On March 17th, 2017, the “Silence is Violence” organization at U of T launched “The Survivors Speak Back” campaign. Posters consisting of sexual violence reports and experiences accessing resources through the university were posted across campus to acclaim the mistreatment of victims.
University of Toronto contractors removed the posters the next day. The Silence is Violence Facebook page stated “[the university is] hiring contractors to remove the signs from indoor and outdoor locations on the St. George campus.”
The administration cited the “Procedure on Distribution of Publications, Posters, and Banners at the University of Toronto St. George Campus” as the reason for this decision. The procedure states that there are approved postering kiosks around campus that are cleaned off, as necessary, during the year. Property Management must also be consulted before posters are out up on specific university grounds.
The “Silence is Violence” organization responds to the institutional failures in policies for redressing harassment and sexual assault on university campuses. Acting as a platform where “survivors speak back,” the campaign is meant to emphasize communities of students impacted by sexual violence on university campus.
“Sexual violence and abuse are unique forms of assault in that those impacted are often made to feel responsible for their experience after reporting. We wanted others to see how this process happens and which actors at the University are responsible,” says Ellie Ade Kur, the founder of the chapter at U of T states.
When asked about the administration response, Kur comments, “This kind of erasure is something too many of our organizers and participants are familiar with.” Many of the posters pasted around campus state stories of how the university administration dismissed and worked against their claims. A specific poster states, “UofT paid my rapist to live at a hotel across from my residence throughout the investigation.” Another claims “UofT threatened to remove me from my PhD program for reporting my stalker. They said my presence put my students and colleagues at risk.”
Since 2015, Silence is Violence has worked with communities on campus impacted by sexual violence and abuse that the university has worked to silence, isolate, and intimidate.
“This is something we’ve come to expect from the University of Toronto, but the students, staff, and faculty who’ve seen some of these quotes and share some of these experiences are only drawn to our campaign.”
Kur also states that the administration’s response will not affect their campaign, as they plan to expand into audio, visual, and creative media.
“What this first installment of the Survivors Speak Back series has demonstrated is that highlighting experiences of sexual violence and institutional silencing is powerful. People on campus want to talk about sexual assault, it’s the administration pulling back on frank discussions on issues with frontline staff at the institutional level,” Kur states.
Silence is Violence is a campaign that runs across different Canadian universities, such as the University of Toronto, York University, McGill, and the University of British Columbia.
Silence is Violence is planning the second instalment of their campaign where they plan to release names, which are stated without context to whom.