Sexual harassment under-reported at Langara

Heather Helevang
Heather Helevang, a second-year business student at Langara, says she’s seen women perceived as overweight get harassed on campus. Photo: Steven Chua

Harassment targeting “plus-size” women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning students is an invisible problem in Langara College.

Langara Students’ Union liaisons say people under-report insults and intimidation towards these groups.

Gunkirat Randhawa, LSU women’s liaison for the past year, says she hears about people insulting “plus-size” women, but doesn’t receive complaints.

Incidents are seen, but not always reported

“They do see something going on, but nothing comes to me, unfortunately,” she said.

Langara students have seen it happen.

Heather Helevang, a second-year business student at Langara, saw that “guys would make comments” towards “fairly overweight” girls.

LGBTQ members targets of harassment as well

A more dramatic problem faces LGBTQ members.

People discriminate against the college’s transgender community, says Andy Sandberg, LSU queer liaison for the past year.

Sandberg says some transgender students encounter people “shouting, demanding that they leave, challenging [their] gender” in washrooms.

In the past year, five people approached Sandberg about the problem.

No clear definition of harassment contributes to lack of reported cases

Nancy Pollak, a Langara women’s studies instructor, says issues are under-reported because what constitutes harassment is hazy.

“You’re not going to find statistics on it,” said Pollak. “There’s a tremendous confusion between playful behaviour and harassment.”

Langara human rights coordinator Linda Sum said she’s received one harassment complaint this year.

She couldn’t give details due to privacy issues.

“We don’t get a lot of complaints that are processed here, which, you know is not to say there aren’t issues,” she said.

The college’s 2011 human rights office report stated two complaints were made that year.

One was based on sexual orientation, another on sexual harassment.

Langara security is there to help, but are not often called upon

On the other hand, Langara security says previous partners are the problem.

Security is usually called when women feel threatened by former partners, said Dan Krefting, Langara safety and security manager.

Krefting said that between April and June this year, 36 security investigations have been conducted.

He could not specify how many were harassment cases.

However, there are ways people are fighting back against these problems.

Sandberg is trying to de-segregate washrooms, making it harder to single out and intimidate transgender students.

New program to raise awareness through the sharing of experiences and stories

Furthermore, Mosaic — a non-profit social justice organization — is partnering with Langara to develop a theatre empowerment program.

Details aren’t finalized, but it wants women to share experiences of harassment and discrimination by making them re-enact their stories to raise awareness.

Further details will be posted on the organization’s website.

Reported by Steven Chua

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