Photo: Izabella Balcerzak

Ryerson’s office for sexual violence support and education is harming survivors

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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.”

Comments

  1. I also have experienced violence and trauma from this Farrah and am so relieved someone is finally speaking out about it. It took courage to speak up and write this. Thank you Alanna.

  2. I too and people I care about have experienced aggressive & cruel behaviour from Farrah and I’m glad there is a discussion about this given that she is in a position of power.

  3. FArah’s history of abuse is an open secret. Why didn’t Ryerson call her past agencies before bringing her onto our campus?alanna should do a follow up that digs into her past and talk to all the Muslim women that have worked with and been hurt by her. We were scared for too long. Don’t let the story die.

  4. Pleeeease keep investigating this!!!

    Ive been helped by farrah before… this article is SO true for me. Her office saying the complaints are “undocumented and unsubstantiated” is BS. Thats the same thing abusers say. come on!! What ever happned to “we believe survivors” ??????????

    i bet farrah will backlash against anyone dares share this article. she has so many big people supporting her,… she’s famous. we need articles exposing it cuz it isnt safe for us AT ALL 🙁 🙁 🙁 -also scared

  5. Please don’t let this story die!! Farrah is unsafe!!! Look at her history and talk to more students.!! I used to look up to her. I went to her for help. She is causing so much harm but is so powerful and ruthless

  6. I first met Farrah a decade ago. She’s burned many bridges and traumatized many people. She is not accountable to the communities she claims to speak for. She just attacks when she is called out! This article brings so many issues to the surface for lots of us. Until now we have had to have these conversations in private and seek support in private. Before that I thought I was the only one. She should not be doing this kind of work at this office or be around students, she is a scary person capable of great harm.

  7. Alanna! Thanks you SO much for writing this!! Seriously..I’m so relieved to know that I’m not alone. Farrah’s attitude towards me in all of the interactions I’ve had with her has been nothing short of condescending. I know this is true for many of my friends as well. Farrah is very short, very rude, and anything but welcoming. It confuses me to no end that she’s the person with whom survivors on our campus are expected to consult with. How?! Just read the comments before me.. Ryerson should’ve done a more thorough background check on her. And I hope that The Eyeopener will continue to investigate this story further (and if so, I’d be glad to share a possible breach of confidentiality story with you).

  8. Talk to her former agencies!! Ask them about alleged breaches of confidentiality and inappropriate relationships with clients. Ask why she left, before Barbara Schlieffer.

    Talk to past co-organizers and other women of colour who have worked with her and refuse to continue work with her.

    Look at all these comments above. Don’t ignore how big this it. We are not alone in our experiences!! This is a pattern. There is a bigger and much scarier story here. Lots of people are ready to talk.

  9. Everything said here is true. I will not name myself because I am too close to this situation and I work within the VAW sector in Toronto. However I can confirm that Farrah has done all of these things, and the Barbara Schlifer Clinic, her previous employer has dealt with many complaints against Farrah, but have hidden this from the community. Even members of the Outburst community were relieved when Farrah left her position. Ryerson really messed up big time with hiring her. She is not good for any survivor to come into contact with at all. Ryerson, take this very seriously, you have no idea what you have gotten yourself into.

  10. I am SO relieved this came out. Time and again, Farrah Khan has been condescending and blatantly rude to my peers and I. She does not support successful women as you would expect from someone in her position. Farrah tears you down, even when you’re sincerely trying to learn. Ryerson’s Office for Sexual Violence Support and Education should not be letting her counsel some of the most vulnerable students. I completely understand why everyone is scared to say anything… Farrah Khan and her wife have powerful friends. Please keep looking into this. PLEASE. You have a responsibility to your public to not let this story die.

  11. What’s next for us who’ve been hurt by Farrah? Will there be another article? Mainstream coverage? Will there be a community accountability process or should we all start a support group? I see so much of my own experience in the comments and article above. Will Ryerson start another office to support students who’ve been hurt by Farrah Khan? How can we talk about this without fear of retaliation?

  12. Alanna, how can we contact you anonymously and safely to share more stories?

  13. Farrah outed a friend of mine to her parents. She knew better.

    “undocumented” = look at this article and all the comments.

    “unsubstantiated” = do your research like you should have done before hiring a known abuser.

    Now she and her wife are too powerful. We can’t speak up without fear of retaliation.

