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Université Sainte-Anne

Former Sainte-Anne student says the school ignored calls for change over sexual assault on campus

By Joe Thomson Sep 12, 2023 | 12:26 PM

Warning: The following story contains references to allegations of sexual abuse and sexual assault and may be difficult for survivors and those impacted by these claims.

A former Sainte-Anne student says several of her friends were sexually assaulted at the school but that her pleas for action from administration fell on deaf ears.

Joanna Clark was a student at Université Sainte-Anne from 2013 to 2019. She says she arrived on campus excited to deepen her French language skills while working towards her degree in education. Her first couple years were normal enough, but soon Clark says she realized that Sainte-Anne had a problem with sexual violence on campus.

She began to hear stories of people being followed home alone at night, and male students forcing their way into women’s dorm rooms. She says many of the instances went unreported because people were afraid to speak with administrators.

Eventually, Clark joined the student council and learned about a student who was working as a security guard for the university, who had allegedly raped 17 women. The website SA Change Now, which includes testimonies from students about their experience with sexual violence on campus, details the story of the security guard.

“He would go on his rounds alone each night when there was a big party on campus and follow drunk girls home from the bar or just make his way into the rooms and rape them. He even left a distinctive mark on his victims. The university was made aware several times by several people, including some of the victims,” reads the testimony.

Clark was one of the people who brought the matter towards administration. She asked for the school to make what she thought was a simple change that would improve the safety of women on campus. She wanted them to relocate the security office from the residence building to the campus bar. That way there would be more cameras and witnesses around, making it harder for the security guard to be alone with women.

“Basically, the answer was, ‘we’re not going to do anything.’ So, I mean, for myself, I can understand why a lot of people wouldn’t have gone forward either,” said Clark.

The RCMP have been investigating dozens of sexual assault allegations at the university and suggest there could be up to 50 victims. Rachelle LeBlanc, a representative from Sainte Anne’s, says they have been cooperating with the police and that five instances of sexual assault have been reported to the university since 2015, all of which have been investigated, acted upon, and treated with seriousness and respect.

Clark disagrees.

“I have two experiences going forward and asking for help, or you know, just kind of signaling that something’s going on, and they didn’t really care to do anything,” said Clark.

Clark is glad that the RCMP is looking into the accusations but says that given the nature of how survivors are treated, it makes it difficult to get the full picture of what really happened. According to Justice Canada statistics, less than 10 percent of sexual assaults are reported to the authorities.

The RCMP are encouraging anyone with information about sexual violence at Saint-Anne to contact them. They say survivors can speak with police and share their experiences before deciding whether to proceed with the investigation and court processes.

Meanwhile LeBlanc says that the school is fully supporting the RCMP’s investigation and encourages any victims or anyone who has knowledge of sexual assault while at the university to report the incident.

“These allegations are very concerning and something we take very seriously. Preventing and combating sexual violence in all its forms is an absolute priority for our university. We have been working diligently to update our sexual violence policy, improve lighting on campus, review the counsellor position, and we continue to offer information sessions, programs and training regarding consent and the prevention of sexual violence,” said LeBlanc.

As for Clark, she says that given what she knows now, she does not think she would have made the decision to attend the school back in 2013.

“Knowing how people have suffered and had little to no support, I would’ve likely gone somewhere else,” said Clark.