By Alanna Rizza
About two years after the opening of Ryerson’s Office for Sexual Violence Support and Education (OSVSE), some sexual violence survivors are saying the office lacks a safe environment, and that there isn’t support or resources offered for all marginalized communities.
The OSVSE office was created at the beginning of summer 2015 after vice-provost students Heather Lane Vetere presented a report with recommendations to better address sexual violence on campus.
OSVSE offers resources, support and assistance for sexual violence survivors. It currently has one coordinator, Farrah Khan.
The Eyeopener spoke to seven sources, all of whom asked to remain anonymous for reasons of privacy. Each source has either worked with the office or accessed its services. All sources expressed similar complaints about judgemental and non-inclusive language being used, survivors being re-triggered, the office not providing support to people of all identities, as well as a lack of consultation with students.
Four of the sources who have worked with the OSVSE said they often felt spoken down to, had been questioned about their knowledge around sexual violence and felt judged for it. They all said this contributed to a non-inclusive and unsafe space for survivors to talk about their trauma. This also prevented people from having conversations surrounding sexual violence.
When The Eye reached out to Lane Vetere and Khan for comment, they sent a joint statement via email that read, “Our office will not comment on undocumented, unsubstantiated complaints.”
The statement also read that complaints about the office are encouraged to be brought to Ryerson’s Ombudsperson, human rights services or Lane Vetere, since she is Khan’s supervisor. “To maintain a safe and supportive environment for all of our community members it is important that these complaints are addressed with an honest, fair and solution-oriented approach,” the statement read.
One source said they were continuously spoken to “condescendingly,” which made them feel “little” and “dismissed.” Two other sources said language used in the office was “harmful” and “triggering.” They said when they were describing their experience of sexual violence, they were interrupted and allegedly told by Khan that the language they used to explain their trauma was incorrect.
“It felt super invalidating, because you’re going out of the way to disclose an act of violence to somebody you don’t know in a means of support,” said one of the survivors. They said this created an uncomfortable space for them to talk about their trauma. They felt stressed from feeling like they were going to be called out.
“People’s experiences are different and you should make room for that. [Khan] doesn’t provide a calm, relaxing space and that’s what a lot of survivors need,” said another source. “[OSVSE] is supposed to be a place for survivors to represent their truths in their own voices and using their own vocabulary that represents who they are.”
Six sources said the OSVSE does not provide support resources to all marginalized communities—specifically transgender survivors.
One trans survivor told The Eye that when they went to the office, Khan persisted on giving them support resources for female survivors— despite reminders that they’re not a woman. “She didn’t prioritize that I needed trans-specific resources,” the source said. “She didn’t do any research on the spot, so I know that she didn’t put in that work to look for those resources … So then I just stopped using her and her services.”
Another source said Khan publicly outed her sexual orientation. “Just the fact that I feel like I have to be anonymous to talk about this says a lot,” she said, adding that she is afraid of “burning bridges” because of Khan’s position of authority.
Khan has won awards for her work surrounding sexual violence in Canada.
“A lot of us do need her support, her help and her networks. And it’s something where she connects a lot of people to a lot of places,” the source said.
“[Khan] means well and she comes from a place of kindness with wanting to help survivors and pre- vent sexual assault and misogyny on campus,” said the source. “But at the same time I feel like she needs a lot of self-reflection.”
“At the end of every day you think about … where you went wrong or where you can do better to be more inclusive towards marginalized people.”
Some of the sources said the OSVSE’s non-inclusive space and lack of support for marginalized communities may be a result of a lack of consultation with students, since there is only one coordinator for the entire student population.
All sources said they’re glad that Ryerson has an office for survivors, but it’s important that there’s room for criticism in order to improve the services.
“We have a great service, but we can make it better—and student input is essential in that,” said a source. “And there needs to be room for dissent in our movement.”