    Tonnes of community groups and organizations refuse to work with her because she can be so cruel and refuses to be accountable. Why won’t you believe survivors?!

  14. This article sounds like a witch hunt. I have worked with Farrah and have witnessed her care in everything she does. She ensures the people around her are taken care of and mentors those in the sector by connecting them to opportunities. I have seen her work at Outburst in creating safe spaces for Muslim women – spaces that I only wish I grew up with. I have never seen anyone so deeply committed to supporting survivors of violence and ensuring that their voices are heard. It is deeply troubling to see her work and character be maliciously targeted.

  15. Is this a news source or a burn book?

    It is ironic that this article tries to call out Farrah for being rude, while in reality this is bullying her. Targeting one woman, rather than a service as a whole, with a few anonymous, vague quotes about her “not being very nice” is bullying tactics. The majority of these quotes speak to Farrah’s alleged tone of condescension – perhaps folks need to check their misogyny. Women in the workplace -especially women of colour – are constantly tone policed. If they speak with authority, they’re quickly labeled as a “bitch”.

    Absolutely, survivors should have their voices heard in shaping the services that are provided to them, and these should be provided in safe, inclusive spaces. However, attacking folks that do this work with unsubstantiated claims of individuals “kind feeling afraid to get called out” is not the way to achieve that.

    I urge The Eyeopener to take this down.

    1. I think you missed the part about students being outed and trans students experiencing transphobia during counselling – do you understand what that means? That is much more than ‘not being nice’ or being tone policed. That is a violation of human rights.

  16. I want to support Farrah and her work. When I hear her on the radio, I agree with what she says. I support her strong stance against islamaphobia and against VAW.

    that support has made it hard to speak out. I believe in the things that Farrah says publicly, but behind closed doors, she is a serial abuser. by aligning herself with important social movements and abusing people within them, she’s made it so hard for people to speak out against her.

    I want my friends and I to heal From the trauma and pain farrah has inflicted on us. But, for us to do that, she has to break her silence and respond to this and other community feedback. Until she does, she shouldn’t be in this position, working with vulnerable people. She has to grow or go away. I want her to grow.

  17. I have worked with Farrah and know her to be a skilled and thoughtful social worker. She has one of the toughest jobs out there and balances the needs and demands of multiple people with little support. Where are the voices of the many people she has positively supported and worked with??

  18. I’m very surprised to read this article. Farrah supported me through a violent relationship and was gentle, caring, and professional. I’ve referred many friends to her based on my experiences of support and kindness from her, and they all felt heard and validated. It is unfortunate that people have had negative experiences or conflict with her. I hope this doesn’t turn into a smear campaign though.

  19. I can understand why those who have not had these types of negative encounters with Khan (yet) are keen to defend her. There is a lot invested in her as a symbol and spokesperson, and to have that all come crashing down would be, let’s admit, embarrassing for a lot of people.

    If your defense of Khan is based on a professional relationship (which so far seems to be mainly the case), I would ask you to refrain from commenting. I would also ask you to listen to what survivors are saying here and take it seriously.

    Khan’s defenders have pointed only to the article and not the subsequent comments. They ignore that MULTIPLE complaints have been shared, ALL echoing the same things, and so establishing that there is a harmful pattern of behaviour here. Yet, those who have complained have already been accused of everything from misogyny to being “overly sensitive.” Let’s just pause on the irony of this – on top of the fact that an office meant to support survivors has responded to their complaints by replicating the techniques used to silence and discredit them.

    Please recognize that you represent EXACTLY why these survivors have been afraid to come forward for so long: Khan is shielded from critique by a powerful apparatus of defense against which these survivors have nothing but their own voices. I fully support them and their completely reasonable request for accountability.

  20. To Farrah’s friends/supporters who’ve made the more recent comments: no one is saying she’s a monster, but you need to believe that people are genuinely frightened and traumatized. The fact that some people have had better experiences with her does not cancel this out. No, this is not slander and it’s not a witch hunt. It’s not about tone policing a WOC. This is not just about disagreeing with someone, or about finding someone ‘difficult’. Many of us have forced ourselves into silence for years for fear of backlash. Listen to us and try to learn more about what it’s been like for us, don’t dismiss us just because we don’t fit your narrative or experience of her. It’s always hard for friends/supporters of a particular individual to wrap their heads around the idea that someone they think is awesome is capable of harming others — but you are the ones we need to listen to us most.

