Unsafe walk

U of W staff, students respond to on-campus sexual assault

A University of Winnipeg representative says members of the public looking to take advantage of the institution’s hospitality aren’t welcome on campus. 

This comes following a sexual assault that occurred on the UW campus on Dec. 3, 2014. The incident took place around 11:45 a.m. on the 3rd floor escalators in Centennial Hall. 

The victim, a 23-year-old student, immediately reported the assault to campus security and has since been offered crisis counselling and long-term support. 

Joshua James Wapash, a 22-year-old resident of Libau, Man. was arrested Dec. 15 in connection to the incident. 

Wapash has been charged with sexual assault and failure to comply with a probation order. He was detained in custody, though his Facebook page continues to accept friend requests.

Kathryn Merks, employee of the U of W Students’ Association Info Booth, feels campus security is a strong deterrent against this type of incident.

“It’s hard to go a day without seeing someone walking around in a uniform, so I feel pretty safe. But if I’m here late and it’s dark outside and there’s less people on campus, then it’s noticeable that it’s a little more uncomfortable,” she says.

Jazmin Papadopolulos, a fifth-year U of W student still feels safe on campus, but notes that unwanted attention is commonplace.

“My life is already negotiated by feeling a little bit unsafe all of the time,” Papadopolulos says. “It’s a reality of being female bodied and visibly queer. I get sexual harassment on a regular basis.”

Precautions against sexual assaults have been stepped up in the last year by U of W officials. However, Rorie McLeod Arnould, president of the UWSA, says another problem students face is the fear of coming forward.

“We know these assaults take place all the time and a disproportionate number of them are not reported to any authorities,” McLeod Arnould says.

Jeremy Read, senior executive officer and advisor to the U of W’s president agrees, adding that his personal reaction to the incident was that of concern and sympathy for the victim.

“We all have a responsibility in promoting a culture of safety,” Read says. “One that allows victims to feel safe coming forward and not have to fear negative consequences as a result.”

A University spokeswoman confirmed Wapash is not a U of W student. It’s common for non-students and faculty to use the U of W’s downtown campus as a short-cut, or to warm up on cold winter days. Despite the public accessibility of the institution Read insists that such incidents are not taken lightly.

“We want to be open because there are things that the public can get from this place,” Read says. “We want people from the community to feel safe here. Obviously, Mr. Wapash was here for other purposes.

“If there are others who might see an opportunity to take advantage of the hospitality of the University, we want them to know they’re not welcome here.”

Published in Volume 69, Number 17 of The Uniter (January 21, 2015)

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