By Lauren Turner, Brock University
Attending university is one of the most influential times for a young adult. Individuals strive to achieve independence and intellectual growth while submerging in a new university community (Newman & Newman, 2009). Although this period promotes great opportunity for self-discovery and the opportunity to learn new things, the lack of parental supervision and formation of new friends creates situations where boundaries are tested. As students become part of a new and unfamiliar surroundings, adapting to university life on campus all too often includes navigating an experience of sexual violence or harassment (Government of Ontario, 2015).
The Canadian Federation of Students reminds us that “many on-campus sexual assaults occur during the first eight weeks of classes” (Government of Ontario, 2015, p. 27). With this knowledge in hand, higher educational institutions have a duty to include sexual health and sexual assault prevention education as part of their higher education programs. I don’t mean one-off sexual violence awareness weeks or trade show booths during orientation week, with optional attendance. There needs to be a mandatory course, utilizing open source learning targeted to all students, at the beginning of their university experience.
Why Should We Care?
“Research indicates that there are 460,000 sexual assaults in Canada each year. For every 1000 sexual assaults, only 33 are ever reported to the police; 12 results in charges laid; only 6 are prosecuted and only 3 leads to a conviction” (Government of Ontario, 2015, p. 7). Despite this alarming statistic, sexual violence is not a new problem. Anti-rape activists have been drawing attention to the high rates of sexual violence on university campuses since the 1970s, with accounts of sexual violence even stemming back to the book of Genesis in 1720 B.C. (Warshaw, 1988; Hall, 1995).
With limited or no formal sexual violence education after grade 9, many university students are often molded and influenced by their peers, the media, friends, and family, which can be problematic. Upcoming university students will become future professionals in law, health and other key areas of society and will be responsible for addressing sexual violence and its impact. One’s knowledge of sexual violence is an important determinant in how they react towards victims of sexual violence, the outlook they have about sexual violence, and the quality of care victims of sexual violence receive.
What are the Challenges?
What exactly does sexual violence look like on campus? It manifests itself through our campus radio stations with Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines song, telling women, “you know you want it” because of these “blurred lines” (of consent). It is evident in our behaviour, when students who have the courage to report sexual violence are called liars and when no charges are laid against perpetrators. It is evident in our media during Jian Ghomeshi’s case in 2016. It is apparent in our schools’ culture and orientation chants that had been a long-standing tradition or part of frosh week activities for years, yet no one had ever stopped to questioned them (The Canadian Press, 2013). Harry Weinstein, Mike Tyson, Bill Cosby, and Donald Trump are four examples of how sexual violence and rape culture are all around us. These are not isolated, one-off situations, they are part of a larger societal trend.
What are the Opportunities?
The aftermath of sexual violence is expensive. The best available research tells us that the estimated cost of sexual assault amounts to an estimated 4.8 billion per year (Canadian’s Women Foundation, n.d.). Yes, we know the cost to develop a mandatory sexual violence education course will be expensive, but with open source learning those costs can be decreased. It is time to “create a movement through the adoption of open strategies that connected learners with resources in the spaces between institutions, generations, places, and sectors (Preston, 2017, para.1).
Universities are in a unique position to provide adults with the knowledge, understanding, skills, and attitudes they will need regarding sexual violence (Public Health Agency of Canada, 2008). With approximately 1.7 million students at Canadian universities in 2016 (Universities Canada, 2016), universities provide a suitable, replicable and sustainable vehicle for the delivery of such education.
What Direction Should We Go Next?
The problem of sexual violence on campus is not new. Student have been calling for action for decades, and even as recent as a couple weeks ago with the release of Our Turn: A National, Student-Led Action Plan to End Campus Sexual Violence. But how do we get there? Open source learning is the answer. With the emergence of an educational practice that allows students to manage their own learning as well as contributing to that of others, there is no doubt that there will be a reduction of sexual violence incidences on university campus across Ontario.
We need to stop working to solve the same problem of sexual violence in isolation. In Ontario, there are 22 Universities and 22 Sexual Violence Policies and sexual violence ‘programs’. We need to collaborate beyond a single university.
The defining characteristic of Open Source Learning is that there is no chief; all of us are members of a network that is constantly evolving…What we learn and how well we learn it, how we respond to setbacks, and even some of our favorite inspirations and habits of mind are right out there in public for everyone to see. (Preston, 1970, para. 4)
There are so many wasted resources today with duplication of efforts. It time for a change.
Canadian’s Women Foundation. (n.d.). The high cost of sexual violence. Retrieved from http://canadianwomen.org/press-consent.
Government of Ontario (2015). It’s never okay: An action plan to stop sexual violence and harassment. Retrieved from https://www.ontario.ca/document/action-plan-stop-sexual-violence-and-harassment
Hall, R. (1995). Rape in America: A reference handbook. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.
Newman, B., & Newman, P. (2009). Development through life: A psychosocial approach. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.
Preston, D. (1970). Dr. Preston’s expository composition. Retrieved October 25, 2017, from http://drprestonrhs14exposcomp.blogspot.ca/2013/08/will-this-blog-see-tomorrow.html
Preston, D. (2017). The right tool for the job. Retrieved October 25, 2017, from http://www.prestonlearning.com/
Public Health Agency of Canada. (2008). Canadian guidelines for sexual health education (3rd ed.). Ottawa, ON: Public Health Agency of Canada.
The Canadian Press. (2013). Saint Mary’s University under fire for frosh-week chant championing non-consensual sex with underage girls. Retrieved from http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/halifax-university-under-fire-for-frosh-week-chant-championing-non-consensual-sex-with-underage-girls
Universities Canada. (2016). Facts and stats: Overview. Retrieved from http://www.univcan.ca/universities/facts-and-stats/
Warshaw, R. (1994). I never called it rape. New York, NY: HarperPerennial.