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Sexual Assault on Canadian Campuses: Let’s Start a Conversation

“Safe Campus”

“No Means No”

“A Drunk Yes Isn’t a Sober Yes”

“Always Get Consent”

Any of these sound familiar? These slogans are one of the ways universities are communicating sexual assault and consent to their students. Sexual violence and sexual assault are two big issues happening on campus, but also something not many students are educated in, so let’s start a conversation.

Difference Between Sexual Violence and Sexual Assault

Sexal assault and sexual violence are usually used interchangeably, however, they do have different meanings.

The United States Department of Justice defines sexual assault as “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient. Falling under the definition of sexual assault are sexual activities such as forced sexual intercourse, forcible sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling, and attempted rape.”

The CDC defines sexual violence “as a sexual act committed against someone without that person’s freely given consent. Sexual violence is divided into the following types: Completed or attempted forced penetration of a victim. Completed or attempted alcohol/drug-facilitated penetration of a victim.”  

“My University is Safer Than Yours!”

Actually, this is not something you can statistically prove. Canadian universities don’t have to legally provide statistics or even keep track of sexual assaults that happen on their campuses.  Looking specifically at Western, you can search “sexual assaults at Western” and find several articles from outside sources who have reported sexual assaults involving Western students but nothing from Western themselves, but neither will any other university.  

The Globe and Mail did a study and universities said the reason they don’t go through a formal process isn’t because it is long and could potentially affect the school’s reputation, but rather because they believe not doing a formal process helps the victim.  If this is the case, then how are predators being punished? How are students able to feel safe at their school? How is this helping to stop the issue?

However, we do need to understand the other side of how making assaults public would be damaging.  When someone is accused of sexually assaulting or harassing someone, they hire lawyers who defend every part of the case, and we end up with a situation like the Brock Turner case.   

But if someone has the courage to come forward and say “something bad has happened to me,” it should lead to a formal investigation, just as most crimes would. Yes, the accuser will most likely defend him or herself, as any human would, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t face a punishment every time.  Schools need to start somewhere and if that means taking the chance that the accuser will defend themselves, then so be it. Predators need to know there will be consequences and the only way for this to happen is through a formal process.

What Is Being Done to Help Students?

This year Ontario passed Bill 132 “Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act (Supporting Survivors and Challenging Sexual Violence and Harassment)” which requires all postsecondary institutions in Ontario to develop policies on sexual harassment.  

However, the issue comes back to how many incidents go unreported. According to the Globe and Mail, 90% of victims will not report the incident. Perhaps victims don’t feel the need to report their encounter because they know the chances are slim that their predator will be punished, or they aren’t sure they were sexually assaulted, which leads to the bigger issue of the lack of education on the topic.

Universities do have resources available on their websites, however, it is only something you can find if you are looking for it. I believe education seminars and awareness should be mandatory for all incoming students.  For example at Western, during O-Week, there is a presentation offered to the first year students called “Can I Kiss You.” Being a Soph I have been to the presentation three times and I believe it is a great way to get the conversation started, however, there is one problem: the presentation is optional and placed a poor time during the day. This is a serious issue which needs to be communicated to the incoming students in hopes of making a change.  

Western came out with a video last fall regarding consent and I can say it is easily one of my favourite videos on the internet. It communicates consent in an effective and easily understandable way.

The conversation around sexual violence and assault is slowly but surely being discussed in universities, however it is not happening quick enough. Bill 132 is hopefully just the beginning of universities changing their practices. Changes need to be made; students have the right to feel safe on their own campuses.

Western’s Available Resources

October 17- October 23 is Sexual Awareness Week at Western and they are offering resources and seminars students can attend (the list is available here).  

Websites

http://safecampus.uwo.ca/sexual_violence/archive.html

http://www.sdc.uwo.ca/psych/sexual_violence.html

http://www.uwo.ca/health/mental_wellbeing/resources.html

http://safecampus.uwo.ca/sexual_violence/

Fourth year English student at Western University who's just trying to find her way in this crazy world
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