EDITORIAL: Consent culture must be priority

“It’s important to recognize that not all abusers and rapists fit the Harvey Weinstein archetype of powerful Hollywood mogul. They are our friends, colleagues, teachers, and those we call our romantic partners.” (Photo courtesy of Pixabay)

The high numbers of male and female actors, managers, and publicists who have decided to share their stories of Harvey Weinstein’s alleged sexual assault (which has continued for more than three decades) reminds us of how pervasive rape culture is.

It’s more proof that campus policies geared toward consent culture are vital to students’ safety and should continue.

Rape culture can be described as a set of beliefs and practices that normalizes and excuses acts of sexual violence against women. This gender-based violence also extends to men, transgender and gender-nonconforming people. As noted by Sarah Prior and Brooke de Heer in their Inside Higher Ed article, Raising Strong Women in a Culture of Rape: “It is a society where violence is seen as sexy and sexuality as violence.”

This culture is even more pronounced on university campuses.

In North America, around 15 to 25 per cent of women who attend college and or university will experience some form of sexual assault in their academic career. Women aged 18 to 25 are more likely to face some sort of sexual violence.

According to the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) Sexual Assault fact sheet published in 2015, one in five women will experience sexual assault on campuses across Ontario, with many occurring within the first eight weeks of the school year.

It’s important to recognize that not all abusers and rapists fit the Harvey Weinstein archetype of powerful Hollywood mogul. They are our friends, colleagues, teachers, and those we call our romantic partners.

The normalization of sexual violence occurs within our communities and most intimate relationships. According to the CFS, more than 80 per cent of rapes that occur on college and university campuses are committed by someone known to the victim, with half of these incidents occurring on dates.

The messages we receive from media and the rest of society tell us that sexual assault is OK, and that it is normal when it is not.

Ryerson has taken steps to combat sexual violence on campus and promote a variety of workshops and policies that educate students on the myriad of ways sexual violence takes place in the student body.        

In 2015, Ryerson launched the Office of Sexual Violence Support and Education, which is responsible for creating policies that relate to sexual violence on campus. Campaigns, such as #consentcomesfirst, empower young students to confidently call out sexual abuse when they see it and hold perpetrators in institutionalized settings accountable.  

As noted in the CFS fact sheet, educating faculty, staff and students is a part of breaking down the hard shell that prevents rape survivors from breaking free from the stigma of assault. It is about creating a community where victims feel safe. A community to reassure them that they are not blamed when they decide to come forward and report incidents of sexual assault.

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