  21. All anyone wants is accountability and many survivors and VAW workers have been asking for this from FK for years and years through many community relationships and organizations she has worked for. How can the same person who claims to believe survivors describe complaints against her as “unsubstantiated”? None of us are interested in smearing her but until she directly and non-violently addresses the many people who’ve addressed her, the media is the only safe space we have.

  22. When a man is exposed for abuse and sexual violence, what does it mean when his friends step up and say they are surprised and talk about all the good work he’s done? Just questioning the two comments above. no doubt Farrah has good relationships with SOME people – colleagues and clients – but that doesn’t undermine the very real stories of survivors described here, which include transphobia and silencing. Don’t dismiss that or undermine it.

  23. This is shocking to me. I have worked with Farrah on various projects and I know her to be a passionate advocate, a skilled educator, a caring social worker, and a creative change-maker. I have experienced her as a dedicated advocate for survivors who brings an intersectional lens to everything she does. Yes, she’s fierce and brave and smart and political and not afraid to use her voice. Isn’t that exactly what we would want to see from an advocate for survivors?

  24. I am very surprised at the allegations in this article against Farrah and her office, and more so of the personal attacks specifically directed at Farrah herself. I have dealt with Farrah through programs she ran while at the Schlifer clinic. She was always caring and encouraging of the youth, many oh whom were young, queer Muslim youth who looked to the services she organized as a safe space. If student survivors who sought services at the Ryerson office have true grievances with the interactions of the office (and not personal vendettas targeted at Farrah’s professional and personal life), I suggest they follow the official routes of complaints. Having interacted with Farrah in various capacities, I see her true passion of listening, helping and advocating for survivors of all identities on a daily basis.

  25. Ryerson University as an employer as a legal obligation to ensure that their staff are following the Ontario Human Rights Code. The fact that she is outing students – students are in no position to hold a Ryerson staff accountable in a complaints based system. Especially if students identify as Queer or Trans.

    Ryerson also has a responsibility to check references. The facts: she was fired from METRAC, Central Toronto Youth Services, Schlifer Clinic & Malvern Family Resource Centre is common knowledge in Toronto. Shame on you Ryerson for failing vulnerable students. As a former client whose confidentiality was broken, I wish Ryerson had done their job.
    To the rest of the survivors – you are brave for speaking out. Thank you. No one is all powerful. Social workers must be held accountable. Look at Jian Ghomeshi.

  26. I have worked with Farrah for some time now and I can truly say she devotes all her work to ensure the needs of survivors are met to the best of her ability. She is committed to the survivors she works with in a way that is not often seen in the field of social work. Farrah not only provides a safer space for survivors but she empowers these individuals to seek the support they deserve. The work Farrah does it not easy and she deals with heavy and intense case loads with very little support. But despite this challenge, she manages to remain faithful to the needs of the amazing people she works with. Working in the VAW sector is difficult but Farrah’s contributions to this field are creating positive progressive change for anyone impacted by sexual violence. We need more people like Farrah!

  27. I’m not quite sure why people are so surprised over this. It’s a well known fact in the VAW community that Farrah has been abusing, manipulating and harming survivors for a very long time. She has also breached confidentially so many times as well as lacks serious boundaries between herself and the women she works with. She’s rude, condescending and uses her white privilege when it suits her. Yes, Farrah is half white. Must be nice to switch back and forth between cultural identities as you see fit? And use your white privilege to degrade other women of colour who you feel are a threat to you.

    Honestly if Farrah is a Registred Social Worker and was reported to the Ontario College of Social Work for the things she has done to survivors, she would have the Social Work licence suspended. Farrah actually has outside relationships with her clients. Which is beyond disturbing.

    But you see, you would only know this if you worked with her at the Barbara Schlifer Clinic for many years. Lynn Jenkins and Amanda Dale hid her abuse. They are basically her enablers and allow her to do the most ridiculous, unethical things imaginable. If only people really knew what happened while she was at the Barbara Schlifer Clinic and why she lost her counselling position there, and was moved onto an outreach position.

    Also it would be important to know that Hawa, the woman who was hired to take over her position as the new coordinator for Outburst had to quite her position because Farrah demanded to still control the work and force the new coordinator to abide by her “rules”.

