CW: Sexual harassment
With midterm exams approaching, McGill libraries will soon be open for 24 hours, meaning that more students will be out late studying. Several students have reported seeing people masturbating on campus during the past year, often at night, and have been disappointed in the precautionary efforts. The risks on McGill’s downtown campus are partly mitigated by measures for students walking home alone, such as emergency phone lines and student-run groups like Walksafe and Drivesafe. Yet, these measures can sometimes fail to provide timely or adequate responses. On Dec. 9, Kirsten Vanderlinde (U1 Arts) was walking to the McLennan-Redpath library complex when a man approached her and started masturbating.
“I got to campus at 12:30 [a.m] and I was right at the Y-intersection, and the guy had asked me where the closest metro was […], and it was dark,” Vanderlinde said. “But then I noticed that the person’s arm was moving kind of weird […], and then I followed his arm and […saw] that he was masturbating right in the middle of our campus.”
Vanderlinde claims that she informed McGill security of the incident immediately afterward and that the staff laughed at her complaint. She subsequently wrote a post on the McGill Entering Class 2017-18 Facebook group, warning students about a potential sex offender on campus.
“When I got to the library, I told the security guard and she laughed about it,” Vanderlinde said. “I can understand why you think that’s funny, but it’s your job to keep people safe. I had to call [security] the next day to find out what they did. They [said] they searched the area […], but they didn’t find him.”
Manraj Grewal (U1 Science) witnessed a similar incident the following week.
“Around 9 p.m. […], I was walking back on Sherbrooke […], and as I was approaching the Roddick Gates […], this man walks up to me, [and] he’s masturbating,” Grewal said. “[He] asked me where the nearest metro station [was….] I cussed him out but he started walking away really fast [….] I walked back to the library [and] told security.”
Grewal made a post in the same McGill group on Dec. 15, alerting students of her similar incident on campus. She had previously seen Vanderlinde’s post and said the alleged offender matched Vanderlinde’s description.
Vanderlinde and Grewal’s cases are not unique. Two other McGill students, Danielle*, U2 Science, and Jane*, U0 Arts, whose names will remain anonymous, were both victims of similar instances of sexual harassment on campus in 2018, though they identified different offenders.
“[Last March], I was in RVC and I was taking a break from studying,” Danielle said. “At some point, I look out the window […] and I [see] a guy standing […] Then I look down and start realizing [that he’s masturbating].”
Jane recalled walking to her residence at night when she allegedly saw a man masturbating by Molson Stadium. According to Jane, a similar incident occurred a few days later at the same location. Both Jane and Danielle claim to have experienced lasting trauma.
“[I] felt quite violated, […] sexual harassment is never a good feeling,” Jane said. “It’s different when it’s something that obvious […] and it’s right next to where you live, and it’s a place you have to walk [by] every day. It made me feel quite violated in a location I can’t avoid.”
Vanderlinde was frustrated with McGill security’s alleged lack of response to her disclosure. She believes that McGill security should provide extra protection during exam periods when libraries like Schulich and McLennan-Redpath are open 24 hours a day.
“I understand that our campus is downtown, and you can’t prevent everybody from coming onto campus, […] but I also feel like that is such an obvious thing that [security] could have spotted,” Vanderlinde said. “When the school does have the library open for 24 hours, they know that students are going to be around here later at night because of that, [and] they should try to keep the area around school safer during that time.”
According to McGill security services’ annual report, there were 15 reports of ‘Indecent Exposure or Peeping’ in the 2016-17 year, but the numbers decreased to nine reports in the 2017-18 year. McGill security did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
*The names of these sources have been modified to protect their anonymity.