Toronto’s other crime problem
For our typically unassuming city, events of recent months have rendered this sweltering summer as one of violence. And while horrific incidents like last week’s east-end shooting rampage have, for good reason, occupied Toronto headlines, less prominent is a recent spate of sexual assaults.
A string of attacks at York University occurred earlier this month. Meanwhile, three separate women in their 20s reported being sexually assaulted over the course of several weeks in the Kensington Market area*. Police have yet to identify any suspects. All in all, sexual violence in Toronto seems eerily prevalent at the moment.
York’s administration got considerable flack for what was deemed a poor handling of the issue, but less discussed is how, across town in the College/Spadina ‘hood, the city has measured up in dealing with the assaults (which haven’t been widely publicized, other than a smattering of fliers posted in the area and the odd news article). It’s worthwhile to examine how police and community leaders have responded so far, and whether more can be done.
Michelle Davis is Safety Program Director at The Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children, a non-profit that works to prevent and end violence against women and children.
She says there’s room for improvement where police notification is concerned, and that officers should be making better use of immediate methods like social media, followed by postering and community town-hall meetings—the latter of which has not yet happened in Kensington.
A delayed publicization of sexual assault—as was the major complaint against the York administration—is not uncommon, she says.
“Sometimes people don’t want to send information too quickly because they think it’s alarmist and gets people anxious,” says Davis. “I take the opposite approach: the more communication and correction information coming out from a credible source [like police or a university], the better.”
Davis stresses that getting the word out immediately to residents is key to showing that the issue is being taken seriously, encouraging other potential victims to come forward and enabling residents to take necessary precautions.
Further, she adds that sex-crime prevention can’t be taken out of the equation. “There are no quick fixes. We should be asking how the City can support sexual-assault awareness and education campaigns.”
Ilham Alam is a member of the Toronto Women’s City Alliance, which brings women’s issues to the attention of City Hall and policymakers. She’s also a counsellor at the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre.
When an area of the city is struck by sexual violence, Alam says, local social-service agencies, advocacy groups, and politicians would—in an ideal world—partner with residents and ensure the neighbourhood is made aware, through methods like posters and community town-hall meetings. Community leaders would also organize empowering evening events such as Take Back the Night to rally residents, boost morale, and reclaim their streets.
But, in reality, city leaders haven’t paid much attention to the Kensington or York University incidents.
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