By Arielle Follett
The University of Ottawa has been making waves in the media in recent weeks due to their perpetuation of a societal phenomenon called rape culture.
Rape culture is defined by Emilie Buchwald, author of Transforming of a Rape Culture as:
“A complex set of beliefs that encourages male sexual aggression and supports violence against women. It is a society where violence is seen as sexy and sexuality as violent. In a rape culture, women perceive a continuum of threatened violence that ranges from sexual remarks to sexual touching to rape itself. A rape culture condones physical and emotional terrorism against women as the norm… In a rape culture, both men and women assume that sexual violence is a fact of life, inevitable.”
On Feb. 23, four elected student officials were accused of participating in an online conversation in which Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) president Anne-Marie Roy was thoroughly sexually objectified.
Bart Tremblay, a non-elected student, started the conversation by stating that the president would “suck me off in her office chair and after I will fuck her in the ass on Pat (Marquis, vice-president social for the SFUO)’s desk.”
The other men in the conversation rewarded this threat, with Marquis agreeing to “get a 24 for Bart if he does it.”
“Someone punish her with their shaft,” wrote Alex Larochelle, vice-president social for the Criminology Student Association.
The very next day after this news broke, university leadership was notified by a third party of sexual assault allegations against the university’s hockey team – news they kept under wraps for a whole week.
Algonquin was rocked recently by a similar scandal in the form of elected Student’s Association president Eli El-Chantiry stepping down after facing sexual assault charges in connection to an alleged incident that occurred at an SA planning meeting last April.
How can we expect any better of these men when our society only perpetuates these standards?
According to an anonymous survey of college-aged males conducted by the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), 35 per cent admitted that they would rape if they could get away with it. The survey also concluded that one in 12 had committed acts defined as rape. However 84 per cent of rapists did not recognize those acts as rape.
In another RAINN survey, 43 per cent of college-aged men admitted to using “coercive behaviours” to have sex, including “ignoring a woman’s protests, using physical aggression and forcing intercourse.”
It is this exact culture that allows situations like the University of Ottawa’s to occur.
Statistics like these have shock-value. People use jokes as a way of lightning the mood, but what is really achieved is normalization of these attitudes, to the point that these “jokes” are made in light-hearted conversations between people who are supposed to be leaders.
The University of Ottawa’s response to these events has been intolerant and immediate.
News of the men’s hockey team prompted the indefinite suspension of the team, a response which could have served as a real wake-up call, had the team not finished their season two weeks prior.
Students and staff of the school have also put together a task force in response.
“What we would like to do is not to see some sort of PR stunt by the university but rather a widespread participatory and deep discussion that happens on this campus…To really make sure we collectively come up with a set of recommendations and tools to combat rape culture on our campus,” said graduate student Seamus Wolfe.
The response has been one of communication. “Do not stay silent,” the school is telling victims.
This reaction is in strong contrast to that of Algonquin.
El-Chantiry’s charges have been swept under the rug by the SA.
In our Sept. 26, 2013 issue, a Times reporter sought out information about El-Chantiry’s absence for an article entitled “Former SA president-elect charged.” The SA replied by issuing a statement, saying there was an “ongoing investigation regarding allegations between two individuals that were present at an offsite Student Association function.”
This was the only official information our reporter was able to find, aside from a simple statement made by current SA president Sherline Pieris regarding the updated board of directors positions.
“How it came to be that El-Chantiry, an international business student, is no longer enrolled at Algonquin is not being discussed by the college or the SA,” the Times reported.
This response only sustains the suppressed attitudes expected of victims, stifled by societal norms.
Silence is not an option.
Victims and advocates against sexual violence need to speak up. This dialogue is what will start change.
We have been desensitized to the issue.
We have to remember what rape is. It is not just an assault. It is a robbery of somebody’s dignity and basic human rights.
“Rape” and “normal” do not belong in the same sentence. Laughter should never be heard after such a violent and harmful word has been spoken. It should not be thrown about casually.
There needs to be a conscious effort to stop the jokes, stop the comments and stop the careless attitude towards a very real issue.