Student Alleges the University of Toronto Mishandled Her Sexual Assault Complaint
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Student Alleges the University of Toronto Mishandled Her Sexual Assault Complaint

Human rights complaint claims negligence and mismanagement of her case by staff.

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Tamsyn Riddle alleges negligence in the handling of her sexual assault case. Photo by Jack O. Denton

Two years to the day after her sexual assault, Tamsyn Riddle announced the next step in her fight against the institutional mishandling of her case—the filing of a human rights application against the University of Toronto and Trinity College, where she is a student.

On April 5, Riddle, 20, facing three microphones, video cameras, and dozens of curious faces at a press conference in the common room of Trinity College, was flanked by three fellow survivors and activists, and one big banner: Silence is Violence U of T. 

Riddle described her assault during the spring 2015 “quad party,” an annual, official, outside party that serves alcohol. After having her beer confiscated by security because she was underage, she took up a friendly acquaintance on his invitation to come back to his room and drink vodka.

“I’ve often thought about the decisions I made that night,” she said. “But the reality is, I could have never predicted how thoughtlessly, how easily he would sexually assault me, just as how I could never have predicted how systematically my university and my college would disappoint and re-traumatize me.”

Riddle alleges negligence and mismanagement of her case by staff at the University of Toronto and Trinity College (one of the seven colleges at the university, to which every undergraduate student in the faculty of arts and sciences belongs).

She describes how Adam Hogan, the assistant dean of students-residence life at Trinity College, urged her not to report her assault to to the police because she would be “disappointed” by the results. 

Hogan refused to speak with Torontoist. 

Riddle says that the dean of arts at Trinity College, Michael Ratcliffe, urged her not to go to the press, citing threats of violence made against feminists at the university on a blog. “He said that if we went to the press, something like that may happen and he would hate to see that, so it would be better for everyone involved if we didn’t,” Riddle said.

Ratcliffe did not respond to Torontoist’s request for comment.

All efforts to reach out to staff at Trinity were later deferred to Althea Blackburn-Evans, the director of media relations at the university.

Finally, seven months after the 2015 quad party, interim measures were placed on her assailant, including a ban from the dining hall and participation in certain clubs. Riddle said that she often saw him in the college’s dining hall, and he appeared in promotional videos for clubs he wasn’t allowed to be involved in.

“I dutifully emailed administrators every time he broke a rule, and I told myself that it was normal that they didn’t even respond,” Riddle said. “I gave them every chance to respond to my disclosure and they still did the bare minimum.”

After nine months of seeing her rapist break the rules, Riddle says that she was told by Trinity’s dean of students, Kristen Moore, that the university and its lawyers had settled with her rapist and his lawyers. She says the settlement was supposedly a series of measures that didn’t differ substantially from the ones he had already been breaking—unfortunately, Riddle was barred from finding out the details of the conclusions from her own rape case due to legal confidentiality issues.

Moore declined to comment to Torontoist, deferring her comments to Blackburn-Evans.

“That’s why yesterday,” Riddle announced to the students, reporters, and videographers, that “I filed a human rights application against the University of Toronto and Trinity College.”

Riddle says that she has been working with Emily Shepard, a lawyer from the Human Rights Legal Support Centre, since early 2017 on this application. 

The press conference itself was hosted by Silence is Violence U of T, “an anti-sexual violence collective at the University of Toronto run specifically by and for survivors of sexual assault,” according to Ellie Ade Kur, a PhD student at the university and the founder of its Silence is Violence chapter.

“We believe the University of Toronto has a vested interest in withholding and minimizing the formal reports of sexual violence,” Ade Kur told the audience. “This is something that would impact not only donations and prospective students coming in, but also the reputation of the University of Toronto.”

The university has been mostly mum on Riddle’s human rights complaint. Blackburn-Evans said that the university “can’t discuss individual cases—and in this particular case the university’s response will be made through the Ontario human rights tribunal.”

Despite an inability to go into detail, Blackburn-Evans stressed that the university has “been working closely with our community to get to where we are today with the new streamlined policy and process … we continue to be open to more feedback on how we support people who’ve experienced sexual violence.”

Other speakers at the press conference included Jassie Justice and Mira El Hussein, organizers with Silence is Violence.

Justice told of how she had been raped multiple times during her six years of undergraduate studies at the university. “Once by a U of T student who was my partner, once by a U of T student that was a friend, on a date, at a concert, and after work by a person by a person who was stalking me. I never thought anything could be done to help, not until recently,” she said.

“How do you get better from rape when rape culture is built into U of T?” Justice implored. “Where do you get the money? How do you take time off? Who helps? Who cares?”

El Hussein made it clear to the attendees that this was about survivors speaking out and fighting back, and that it was just the beginning. “Today marks the start of us dismantling the system in which the administration works against us, consists of risk, and makes us feel critically unsafe at this institution,” she said. “They’ve made their priorities loud and clear, so today we’re showing them some of ours.”