Johanne Marelic aims to put people at ease when they come to see her at her new job. “Our door is always open and if we don’t have the answers or there is nothing that we can do, we will help with the process with whatever the answer is,” Marelic said. Photo credit: Rebekah Houter

From her time spent in the computer science program at Algonquin College, to her time working as a 911 dispatcher, Johanne Marelic has spent her working career learning where her passion lives: helping people deal with tough issues.

After a 34-year career with the Ottawa police department as an officer and a detective, Marelic has been hired as the sexual assault investigator with Algonquin College’s security services. She plans to use her experience to help students who report sexual assaults get the help they need.

The college’s corporate policy SA16, the Sexual Assault/Sexual Violence Policy, states that everyone should have the right to work, learn and socialize without the fear of sexual harassment or assault, and has put measures in place to help.

Marelic’s job is one of those measures. In 2018 the position was created with security services following the #MeToo movement.

Her role is also to help people who have questions or are unsure about something that might have happened to them.

“Our door is always open and if we don’t have the answers or there is nothing that we can do, we will help with the process with whatever the answer is,” Marelic said.

As Marelic is the person survivors talk with about all sexual-assault related incidents, her goal is to support people who come forward.

“We can’t predict the future but at the same time we can certainly help make the survivor feel comfortable and safe the best we can,” Marelic said.

“It’s an open door, if they want to stay anonymous, they can stay anonymous, there’s no pressure.”

Marelic says she wants to make it clear to those looking to disclose sexual assaults or harassment there are options, and there are people at the security services ready and willing to help.

Investigator Hannah Brown is one of them.

She started as a guard with security services and wears plain clothes to put people at ease when she interviews.

Brown says security on campus works 24/7 including overnights, holidays and weekends. There is a full-time dispatcher working and the policy is your phone calls will never go unanswered.

Other safety measures around campus include emergency buttons scattered throughout the campus which are connected to security services and will always be answered by a dispatcher.

Algonquin’s Mobile Safety App has an anonymous reporting or an online form for people to fill out, or you can call, or simply walk into the office to fill out a report for any type of incident.

The app can also be used to call or text security services and receive emergency notifications.

Safe walks are another way security will help. If asked, security will walk you anywhere on campus, from your car in the back parking lot, or from your residence to your classroom.

“Campus is a spot where you should feel safe as a student. And if you don’t, we try to do our utmost best to make you feel safe,” Brown said. “We want to make students feel safe because they pay to be here, and they have the right to be here.”

Eunji Jo, a first-year animation student, says while she thinks it is sad that the position of sexual assault investigator is needed, she’s glad the college is taking steps to help.

“I feel pretty safe walking around campus,” Jo said. “But at night, like last drinking day on St. Paddy’s Day with the drunk people, I didn’t feel as safe. Going downtown is worse, there are more high and drunk people there.”

Data from Stats Canada from 1996 to 2021 shows sexual assault is the only violent crime remaining on the rise or unchanged, with 2021 having the highest number of assaults reported.

In the security offices, there are private rooms for one-on-one talks with a member of security services like Marelic or Brown.

They try to make people feel as comfortable as they can when coming to make a report, such as letting the survivor bring a comfort buddy with them, like a friend, teacher, or co-worker with them.

The investigators then follow up to solve the issue at hand or help the survivor by walking them through the steps to report it to Ottawa Police.

Project Lighthouse is also a good resource for those wishing to learn more about sexual health and safety.

If students have concerns to discuss or wish to talk with Marelic, even for advice or concerns about off-campus incidents, she can be found at the security office in A-building at the end of the hall in room A149. Or students can call security services at 613-727-4723 ext. 5010 or report online at any time.

“My goal here is to have an open door and to make sure that it’s open for anybody that wants to come forth. And whether it’s to discuss about options, discuss about what’s happened, I’m here,” Marelic said.

“There is no right or wrong. What’s wrong is what happened, but from this day forth they’re in control they make the decision with what happens.”