What’s Past Is Prologue

The Lennoxville & District Women’s Centre asked me to write a piece for it’s series, “16 Days of Action to end Violence against Women”. It was published in today’s Sherbrooke Record:

What’s Past Is Prologue

The recent news of a series of sexual assaults on school campuses in Lennoxville are alarming but not surprising. College campuses are a haven for sexually deviant behavior and have been for at least the last half-century.  I’ll offer a summary of  events from 1978 as a cautionary tale.

Trouble in Lennoxville started as early as January 1978, a Champlain student journalist reported three separate incidents of sexual and verbal assaults on women.  Near Bishop’s College School a young female student was forced to jump from a moving vehicle.  Another student was attacked on Belevedre, dragged to the ground and beaten on the head with a board.  The Lennoxville police failed to take the situation seriously. The police chief argued that in five years there had only been one reported incident of sexual assault. The student journalist did some quick research and discovered that at least eight rapes had occurred in Lennoxville in the course of the previous year.

By February 1978 there were more reports of girls being attacked and molested. The students complained to officials both at Champlain College and Bishops’s University. They also made reports with the police. The girls were scared to walk home at night. Many classes didn’t end until after dark. Lights that were supposed to illuminate the campus had burnt out. Students were scared and anxious. The police and the schools did nothing. The Bishop’s University nurse commented that the situation had, “all been blown out of proportion.” The police chief was soon fired, but his replacement faired no better, soon commenting that “everyone was making a mountain out of a molehill.”

The reporting soon died down, but no one knows whether this was due to a cessation of the assaults (unlikely) or of women simply giving up and failing to report (more probable).  Data from victimization surveys have repeatedly indicated that 67 per cent of violent victimizations go unreported, the so-called, dark figures of victimology (Perreault, 2015). I would suggest that in a campus environment those numbers are much higher.  It would be a serious miscalculation to assume the offenders simply stopped assaulting women.

With the return of students in the Fall of 1978 the problems resurfaced.  By the end of September three incidents of indecent exposure were reported, this time at the local high schools.  In early October a man harassed a female student in an empty  hallway on the Bishop’s campus. Also in late October, a girl was walking to the campus at night when she was confronted by a naked man standing by a tree. Again police tried to brush off the incidents.  Again the student reporter complained that the campus lighting that had been broken the previous winter still had not been fixed. The campus was neither safe nor secure, and women were being forced to walk about late at night in the dark.

Flashers, peepers, prowlers, sex pests… anyone suggesting that this is just “men being men”, abhorrent but ultimately relatively harmless actions of male misogyny does not understand human behavior. Too often it is gateway behavior to something much worse.  My family would eventually pay the ultimate price for institutional inaction when my sister, Theresa Allore, a Champlain student, disappeared on the night of Friday, November 3rd, 1978 and was found five months later semi-naked, in a ditch, the victim of a sexual murder.

Echoes from 1978 resonate today. Thirty-nine years later and Bishop’s / Champlain still hasn’t addressed the problem of inadequate campus lighting.  Students must face a ten-minute walk in the dark between the campus and their residences. In fact, in the wake of the recent assaults, students are now banned from undertaking that walk, and must suffer the inconvenience of a twenty-minute journey around the campus.  My full compliments to the students who refuse to give up on this matter (see the 2016 CBC story, Unlit Campus path increases chances of sexual violence, Lennoxville students say).  Also my compliments to the students for denouncing the schools and the police for their  “…total silence, hypocrisy and indifference”.

The police and schools are not giving away much in terms of the exact nature of the assaults, again leaving residents in the dark. No doubt they would argue that they are trying to maintain the integrity of the investigation. In my experience such justifications are falsehoods. It is more likely they are trying to protect themselves, maintaining the integrity of powerful police and scholastic institutions, at the expense of a vulnerable public.  

Stay vigilant.

John Allore

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