    Seriously Ryerson, you have no sense at all. The Barbara Schlifer Clinic is an absolute disaster. Take it from an employee. You will begin to see all the harm she will cause…just give it time. This woman is not a safe person for survivors. And I should know, because I am one, and she disturbs me greatly.

  28. Farrah tried to out me and encourage muslim youth born and raised in the community to leave home and become precarious. Encourages them to leave with no help//thought about how precarious their lives will become. I do not understand how people’s lived experiences could ever be deduced into a “smear campaign” also something I find extremely troubling is the fact that she surrounds herself with people younger than her achieving a form of celebrity and as a result is very unaccountable. No one finds it questionable that her closest friends are all in undergrad, usually under 25 and she is 37?

  29. Why is it that when people who work selflessly and tirelessly to bring awareness and positive change in society are so quickly targeted and blamed? Farrah is the one of the most selfless individuals I know, having supported me through various challenging moments in my life. Despite her plate being full, she never shies away from providing support to those who need it. She works so hard to make space for survivor’s voices to be heard. This article is hurtful and undermines all the work that Farrah and others do in the sector.

  30. I have witnessed Farrah’s care and attentiveness in her work. She takes the time to check-in and is very thoughtful in everything that she does. I have directed many people to her, knowing they will be heard and supported. This article is baffling and makes me wonder if you have even met Farrah.

  31. Some questions:

    Is it possible that someone who has been helpful to many people has been harmful to some others? Yes.

    Is it scary to think that someone with a media presence advocating for survivors has harmed some survivors? Yes.

    Does doing good work in one area cancel out the harm you did to someone else, make it go away? No.

    Should people live in fear of personal or professional retaliation for speaking up? No.

    Should we shame or blame people who speak up? No.

    Should one person be seen as so big and important to the movement that others are afraid to speak? No.

    Are we as a community healthy enough to address this in an honest way? This is up to us.

  32. Reading the comments from some
    service providers in this thread are making me sick to my stomach. How dare you minimize the voices of people sharing their concerns and experiences?

    As someone who works in the sector, my personal and professional opinions of Farrah are irrelevant when this many people are coming forward in the only vehicle they feel safe doing so in. This article created an avenue for people to talk … now here’s to hoping something happens with their voices and lived realities. Perhaps you need a reminder: believe survivors – you can’t pick and choose.

  33. Farrah Khan had multiple relationships with youth, while working as a youth worker at METRAC. The fact that she is still allowed to practice as a social worker is baffling. She must be reported to her professional ethics body.

  34. Unfortunately, the inappropriate, manipulative, and often abusive behaviour that Farrah Khan has inflicted on community members and survivors over the last 10-15 years has gone without recourse for far too long. Survivor and community spaces alike have to constantly contend with power-hungry predators from all walks of life and it is never easy, though usually quite destructive. There are always a few who until they themselves have been burned by it will come to the defense of people like her. But sadly this happens all the time and it destroys communities and the people who do actually work tirelessly and selflessly. Unfortunately Farrah Khan is not an innocent victim, has likely hurt/hindered the movement more than she’s helped it or its people, and i always sincerely hope that people recover from their experiences with her and other like her.

  35. Sadly, the allegations in the comments above are true. People have been silenced for so long and this article is the first opportunity to see ourselves and our experiences reflected. I hope the eye opener doesn’t let this story die but I also hope that Ryerson does a full investigation and doesn’t allow Farrah to work with vulnerable people until or unless she is cleared.

    She’s been fired from so many places for inappropriate behavior. She has had relationships with clients, some of them young. She has outed youth, and cut them off from community when they don’t do as she wants. She has harassed and degraded other organizers and advocates to the point of inflicting trauma and driving people to stop doing important VAW work.

    This is not movement building. This is celebrity activism. This is not feminism. This is misogyny. This is not anti-violence. This is vioence.

    People have asked her to engage in community accountability processes. She has refused or avoided these processes. Now she has powerful people on her side. She’s in with the Wynne government and her wife is a city councilwoman. She can be charming when she wants to be and now so many of us hurt by her feel we have no option. Our only space to talk about what’s happened to us is the comment page of a student newspaper. The people defending her should think about that and the cycles of abuse. They should think of why they are so invested in defending a violent perpetrator and discrediting survivors – calling us misogynistic and racist – when some of us are queer women and trans people of colour, like myself, who are sharing our stories here.

