It can be difficult for survivors of sexual violence to find institutional support on campus and for both students and faculty to educate themselves on the issue. Student activists Karan Saxena and Atreya Madrone, who led a roundtable last week titled “Sexual Violence Mythbusting,” are working to alleviate that lack of information.
“People aren’t taught or given those really clear definitions of consent and things like that in their everyday lives and schools and with their families,” said Madrone.
“It’s not something that’s readily talked about.”
“It’s really scary but these dominant institutions work really well in that if you shame people for their bodies, like already, this thing that we live in and have to inhabit for our entire lives […] How are you going to exist and live your life?” said Madrone.
“This is all you have and all of these dominant institutions are telling you that it’s wrong or it’s shameful or you shouldn’t know anything about it.”
A U of M study titled “The University of Manitoba Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Violence: A Final Report,” conducted last January by Tracey Peter, professor and associate department head of sociology and criminology, and Don Stewart, professor and executive director of student support, highlighted perspectives on sexual violence among roughly 1,500 students.
More than half of the students surveyed agreed with statements suggesting women are to blame for sexual harassment and assault if they dress “suggestively.”
About 40 per cent of male participants agreed that “sexual assault accusations are often used as a way of getting back at men.”
Students also reported that they had a “less favourable” perception of the university when it came to its response to sexual violence, and general observations found that participants were not aware of sexual violence supports and resources on campus. The study also reported that most participants who experienced sexual violence did not report it.
There was a varying range of opinions regarding safety on campus. Heterosexual white male students said they felt most safe, while a higher percentage of female, racial minorities, and gender and sexual minorities perceived campus to be less safe.
“I was trying to point out how power interacts with us, and consequently with violence,” said Saxena.
“Another myth that we were trying to debunk was that sexual violence is not about pleasure, or lack of one’s ability to control oneself, or intimacy or whatever,” Saxena added. “It is about power and control.”
“And the question that needs to be asked is ‘Who has power in society?’”
Of the students who reported experiencing sexual assault, 41.2 per cent said that one of the perpetrators was a U of M student, and nine per cent said that one was a U of M staff or faculty member.
Students who don’t report sexual assaults fear negative consequences, particularly if the incident was committed by a staff or faculty member.
The study also reported that participants who had experienced a sexual assault were more likely to feel that the institutional supports were inadequate.
Prior to the opening of the Sexual Violence Resource Centre on campus, institutional support and education programs were not widely accessible for survivors.
The resource centre, run by two staff members, is available for those affected by sexual violence to have a safe space and to educate themselves.
Madrone highlighted the importance of improving resources saying “With 30,000 people who are here at any given moment, we just need […] more information.”
“Sexual violence is very prevalent here and everywhere.”
“It’s important for people to know that this campus is not immune to that.”