“For our date I wore a gown of white lace petals. Shiny and soft. I shimmered out my front door. Two hours later you tore the petals away. Clawed and ripped them, like a rabid squirrel. I stood, a stern without thorns and watched the petals fall one by one. On the ground, they shriveled and turned brown. You threw them into a trash can while I stood naked and bruised.”
This poem called “Daisies”, was written by an anonymous survivor of sexual assault, and was published in a journal called Fire With Water, produced annually by the Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill Students’ Society (SACOMSS).
SACOMSS was founded in 1991, and was the first of its kind in Canada and in North America. Ever since, the University of Alberta, the University of Victoria, York University, and others, have established similar services.
The McGill centre is funded mostly by undergraduate student fees collected from the McGill Students Society and by some private donations.
Meaghen Buckley, external co-ordinator of SACOMSS, says that because university is a time of transition and upheaval, support is necessary wherever and whenever possible.
“I feel that there is a need for sexual assault centres on university campuses, where it is functionally and financially possible to have them,” says Buckley. “Assaults do occur on campus, during Frosh week and between teachers and students.”
One Internet survey indicated that 60 per cent of Canadian college-aged males would commit sexual assault if they were certain they would not get caught.
These days, getting caught is harder with the invention of various date-rape drugs. “Three years ago we weren’t talking about the date-rape drug,” says Commander Pierre Leduc, head of the Montreal police sexual-assault squad. “But in the last year, there have been 150 complaints concerning the drug.”
Recently, a 15-year-old girl was allegedly drugged and found dazed and naked in a Taschereau Blvd. motel, with only a sheet wrapped around her. Her only memory of the event was being surrounded by four men.
A similar story was recounted by Nathalie Brault, a psychologist at Hotel Dieu’s sexual assault division, who says that one of her patients left a drink unattended just once and paid the price.
According to Brault, who sees about 250 cases each year, 15 to 20 per cent of attacks are committed with drugs like Gamma Hydroxybutyrate (GHB) or Rohypnol. These drugs cause the victim to forget what happened to them the night before.
Victims often feel shame for not being able to recount the events and blame themselves, says Dominique Raptis, a counsellor at Centre d’aide et de prevention aux assaults sexuelle (CAPAS) in Chateguay.
“The woman will often feel as if she is damaged goods,” says Noreen Gobeille, a counsellor at Concordia’s Counselling and Development services.
The goal of SACOMSS is to empower survivors and to step away from the stigma of guilt that is associated with sexual assault. “There isn’t a way to avoid it; that would be assigning blame,” Buckley asserts. “It’s never your fault, and you never asked for it, and you never deserved it.”
Although SACOMSS and other centres like the Montreal Sexual Assault centre never focus blame on the victim, the victim often blames herself. This is why as many as 40 per cent of sexual assault cases go unreported, says Leduc.
On the island of Montreal, the sexual-assault squad sees about 1,700 cases annually in which the age group of between 5 and 30 is most common.
It is not just an Island-wide problem, it is a national one as well. In the 2000 Revised Uniform Crime Reporting Survey, 27,154 sexual offenses were reported in Canada. Women made up the vast majority of the victims. And of those cases, 40 per cent of the victims were attacked by a friend or a casual acquaintance, while roughly 75 per cent of the cases were premeditated.
Attacks are a way of conquering a woman, having control over her and not always about sex, says Brault. Knowing the modus operandi (MO) of the attackers helps the police solve cases, according to Leduc.
Montreal police have established the MO of the serial rapist that recently made headlines. The Villeray rapist, who has not yet been apprehended, has been linked to five cases through his DNA, left at each crime scene.
In the two most recent ones, the rapist stalked women in their early twenties, approached them from behind and threatened them with a knife. “We have 70 tips to go on,” says Leduc, “and a few of them are really good.”
Leduc also says that the DNA was paramount in connecting the Villeray rapist in five different cases. He is optimistic that this man will be caught, because many of the perpetrators are.
A year and a half ago, a man was arrested on McGill campus after harassing women and sexually assaulting one. He disappeared after a court date was set, but police have located him since.
The Accompaniement Team, a division of SACOMSS, provides support for those who are lodging sexual harassment complaints through McGill’s grievance procedures. SACOMSS’ motto for its estimated 100 volunteers, some of them survivors, is active-listening. The goal is to strengthen victims so that they may start seeing themselves as survivors.
As another poem called “Standing Naked” in the Fire With Water journal states, “Yes I am a survivor of sexual abuse, but I cannot forget that I can also be a witness if I choose to be. Most of all I can never forget that I am also a victim and acknowledging my victimization is what makes me a survivor.”
For more information on SACOMSS call 398-2700.