A woman’s guide to personal safety in Toronto
Urban centres are inherently risky spaces to navigate.
This risk increases exponentially for those who identify as women, especially those who are alone.
According to the 2016 census, Toronto is home to a population of more than two million people, making it the largest city in Canada and the fourth largest city in North America.
This makes for a bustling, diverse metropolis, but it also raises safety concerns for women living in the city.
It is never a woman’s fault if she is attacked or made uncomfortable, but there are ways to combat and/or avoid unwanted advances.
The following list covers some common situations that women might encounter and offers advice and resources to maximize personal safety.
The prospect of a large and deserted space such as a parking garage can be daunting.
Stay vigilant when arriving at the parking space and scan the area to see if there is anything or anyone that seems out of place.
Parking close to an elevator or another exit point is a good way to reduce the amount of time spent in a parking lot. Regardless of how close you have parked, consider creating a makeshift self-defence weapon by positioning your keys between your fingers and making a fist.
Backing into a parking space also provides a better view of the parking lot when exiting the vehicle. It also provides an easy and fast escape route when returning to the vehicle.
While the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) reaches most areas of the city, there are safety concerns to keep in mind when taking public transit.
In 2017, the TTC launched the SafeTTC App, a mobile app for both iOS and Android devices. The app offers transit users a method for reporting harassment, safety concerns or suspicious activity directly to the TTC’s Transit Control Centre.
It’s recommended that passengers use the yellow alarm onboard TTC vehicles or call 911 in the event of an emergency.
University and college campuses
Toronto is home to several large university and college campuses.
To deal with this widespread issue, universities and colleges have provided a number of safety resources for students.
At the University of Toronto Scarborough campus, the Environmental Health and Safety department works to ensure buildings, classrooms, libraries and other campus areas are safe working spaces.
Additionally, the Campus Community Police and Building Patrol are available at all hours to protect students and can be contacted through a series of Code Blue telephones on campus.
At George Brown College students can access a Public Safety and Security emergency hotline, as well as a SafeWalk program available at all campus locations.
The Community Safety Department at York University has developed a mobile app for students called the York U Safety App.
Toronto is one of Canada’s major centres of commerce with an active network of both corporate and small businesses.
As the number of women in the workforce continues to increase, so have the case numbers of harassment and sexual violence in the workplace.
According to a 2018 Statistics Canada report, 19 per cent of women reported they had experienced harassment in their workplace in the past year. This includes verbal abuse, humiliating behaviour, threats, physical violence and unwanted sexual attention or sexual harassment.
Women can protect themselves by understanding the Code of Practice to Address Workplace Harassment. This Government of Ontario guide includes information about employee rights and workplace violence.
Though it can be daunting, women are encouraged to speak up about experiences of assault or harassment in the workplace if they feel comfortable doing so. The Steps to Justice online database provides a clear step-by-step guide to taking legal action against workplace harassment cases.
One of Toronto’s main attractions is its expansive nightlife industry. The city is home to approximately 7,500 restaurants, bars and nightclubs.
The Entertainment District, concentrated around King Street West, is filled with unlimited options for a fun night out.
Unfortunately, due to the nature of industries where the use of alcohol and other substances is prevalent, the entertainment district can also become an unsafe place for women to navigate.
This is likely due to the fact that substance use is associated with higher rates of sexual assault, especially among women.
In fact, one in four sexual assault survivors who reported substance use also reported the assault occurred in a bar or a restaurant.
To protect themselves, women should stick with friends they trust and go to places where they feel comfortable.
Pay attention to the presence of security personnel, note the locations of entrances and exits, clock how well-lit washrooms are and how the staff behaves.
Stay aware in crowded spaces and make sure to never leave a drink unattended.
According to Canada’s Low-Risk Drinking Guidelines, women who don’t want to get intoxicated should have no more than three drinks on a single occasion.
Using mobile apps such as Uber and Lyft or travelling along major streets where designated cabs are readily available is an important part of securing an escape route if you are in an unsafe situation.
That women have to deal with stress, suspicion and fear when trying to experience the excitement and oppourtunities that urban centres can provide, is truly a shame.
The tips above will hopefully mitigate the anxiety of roaming the city as a woman and provide vulnerable populations with some protection and peace of mind.
Resources such as the Assaulted Women’s Helpline (#SAFE or #7233), Fem’aide (1-877-FEM-AIDE), the Gerstein Crisis Centre (416-929-5200), Ontario’s 211 helpline (#211), the Toronto Distress Centres (408-HELP) and the Toronto Police (#911) are available at all hours in the case of an emergency.