Hot Topics | Sexual Harassment on Campus by Sonya JF Barnett

January 20, 2015
This week we’re kicking off our first in an ongoing ‘Hot Topics’ series. We’re going to bring you topical discussions from our expert speakers on issues taking prominence in the news cycle. sjfb_SonyaThe public conversation around sexual assault and gender-based violence on campus elevated in the latter part of 2014. Several news-making events highlighted the importance of colleges & universities taking proactive steps to address misogyny and rape culture on campus. Efforts such as the recent Sexual Assault Round-table organized jointly by Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario, highlights the ramped-up effort in preventing and addressing the issue. Today’s guest blog comes from Sex Educator, Award-Winning Filmmaker and Co-Founder of SlutWalkTO Sonya JF Barnett.NSB-Divider You can’t open a news feed these days without coming across something about sexual harassment or assault; someone accused of it, someone coming forward, some institution failing at dealing with it. From Elliot Rodger’s murderous rampage through Isla Vista, to Jian Ghomeshi showing his superiors videos of his behaviour, to Dalhousie University students posting comments on chloroforming and ‘hate fucking’ fellow students, we have built a culture where it’s considered ok to attack women. Some will counter that all these actions received their due consequence: Rodger dead, Ghomeshi fired & brought up on charges, the students removed from their classrooms. These consequences aren’t enough. Far from it. Rodger was 22 and felt entitled to women. His vengeful tantrum left people dead and more injured. He was considered a crazed, lone gunman. This happened 25 years after another ‘crazed, lone gunman’ murdered 14 women in a Montreal university. What has changed in terms of trying to stop these massacres? Nothing. Instead we get comments from our Minister of Justice who said of Montreal, “we don’t know why he did it”. Yes, we do. He said so. As did Rodger. These were university-aged men who had been socialized to think they were entitled to do as they please to women, from bedding them to killing them. As men get older, their entitlement grows, with popularity making it worse. A culture of celebrity around men like Ghomeshi and Bill Cosby make them virtually infallible. The gaul of Ghomeshi to present his bosses video of his assault on women – saying it’s what consensual domination looks like – is entitlement to the nth degree. The same of Cosby. It apparently takes the amount of women reaching double digits before attention is paid to them, and even then, it’s still a battle played out in media of who’s the truthful one. The Dalhousie scandal is only the latest in a long line of schools dealing with assault complaints. As of this writing, they are suspended from clinic practice, but are permitted to continue their studies separate from their classmates. This isn’t justice. This is yet another university cowing to male students, arranging new teaching schedules around them {a situation rife with its own problems}. Schools are more concerned of the outcry from the male students being punished {oh, how their lives will be ruined if expelled} than the one from female students being assaulted. When a student from Columbia came forward about her sexual assault, she received dead air. So she hauled her mattress around campus in protest. She was then told to pay for a damaged mattress. This is our culture. A recent study on campus sexual assault shows that a disturbingly large percentage of respondents would “rape a woman” if they could get away with it. Many of those same respondents believe that “forcing a woman into sexual intercourse” isn’t rape. How did we get here? We built this culture. The president and CEO of Council of Ontario Universities, Bonnie M. Patterson, recently issued a statement in response to our Premiere’s words on sexual violence and harassment in our communities. Patterson mentions “task forces”, “raising awareness”, “enhancing prevention”. Task forces and awareness/prevention campaigns are often created to deal with problems after they have occurred. They usually manifest in poster campaigns stating ‘not being that guy’ or ‘don’t leave your drink unattended’. These campaigns are placed among the hallways of schools, something to catch in your periphery on the way to learning. We need our institutions to stop being reactive and start being proactive. This doesn’t start with university administrations creating task forces. It starts with proper sex education in primary schools. Sex education isn’t just about biology, or how to avoid getting a disease. Robust sex education is about how to relate to others of the same or different sex, how to understand your own feelings and desires, how to respect others when you want to share an experience, how to communicate, how to know the difference between sex and rape. Ontario primary and secondary schools are using a curriculum that is 17 years old, created before the explosion of social media, sexting, and revenge porn. Though we had a revised curriculum in 2010, it was shelved because some parents were appalled their children were going to learn about proper anatomical terminology, masturbation, and non-binary sexual orientations. It is no surprise that millennials feel entitled to do with other bodies as they please, since they were never taught sexual respect in the first place. That we have grade 8 students calling on our Premier to include consent in a revised health curriculum is a signal that change needs to start sooner than after grade 12. Mandatory sexual and emotional health education should be a societal priority if we want to see a reduction in sexual assault, sexually transmitted infection, unwanted pregnancy, and abortion. Patterson focusing on prevention education in her universities is proving to be too little, too late. As much as we want our children to learn reading and writing, we should be equally adamant about teaching them about how to treat themselves and their peers, at the same time they’re figuring out 2+2=4. NSB-Divider For more information on Sonya and how she can help raise the conversation for your campus or organization, visit her NSB Speaker Profile. Be sure to check out our other Hot Topic speaker guest blogs looking at sexual harassment on campus, including: Educator and co-founder of the White Ribbon Campaign, Michael Kaufman.