Open Source Learning: The Answer to Sexual Violence?


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

Government of Ontario (2015). It’s never okay: An action plan to stop sexual violence and harassment. Retrieved from

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

Preston, D. (2017). The right tool for the job. Retrieved October 25, 2017, from

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

Universities Canada. (2016). Facts and stats: Overview. Retrieved from

Warshaw, R. (1994). I never called it rape. New York, NY: HarperPerennial.


3 thoughts on “Open Source Learning: The Answer to Sexual Violence?

  1. I am not assigned to comment on your post but I could not help myself.

    All I could think about while reading this was “Wow, this is so powerful!”.
    I experienced being at York when there were multiple sexual assaults cases. I found the problem was that we were not allowed to voice our concerns. No professors or TAs felt comfortable speaking about the news. Even though we were learning about current issues in education and stigma around gender and violence (my undergrad was in Gender&Women Studies). It gave me a true perspective that people were not taking these situations seriously. Therefore, I do agree when you say that change needs to happen. Conversations need to grow and develop among students but also among faculty staff and people of power in higher education. In addition, I remember York posting up “Optional Meetings” signs but did these really help? Obviously not when these issues are still occurring.

    I look forward to seeing what others have to say!

  2. As Canada moves forward with their sexual violence education, this is a timely topic as the United States looks to roll back sexual assault guidance (Tatum, S., 2017). I am sure that in and of itself could be its own research paper. You have done a great job outlining the context of the issue at hand and setting the scene that young adults enter into when they start university. It was also great that you highlighted where secondary schools may fail students, as gym is only mandatory in grade 9, so we cannot assume all students coming from high school have a up to date education in sexual health. Again, another issue in and of itself.

    Implementing it as open access makes it much easier to reach students, and much easier for institutions who can work collaboratively to create content. Have you thought about how a required course (Modules? Ongoing?) would be implemented, and how universities would make students engage in this type of learning? I know anecdotally there is always a question about when to inform/educate incoming students about things that are not considered positive (ie: the balance between educating students about academic probation/suspension, but not scaring them before they have begun classes, but also not waiting until the first week of school and overwhelming them). That being said, because sexual assault education is so important I would hope administration would see the need for this, and somehow make student access to certain information contingent on completing a course.

    I also found information on Our Turn as I explored this topic (Xing, L., 2017), and while it is great that this topic is gaining momentum, why should grassroots groups be the ones pushing this forward, why are universities not coming together as they do for other initiatives? Is it a lack of funding? Lack of coordination on the part of the provincial and federal governments? They are definitely interested in this since they are requiring policies, but is that too little?

    Research by Banyard, V., Plante, E. & Moynihan, M., (2004) discusses bystander education, which I think is an important component to this as well, and you may find useful in supporting your topic. If students are to be educated on sexual violence, the greater institutional community should also be included in this as well. We know that sexual violence is not student on student in all instances, and as such, your topic would be well aligned with a review of what education faculty and staff do have and should have.

    Looking forward to seeing where your research goes and more details of your identified solution!

    Banyard, V. L., Plante, E. G., & Moynihan, M. M. (2004). Bystander education: Bringing a broader community perspective to sexual violence prevention. Journal of Community Psychology, 32(1), 61-79.

    Tatum, S. (2017, September 2017). DeVos announces review of Obama-era sexual assault guidance. Retrieved from:

    Xing, L. (2017, October 17). University sex assault policies average C- in analysis by nationwide student group. Retrieved from:

  3. Hi Lauren,

    Your passion for this subject is very clear throughout your blog and it is untenable that my daughter faces the same risks for sexual assault today that I did back in the day. It has been a ridiculously stubborn social and criminal issue to tackle both on and off campuses. It does, however, remind me of the complicated nature of the current opioid crisis. The causes are many, interconnected, and extremely complicated and trying to wrap our heads around how to tackle it will take many voices, angles, and interconnected solutions.

    As a prelude to your synthesis paper, I wonder if your blog might have been left asking questions rather than providing answers or suggesting solutions. My guess is that there is much empirical evidence available regarding what has been tried, in terms of education, and what the results were…or not! Your statements “educational institutions have a duty to include sexual health and sexual assault prevention education”, “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”, and “The aftermath of sexual violence is expensive” would be stronger with references. Each of these statements could also be foundational to full research papers.

    There was so much in your blog, Lauren that could be an entire paper in itself. I was very struck by your question “What exactly does sexual violence look like on campus?” Exploring that question alone could be more than even a synthesis paper. I am not sure as a society that we have even come to an agreement on that. Are we all working to solve the same issue/problem? Is agreeing on the answer to this question the real beginning of facilitating change?

    I believe the best answers to stubborn issues are evidence-based and if open source learning is the answer you may want to delve deeper into it as an educational tool and a results-based methodology. By presenting how it has worked in the past on stubborn social issues you might build an even stronger case.

    Robyn Doolittle won journalistic awards for her investigative work on this subject, in terms of police involvement and has helped create significant change in how sexual assaults are handled at the investigative stage. You may be interested to read her reporting. Link to Robyn Doolittle’s “unfounded series” in the Globe and Mail:

    Your blog was somewhat longer than the criterion for this assignment (500-750 words) and called for 6-8 references. You may want to consider the guidance provided by the syllabus when writing your next assignment.

    Good luck in your further research, Lauren, this is an extremely important issue that needs constant attention!


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