A Safer Community

What comes to mind when you think of university life? Exposure to challenging new ideas? Subsistence on ramen noodles? Making lasting friendships? Wild parties? All-night cramming sessions?

There’s something about bouncing between stress and elation, deprivation and excess that makes university life such a memorable experience.

But there’s one very disturbing aspect of university life that’s got to go: the staggering rate of sexual assaults experienced by students. 1 in 4 students will experience sexual assault over the course of their post-secondary career and over 80% of these survivors are women.

The sad reality is that the circumstances of university life create a culture that is not conducive to consensual sex. Too many new students have had little or no education on sex and consent, many are away from their home support networks for the first time, and to top it off, popular media constantly exhorts young people to prove themselves sexually.

At the Centre for Gender Advocacy, we think another reality is possible. That’s why we campaigned to get Concordia to open a Sexual Assault Resource Centre that is helping to bring this alternative vision of a consensual campus to life. The Centre opened its doors in November 2013. This is an important step toward creating a safer and more inclusive university.

There’s still a lot to do though including tackling rape culture on campus and getting the university to implement consent workshops for all students living in residence, all frosh participants, and as many other students as possible!

Creating a culture of consent at Concordia is essential to having equal access to education. We can’t learn and develop to our full potential in an unsafe environment.

Want to volunteer? Whether you want to learn how to give consent workshops, design popular education materials, or work with the university to make a safer campus, we’d love to have you join the campaign. To get involved, email programming[at]genderadvocacy.org.

N.B. The Sexual Assault Resource Centre is located in H 645.00 of the Hall Building on the Sir George Williams Campus. To contact the coordinator Jennifer Drummond, or to find out more about the Sexual Assault Resource Centre, telephone 514-848-2424, ext. 3353 or email jennifer.drummond@concordia.ca.

Rape Culture: What is it and how do we fight back?

Rape culture is the way in which society normalizes, minimizes and even condones sexual assault. We are surrounded by images, language and other everyday phenomena that validate and perpetuate sexual assault.

What do you mean? Everyone knows that rape is wrong!… Don’t they?

Well, not really.

We tend to have a very narrow understanding of what constitutes rape (penetrative sexual assault) and sexual assault (which includes rape and other non-consensual acts of a sexual nature including touching, kissing, etc.).

While it’s true that people generally acknowledge that raping a stranger is wrong, we also receive countless messages every day that tell us that it’s okay to expect someone we know to have sex with us under certain circumstances — whether they consent or not.

For example, many believe that if you’ve bought someone dinner, if someone flirted with you, or if you’re in a relationship with someone, you’re entitled to have sex with them. Similarly, some say if you “dress like a slut” or have sex with many people, you’re “asking for it”.

The truth is that the only way to ask for sex is to… well, directly ask someone to have sex with you! And the only thing that ever gives anyone the right to engage sexually with another person is if they give us their consent. When we make statements that support the idea that it’s ok to have sex with someone without their consent, we normalize sexual assault and perpetuate rape culture.

Consent sounds complicated!

It isn’t! While consent is a word often associated with legal jargon, getting someone’s consent to have sex is much more straightforward. Here are some examples of how you can ask for someone’s consent:

  •      Do you want to __________ (cuddle, make out, have sex. etc.)?
  •      What would you like to do?
  •      Do you like this?

Remember that it’s the responsibility of the person who is initiating a sexual activity to ask for consent, and that “no” has to be an acceptable answer in order for there to be any possibility of a real yes. In other words, if a person says yes because they feel pressured, threatened or coerced into having sex, it’s not real consent. Keep in mind that physical force or the threat of physical force isn’t necessary to coerce someone into doing something they don’t want to do.

Consent must be freely given, and should be enthusiastic! Less than enthusiastic consent might be a sign that someone is feeling pressured to give in. Asking someone what they want to do lets your sexual partners know that you care about their pleasure… and that’s hot!

Here are some other things to keep in mind:

  • A yes to one thing is not a yes to everything. Are you moving from one kind of activity to another? Check in to see if it’s ok!
  • If someone says yes and changes their mind later, you have to stop. Consent has to be continuous.
  • Consent has to be mutual.
  • A no (or no equivalent like “I’m tired”, “I’m not sure”, “not tonight”, etc.) isn’t just an obstacle on the way to yes. If someone withholds their consent, respect the answer and don’t try to wear down their defenses.
  • The absence of a no or the absence of struggle is not the same as a yes.
  • A person who is very inebriated, passed out, or asleep can’t consent. Not sure how inebriated is too inebriated? Err on the side of caution!
  • What is the power dynamic? If you have any kind of authority over another person, that person might not feel like they can say no. This applies to situations in which you are someone’s manager, teacher, frosh leader, etc.
  • Rejection hurts, but your feelings are your responsibility. Accept that when you ask, someone might say no, and that’s ok. If you asked, got turned down, and respected the other person’s non-consent, know that that you did the right thing even if the rejection stings.

What can we do to fight Rape Culture?

Now that you understand that sexual assault is any sexual act without consent, you’ll spot examples of rape culture all around you. To help fight rape culture, all you have to do is call it out! Staying silent helps reinforce victim-blaming and rape culture.

  • Heard someone engage in victim-blaming? You can say something like: “We should stop telling people to not get raped, and instead tell people not to rape.”
  • Did someone make a rape joke? Even a simple remark like “Rape isn’t funny.” lets people know that it’s not socially acceptable to minimize sexual assault. When people make or laugh at rape jokes, they’re not only hurtful to survivors, they’re also letting any perpetrators know that they’re on their side!
  • So many advertisements, songs, and films perpetuate rape normalizing and victim-blaming ideas. Anytime you hear or see an example, you’ve got a perfect opportunity to start a conversation with the people around you about why these ideas are wrong and hurtful. You could say something like: “This is such a catchy song. Too bad it perpetuates the idea that you can know what someone wants without asking them” or “that it perpetuates ideas of controlling the actions of others with the use of substances and peer pressure.”

Changing rape culture is about changing social norms. When people feel that they will be criticized for making victim-blaming statements, they’ll be less likely to say those things; and the less victim-blaming and rape-normalizing we hear, the less people will believe and perpetuate those ideas!