Liz Shewchuk and Britney Truman
The following article primarily draws from the research of Dr. Antonia Abbey of Wayne State University.
Sexual assault is extremely prevalent on university and college campuses.
Over 50 per cent of women on university and college campuses have experienced some form of sexual assault. That means that one out of two women you interact with on campus may have endured sexual coercion or unwanted sexual advances.
Women are the victims of 95 per cent of adolescent and adult sexual assaults, and despite the troubling number of men that are victims of sexual assault, the perpetrators are also more commonly men than women.
Women in their first year of post-secondary education have higher rates of being victims of sexual assault: a rate of 31 per cent compared to 24 per cent of female students in their fourth year. In a national study, 25 per cent of college men admitted to committing some sort of sexual assault since the age of 14. However, these rates may be much higher due to men’s ambiguous perceptions of consent. Over half of college students’ sexual assaults on campus involve alcohol consumption of either the victim or perpetrator, or both.
Due to the common occurrence of sexual violence on campus, many myths have been identified around the issue. It is important to understand the realities around these myths to help eliminate the violence.
Myth #1: Alcohol causes sexual assault
The reality is that alcohol and sexual assault often go hand in hand, but that does not mean alcohol is the causal factor of sexual assault. Perpetrators may drink before assaulting their victim as an excuse for their actions. Other variables, such as personality, impulsivity, gender norms, and aggression may also influence the behaviours of assailants.
Myth #2: Women are responsible for their own sexual assault
The reality is that all assaulters are legally and morally responsible for their actions, even if they were drunk or felt “led on.” Although drinking may increase the risk of sexual assault, particularly on campuses, it does not make women responsible for being victimized. Intoxicated women are not to blame for being assaulted. However, when both men and women are drunk, women are blamed more often for the sexual assault.
Myth: Men are naturally always interested in sex, while women who are interested in sex are just ‘promiscuous’
Reality: these gender roles and labels are based on societal norms about dating and sexual behaviour. This misconception encourages men to view women’s refusals as a challenge, rather than lack of consent. Women should be allowed to express their sexuality and men should accept that “no” really does mean “no.” It does not mean “maybe” or “later” or “another time.”
Myth: Forced sex may be acceptable if partners have been dating for a long time
Reality: Pressuring your partner or forcing them to have sex with you is still rape.
Myth: Women who go out to bars, dress a certain way, and/or drink are sexually promiscuous
Reality: Alcohol consumption is not a sexual signal and how a woman dresses does not reflect her desire to sleep with you!
Know more about campus sexual violence
Keeping certain protective measures in mind can help students avoid situations where sexual violence may occur.
Some of these protective measures include being aware of your surroundings, always having your cell phone with you, and trusting your intuition.
Campus sexual assault prevention strategies and the elimination of risk factors begin with educational programs targeting women. Let women know that they have the right to refuse sex with anyone at any time. However, women need to know that the meaning of the word “no” may not be taken lightly at their university.
Additionally, all students and staff should be educated on where to go on campus to report assaults, how to report, and how perpetrators will be penalized for their actions.
In hopes of lowering the number of male perpetrators, “educational programs for men need to teach them to take subtle signs of disinterest seriously,” according to Abbey. Anything other than the word “yes” should be enough to stop any sort of sexual advances.
There should also be programs in place that teach students skills for discussing sex before they become intimate with new partners. Men may benefit from learning to communicate about sex appropriately when they are drinking, and learn how to spot when active consent is given. Ideally, prevention programs educating about active consent should be offered at middle school – before most dating and relationships begin to develop.
The University of Manitoba currently has many resources that students can access to help prevent campus violence from occurring or reoccurring.
Campus security is available 24 hours a day, and offers a variety of services and programs to keep students safe. The Student Counselling and Career Centre on the fourth floor of University Centre has trained counsellors that students can speak to regarding campus violence that they may be encountering. The U of M also has the Peers: Students Helping Students Program if students want someone to talk to informally. Women at the U of M may also want to turn to the Womyn’s Centre for support if they are victims of sexual violence on campus or off.
The best way to eliminate campus sexual violence is to educate students and staff about the issue, and to ensure proper resources and policies are in action on campuses.