Thank you very much. I've also worked in anti-assault advocacy with women's shelters in my area.
It's good to be here with you today. In speaking with MP Damoff before I came here, she mentioned that you've heard a lot about rape-related problems, and that you might want to hear about some potential solutions. I've focused my talk a little more on some ideas that I've had from my various roles, in terms of contributing to solutions to ending campus rape.
Campus rape is obviously a major issue, but its roots aren't planted during frosh week. The roots are laid before and are the byproducts of a society that continues to tell men that they're at their best when they're tough and in control, that pervasively presents images of women as sex objects across media and in widely accessible porn, and also in the way daddy treats mommy, so to speak, at the dinner table.
The implantation of these ideas happens from a very early time, when our children are born, and unless we disrupt the sexist attitudes to which they're exposed during their formative years, we're effectively trying to fix what has long been broken anyway, by the time they're college age.
We desperately need our girls to know that they're worth a lot, but I would like to speak a bit more about our boys right now. Often the perpetrators of violence against women and girls need training about respecting women in a way that touches them at their core.
I recently organized an event at Sheridan College called “For Her We Speak”. This event featured Leah Parsons, whom I know you all know and have spoken to. She came and spoke to our students, staff, and community members. As Leah spoke about Rehtaeh's alleged rape and the eventually life-ending consequences of this assault for Rehtaeh, audience members were spellbound, quite literally. They told me after that they would never forget the talk. Parents said they would go home and speak with their boys, not just once but in an ongoing way, to make sure that they learned how to respect women and girls. Students also committed to protecting each other, and protecting girls.
Leah's talk was important because of the humanness of its narrative. Our boys need to hear from real victims, I feel, those who feel able to speak about their experiences, about what it's like to be raped and to navigate the physical, emotional, and legal aftermath, or they need to hear from people like Leah, who can talk about what it's like to lose someone due to the aftermath of alleged sexual assaults.
Rape isn't an event that starts and ends for the victim at the time of occurrence. It revisits the victim in PTSD, challenged relationships, and an ongoing plethora of mental and other issues, as we know. While statistics, informational talks, and theories can provide a backdrop to boys' learning, I feel that we really need a note of human narrative to breathe vivid life into these discussions about actions and consequences that are related.
While such talks are important for boys in their formative years, campus students are also really impacted by such real world dialogues. That was seen at the “For Her We Speak” event recently in Oakville, Ontario. I recommend developing a program that connects the many willing victims to schools and post-secondary institutions. Survivors should unquestionably be remunerated for their brave harnessing of tough experiences to improve youth. Counsellors at schools should be on hand, if anyone is triggered.
There is of course another benefit to having victims speak about their experiences. For many victims, sharing their story and making a difference is a critical part of the healing process itself.
In relation to what I've just been speaking about, and a narrative's impact on students, I've been conducting research concerning the Nova Scotian beach stones that have been collected, painted, and then replaced around the community by Leah Parsons. She also mails these painted stones around the world and around Canada for people who have heard about them and want to place them in their own communities.
While the stones were initially meant to memorialize Rehtaeh, I look at them for the anti-rape advocacy functions they have come to play. Written on the stones, for example, is “end the silence” or “raise awareness”. Leah soon began planting a note under these stones that told people about Rehtaeh's story, that urged them to reconsider their deepest held beliefs about women and girls, and that also urged people to replant the note with the stone for other people to find in a bit of a chain reaction that's had quite an impact across Canada and the world.
The research is showing that the stones are really impacting people and their attitudes across Canada and globally. They have a major impact on college students and staff as well. I've interviewed Leah, people who have engaged with the stones or found a stone around the world, and healing professionals who are using the stones to help facilitate healing in others.
Everyone—post-secondary students, instructors, counsellors, entire football teams, parents, and police officers, among others—reports that engaging with the stones has helped them or the youth with whom they work to understand what rape culture is, the need to respect girls, and the need to treat victims of violence with care. Obviously, that's really important.
My research not only explores the impact of these stones but also how we can harness them as facilitation tools, as part of a new youth- and student-targeted program for raising awareness about sexual assault and its consequences, what we can do to stop it from happening, and how to treat victims with care. I would be happy to discuss this further if the findings interest you, and you think they can be of use.
I've spoken about the need to target youth to reduce instances of later campus rape. I would also like to talk about the sensitivity of some of the people to whom students report, and that would be police and professors.
The way police officers respond to a campus assault has come a long way. At Sheridan College, we hear mostly positive experiences from students, but some police really do ask, “What were you wearing?” or a personal favourite, “What kind of dance class were you doing beforehand?” The words really slaughter the girls who hear them. An attitude of non-judgment and a belief in the equality of the sexes, both of which are needed for appropriate and supportive responses to sexual assault, still contradict some of the earliest socialization of many of our well-meaning officers.
I don't have time to talk about all the ideas I have, because I know there are limitations on time, but I'll mention one. Why not ensure that all future police officers take an introductory course in women and gender studies?
I currently assist an introduction to gender and women's studies course at York University, and in just four weeks, students have gotten a strong grasp of sexual, racial, gender, ethnic, age, and ability-related forms of discrimination, to name a few, that underlay our society's institutions and power structures. They also got a sense of how deeply rooted and hard to see discrimination can be. Importantly, these courses explore these stereotypes and great myths that still pervade society. It's essential that the people who we want to uphold justice have a firm grasp of what equality and discrimination really look like.
What is great about this idea is that the infrastructure is already in place. Almost every Canadian university and many colleges now have a solid introduction to gender and women's studies course. I think it's really important to make sure that our police recruits enrol in one of these pre-existing excellent courses offered by our nation's academic institutions. I also think that the institutions won't mind the added enrolment.
In addition to police, other people in college settings can benefit from sensitivity training, and those are professors. Students often form a bond of trust and have a lot of respect for their professors. Yet a lot of students report that professors are among the least sensitive when they've gone to report at my college, which makes me very sad to hear. I've had a number of students disclose to me and my colleagues, and I've also heard from our sexual assault task force at Sheridan College that many of the people who are directed to them are directed there by professors, so they've disclosed first to professors.
On an ideal campus, all new hires would be trained to properly handle student disclosures and to direct victims to appropriate on- and off-campus supports. Professors should have a list of these supports at hand and be aware of the university's centralized resources information bank. A lot of professors do not know where to look in the university's digital infrastructure for this information, and that needs to be remedied.
Also, on an ideal campus, all faculty would take the Mental Health Commission of Canada's mental health first aid course. I've taken it, and it's great for helping you understand how to manage student distress and disclosures in an appropriate way, and direct those students as quickly as possible to the supports they need on and off campus.