Rape Culture Reflected in Canadian Universities – By Kevin Vowles

The feeling of returning to SWOVA for yet a third year of R+R delivery is a great one.  I’m honoured to be a part of the violence prevention movement, and grateful to the women whose efforts have ensured that I can do this work.  As we enter into another school year it is apparent that working with youth to talk about gender based violence is needed just as much now as it is has ever been.  Over the summer I’ve been struggling to digest media critiques about “rape culture.”  This is a tough one because sometimes people do not want to admit that we live in a rape culture.  As one student noted in one of our first R+R sessions, cultures of violence are not just here or there affecting some people, they are everywhere and affect us all.   I spoke about rape culture in a previous blog (http://www.peaceadvocacy.org/#!writing/cnec) about the Canadian television show Arctic Air, and now I’m going to write about it again, because of the twenty-year old frosh chants glorifying the rape of young women at the University of British Columbia, and Saint Mary’s University. I feel deeply disturbed that young Canadian University students arrive at university ready to expound rape culture.  YOUNG is the chant that could be heard on frosh buses and was filmed in other more open venues at the start of this school year on two campuses.

Y is for your sister

O is for oh so tight

U is for underage

N is for no consent

G is for Go to Jail

I feel nauseated that young men could arrive at university with objectionable views that objectify.  I feel deeply concerned for the more than one in three women whose lives will be turned upside down by experiencing sexualized violence—rape.  I feel charged to keep doing what we do.  I feel certain that young men and women can stand up and not be by-standers to rape culture.

As the Globe and Mail noted five days ago in an article on rape culture, the proportions are endemic:

“According to statistics commonly cited by campus sexual-assault centres, no fewer than one in five women will be the victim of rape or attempted rape by graduation. At UBC, which has about 27,000 female students, that would amount to 5,400 women – well over 1,000 per year, if distributed over four years of schooling.”

UBC says it will address the issue with education.  I applaud the response from the University that the behaviour will not be tolerated.  I’m pleased that they will address individual behaviour with action, but will they address the larger rape culture that caused this to happen (for the last twenty years apparently?).  To address the culture at play is to hit the bulls eye.  This is not the fault of young men.  Of course young men must be held accountable, but we have to recognize that this is a socially learned behaviour just like other forms of violence.  Our culture is propagating rape culture, and young men are soaking it up.  The explosion of open source free online pornography is affecting young men as early as elementary school.  Young women are objectified, and assaulted.  But the rape culture goes deeper and is in the mainstream of the Canadian television industry, as well as the American media system.  To somehow move away from this violence, which eats at the very fabric—the emotional health and well-being of both men and women—we must talk.  We must talk about how we feel and how we can change the rape culture, because it’s getting worse instead of better.  Let’s talk.

For more on the university situation this fall here in Canada, check out:

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/ubc-investigates-frosh-students-pro-rape-chant-1.1699589

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/commentary/rape-on-campus-is-it-an-epidemic/article14270413/

By Kevin Vowles, Respectful Relationships (R+R) Facilitator

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