Sexual Violence on University Campuses: A Lack of Education

 

A look at the university culture and the problems that come with it

By Sam Mathers, News Editor

A few days before the start of the academic year, Brock Turner was released from jail after completing half of a six-month sentence for the sexual assault of an unconscious woman near a fraternity party. Turner’s early release from an already light sentence was a loss felt by many. The judge cited Turner’s promising swimming career as a reason for the light sentence, and not wanting to negatively impact his life (to which the U.S. National swim team reacted by banning Turner for life, because, small victories.)

Rather than being accountable for his actions, Turner blamed the assault on the party culture at Stanford, saying in his statement: “I know I can impact and change people’s attitudes towards the culture surrounded by binge drinking and sexual promiscuity that protrudes through what people think is at the core of being a college student.”

In a letter to the judge, Turner’s father also placed the blame of the culture of partying that was “modeled by many of the upperclassmen on the swim team,” saying that Brock was trying to fit in, and in hindsight, was not “totally prepared” for the university experience.

Just two months later, a Lakehead University student reported being filmed by a cell phone under a bathroom stall door in the Chancellor Paterson Library. The following week, another student came forward with a report that they had been filmed in the library without their consent in October. In January, police detained and then released a man on campus after being called by campus security following another report of voyeurism in the library.

When Director of Human Rights and Equity Dreeni Geer spoke with The Argus about the events, she stated that not only is sexual assault “the most underreported crime ever,” it also is unique in the fact that it is the only crime that does not occur at a lower rate on university campuses, but rather is on par with the prevalence of sexual assault in cities.

One of the largest campus bars in Canada, The Outpost is an undoubtedly popular spot for Lakehead University students. But the combination of having patrons that are newly of age and poorly educated on consent in a place where sexual violence is a massive problem can be a frightening thought. This further becomes an issue with the promotion of certain events, where drinking begins at 11 am, like on St. Patrick’s and Valentine’s Day. Valentine’s Day attendees were also encouraged to bring an item that reminded them of their ex, and for two dollars, could “shred, cut or ruin the item one of many ways on stage” in a game titled “Shred Your Ex.” In November, an ABC Party, encouraged students to wear “anything but clothes.”

While linking sexual assault to the culture of partying on university campuses leads one down a slippery slope to victim blaming, it is hard to ignore the underlying sexual culture and promotion of partying on campus. The women’s bathroom at the Post has a dispenser for pregnancy tests, and condoms can be found in most vending machines around campus. While having these things readily available can be a positive way to keep students safe, when paired with uninformed ideas around consent, that safety is effectively non-existent.

The education for girls has always been there. Stay in groups. If you have to walk alone, walk in a well-lit area and have your keys out and ready – better yet, put your keys between your fingers in case someone tries to attack you. Never leave your drink. Actually, don’t take your eyes off your drink, even when it’s right in front of you or in your hand. If the recent remark by a Halifax judge that “a lack of memory does not equate to a lack of consent” doesn’t tell you enough about the blame placed on victims for consuming alcohol at all, maybe this frightening statistic will. A 2015 study found that 45% of young people in the 16-19 age category placed blame on victims of sexual assault, with 34% saying the drunkenness of a victim made them completely, partially, or a little responsible.

A member of Residence Life at Lakehead University spoke to The Argus about their efforts to educate first year students about consent and partying, saying their approach is a realistic one. During training, Res Life are told not to encourage underage drinking, but that it is likely to happen anyway. They are trained more to deal positively with students who choose to drink and take care of students they encounter, allowing the natural consequence of a hangover to be enough punishment: “They make it a very safe space. The [Residence Assistants] are very good at that. If a student walks in Bartley at two o’clock in the morning drunk and belligerent, the RAs will be able to take care of it.”

The Res Life member says they “have a lot of talk about protecting yourself as well as consent” with first year students through discussions, videos and games, “making it very explicitly clear: if you don’t want sex it’s okay, and if your partner doesn’t want sex, respect that choice.”

Members of Residence Life are also trained in dealing with reports of sexual assault, and have direct channels they have to go through: “If they tell a House President or someone on council, go to the RA and then the RA will take it the [Residence Area Coordinators] and up and up the chain… and then we’ll get [the Office of Human Rights and Equity] involved, and if the person wants to fully get the police involved, that’s another situation that gets included.”

The realistic approach and desire to create a safe space by Residence Life is a good one, but what about the majority of the student body that doesn’t live on campus? As it stands, not only is there little education on consent, there is little consequence for those who don’t respect it. A woman should be able to have a drink without having to fear that others will take advantage of her decision to consume alcohol, or fear that her decision to consume alcohol will somehow make her to blame for that person’s actions in a court of law.