students information on danger cues, so they can learn how to assess risk in various situations, and how to respond to them.

Flip the Script emerged from more than ten years of research by Professor Charlene Senn at the University of Windsor. Senn tells CTV Windsor the course is based on theory, research evidence and best practices to help women resist sexual assault.

“It provides them with knowledge and real skills that will help them live their lives more freely and without fear” says Senn. “Every women knows best what she can and should do in any situation, but she's going to have a toolbox of strategies and will have already thought through emotional barriers and so it’s very unlikely they will hold her up.”

Through years of research, Senn claims she was able to show a huge decrease in the number of rapes and other forms of sexual assault.

“The rates of completed rape were reduced by 46 per cent and rates of attempted rape were reduced by 63 per cent,” says Senn. “Only 22 women need to receive the program for there to be one fewer rapes experienced.”

Casey says Flip the Script has come a critical strategy in addressing sexual violence on campus, empowering everyone to be a part of the solution.

“You see this energy from the women when they leave the last session” says Casey. “There is a community created, and they feel validated and empowered and knowledgeable and hopefully strong.”

“We want to empower everyone to be bystanders but shouldn't women also have tools to defend themselves,” adds Senn.

So far, 50 students have completed the Flip the Script course, but with additional funding received this year, the school hopes an additional 500 students will take the program over the next three years.

Making a Difference

University of Windsor President, Dr. Alan Wildeman, believes the efforts by many different people at the school are making a difference.

“It is touching the conscience of men and women alike and I think it can have an impact,” says Wildeman. “Five years from now, my hope is that the data proves it and I believe it will.”

Wildeman adds the work and programs of university staff can leave an important legacy.

“There are certain things that universities like to be known for, but I'm proud that our university can be known for something that is at the heart of such a critical social justice issue.”