  36. this is probably going to be mildly incoherent rant because it’s so late but…. i just want to say that everyone who has commented on this article is extremely brave. i believe you. i am survivor of abuse but also a social worker. I am young social worker and new to the field, but i also volunteer on support lines and countless calls are spent supporting survivors who have been or are currently being harmed by their therapists/social workers. this is not normal and not okay. we know the legacy of harm that plagues our mental health systems and specifically social work’s legacy…farrah doesn’t need to be protected from herself, she needs to be held accountable. she’s being given an opportunity, so graciously by these brave students to do so and her office is simply replicating the dynamics of harm/gaslighting that exist in every institution she claims to be working against. yes we all fuck up, make mistakes, but this is not about simply fucking up and making a mistake that she has attempted to heal/repair…this is clearly a deep-seated, and long history of harm/abuse. We as social workers/therapists/advocates etc. have a lifelong responsibility to recognize our capacity to harm and our capacity to replicate abuse dynamics and to tell ourselves everyday that we do not know more than the people we work with, they are experts in their own lives and that we must listen and be self-reflexive…and EXIT this work and get help if we are HARMING people.

  37. What are the next steps for Ryerson and the Eye Opener? Farrah has benefited from her silence but this is not what accountability looks like, this is not what social justice looks like, this is not what anti-violence looks like.

    For us on campus who have to keep seeing this abuser, to have her continue speaking for her publicly and acting like our voices and exoeriences don’t matter – this hurts.

    Farrah’s continuation in this role is a slap in the face for all of us who’ve experienced violence at her hands. Her silence is violence.

  38. I just want to thank you for this comment Social worker/survivor. With people choosing right now to step up with accolades…. it’s invalidating to us who speak up or see how ourselves reflected in these stories.

  39. Have people seen this new “spotlight” article? It seems to be written in response to this article, without saying so. Why is this spotlight being written now? Its like it is telling the people who commented on this article to “KEEP QUIET”. The Director of Human Rights services at Ryerson is in the spotlight article as a supporter… so who are people supposed to go to complain? This is sad….instead of investigating so people can feel heard they just do this! Its not fair or right

    http://www.ryerson.ca/ryerson-works/articles/spotlight/2017/farrah-khan/?utm_source=campaigner&utm_campaign=2017_may_ryersonworks&utm_content=afcomms_ryersonworks&cmp=1&utm_medium=email

    1. WHAT THE F&$@? That SPOTLIGHT is the school telling us that they DO NOT believe survivors!

      PLEASE tell me that the Eye Opener is going to keep reporting!! OR let’s take it to a bigger news outlet! Maybe after the UNFOUNDED series, a larger paper will want to report on the MISHANDLING of survivor stories. There seems like a LOT to write about here.

  40. Farrah outed me in front of my parents.

    I am reading the comments above and am angry and sad and my heart goes out to the other survivors bin the article and the comments.

    The people who put out the spotlight are hurting us. They’ve made it clear they don’t care about queer young people. They don’t care about survivors.

    I am shaking I am so upset. I want a full investigation. I want Farrah to stop doing this work. Other people do it with compassion and don’t violate confidentiality.

  41. As a past Barbra Schlifer Clinic employee, I can attest to the fact that she was NEVER fired from the Clinic. She decided to leave her position at the Clinic to go to a new opportunity at Ryerson. The person who posted that comment is spreading false rumours, and it is extremely disappointing to see her character targeted like this.

  42. Wow, I stumbled up on this article by accident, because I was researching, thinking I would go there for help. I never knew Farah was such a predator. Thisis really scary… I dont know what to do now

  43. It’s been over a year since this article has been published. What steps has Ryerson taken to ensure the safety of its students in the light of this predator? Now that #metoo is shedding light on serial abusers, will it finally be time for Farrah to be held accountable for her trail of destruction?

  44. It’s been nearly 2 years. Did anything ever come of this article?

  45. Nope. Like most abusers she knows the loopholes in the complaints system and keeps abusing her power. Everyone is to scared to go on the record with media. But all it takes is one to break the silence!

    1. The stories are from the most marginalized, so they ‘matter the least’ to most media outlets… but their are so many survivors and targets of FK’s harm and violence that the truth cannot be kept in the shadows for much longer. It’s long overdue.

  46. Looks like nothing, no accountability or consequence have come of this article + all those who have come forward, and Ryerson has protected their own at the cost of the safety of survivors. Typical of the school.

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