Opinion: Rape culture in American and Canadian universities

Photo by: Garland/Demotix/Corbis

Did you ever attend university and feel unsafe walking around campus? Many university students in America and Canada did not. Rape culture was the last thing on these students’ minds when choosing to attend school.

But university students are most likely to experience any rape culture behaviours, including victim-blaming, slut shaming, and sexual obligation, during their freshman or sophomore years.

Women are considered a top target for sexual assaults. As females, we wear what we prefer to wear, not because someone told us to, but because we feel it’s the perfect fit. However, there comes a moment in our lives when deciding what to wear isn’t because it makes us happy anymore. Instead, we decided what to wear based on the fact that it makes us feel safe. Women who may be involved in a sexual assault situation are blamed for the attacks based on how they were dressed, practically saying they put themselves in those situations because of what “they wore.” Females begin to feel guilty and doubt themselves, and that makes the perpetrators feel that it is safe to continue to do what they do.

American universities have had a history of sexual assaults that have taken place on campus, many of which take place during the first six weeks of the semester, involving student orientation and Thanksgiving. They call this the “Red Zone.” Past attacks have been seen the perpetrators as students attending the university. With some of the attacks that have taken place, victims are said to possibly have a connection with the attackers, as either an acquaintance, classmate, friend or an (ex) boyfriend/girlfriend.

A student from Boston University in Rhode Island filed an assault charge against a male student in 2014. This case wound up with the attacker in prison with no readmission to the school. However, a few years after being released, the male student had gained full access to attend Brown.  

At Harvard University in Massachusetts, Jane (last name withheld), an undergraduate, reported a sexual assault, which resulted in the perpetrator remaining on campus. Both examples show both schools seemed to end with the same result of having the attacker remain in school. American schools that are participating in federal financial aid programs are to maintain and disclose campus crime statistics and security informations, which makes it difficult to find a few attacks made at any school.

Canadian universities are also known for many past sexual assaults at various schools. In Vancouver alone, UBC and SFU, have had a numerous number of sexual attacks that have been reported, and some that have not been filed with police.

Among UBC’s known attacks in the past eight years, some of the attacks have never been fully reported to RCMP detachments. In 2013 at UBC, there was a case where a man who is still yet to be found, jumped a total of six women from behind, striking them on their head, knocking them to the ground and taking advantage of them. In 2016, a report was made of a 20-year-old man who had jumped a female student from behind, knocking her to the ground face first. The female student was able to fight the man off and he had fled the scene. These two cases were some of the few that had been reported and filed to the RCMP, however, there are still many more cases that are disclosed and remain largely unreported.

Both American and Canadian universities share similarities. At both, there are a large number of unreported attacks. Both also share a similarity in needing support groups and safe walks around the campuses. Students from both sides of the border have come together to host these groups or walks to help their fellow students to feel safe.

At both Canadian and American universities, students, especially women, feel that their schools don’t seem to consider sexual assaults as important as they should. Women have said that they are beginning to feel unsafe and that they have been told they are the ones to blame for attacks that take place on the campuses. This is called victim blaming, which is one of the behaviours prominent in rape culture. Female students are now cautious to what they wear when going out, or who they talk to, and what they could possibly say in order not to trigger a potential attacker.

One hope that all students, especially me, aim to achieve is that at all schools, whether in America or Canada, their university faculty and administration members realize that their students feel unsafe and are in danger in an space where they have come for education.

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