Rape Culture and Lakehead University’s New Way of Dealing with “Sexual Misconduct”

There’s an article on the CBC today about how Lakehead University in Thunder Bay has been

forced to reexamine the ways it dealt with sexual misconduct, after a student complained the university failed to help her.

Rape culture is the way that we think and speak about sexual violence. Specifically, the way that sexual violence is ignored, normalized, trivialized, and minimized within our society. Hallmarks of rape culture include (but is not limited to): Victim blaming; definitions of “legitimate rape” or stating that one type of rape is “worse” than another; promoting a culture of prevention that makes it very clear that it’s up to someone not to be a victim (opposed to NOT BEING A FUCKING RAPIST); and focusing on the implications for a teenage sport star’s “promising future” after he’s convicted of raping a classmate. It’s also a society where the “affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity” has to be codified into law because apparently “consent” is a tricky motherfucker to figure out.

A rising tide of activism around sexual misconduct on campuses across North America prompted California to adopt a new bill on Sunday — known as the “yes means yes” rule — that redefines consent.

“’Yes means yes’ is an affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity,” says California senator Kevin de Leon.

I’ve been tweeting a lot about this article today because a couple of things really piss me off:

  1. The President of Lakehead states that he can’t say for certain if rape culture exists or not.

“Whether there is a ‘rape culture’ or not, I can’t say, but we are trying to set up a system that first of all educates our students about sexual assault, secondly puts in place preventative measures and thirdly supports the victim,” says Lakehead University President Dr. Brian Stevenson.

One of Lakehead’s hockey players, Mike Quesnele, states: “When it comes down to it, there [are] probably a hundred people that go out every weekend and they make a mistake, but these guys play university sports and they are in the spotlight.”

Referring as sexual violence as a “mistake” that “probably a hundred people that go out every weekend” to do is probably one of the best examples of the pervasive attitude that support rape culture in this society. You have trivialized and minimized the act of sexual violence by calling it a “mistake” (effectively ignoring it) and you’ve normalized it by referring to it as something numerous people do on a regular fucking basis.

  1. The President of Lakehead emphasizes that the new guidelines that states that when a sexual assault is reported that “first, you believe them, you demonstrate and show empathy for their situation and accommodate them.” WHAT? Let’s break this down.

When Alexandra took her story public last fall in a letter to the local newspaper, Lakehead urgently set out to reengineer its policy, which takes effect this school year.

“I think we have to believe a student that comes and tells us that they were sexually assaulted,” says Lakehead’s Stevenson.

He says “now there are guidelines,” which state that when someone reports a sexual assault, “first, you believe them, you demonstrate and show empathy for their situation and accommodate them.”

In the absence of a formal complaint or charge, Stevenson is confident universities can maintain that tricky balancing act of supporting students who complain while at the same time honouring the presumption of innocence of those they accuse.

Replace sexual assault with any other crime. How would you respond to a victim of that crime? You’d believe the person, empathize with him/her, and accommodate his/her situation to the best of your ability. (If you don’t know this then, congratu-fucking-lations, you fucking fail at being a human being.)

Extrapolating from that, WHY IN THE BLOODY BLUE FUCK DOES YOUR POLICY ON SEXUAL MISCONDUCT HAVE TO EXPLICITLY STATE HOW TO REACT TO A VICTIM AS ANOTHER FUCKING HUMAN BEING?

The fact that your policy on sexual misconduct has to explicitly outline how to react to a victim indicates some troubling things about your beliefs surrounding sexual violence and how a victim is complicit in his/her own victimization.

  1. It comes down to this: If someone says that he/she is the victim of sexual violence, you should assume that they’re telling the truth until you have evidence to suggest otherwise. WHAT THIS DOESN’T MEAN is that you vilify the perpetrator of that sexual violence and assume that he/she is automatically guilty. WHAT THIS DOES MEAN is that you have to investigate this accusation fully –as you would WITH ANY OTHER CRIME – and do everything within your power to not make the victim feel that he/she shouldn’t have reported it in the first place.
  1. Given the propensity with which certain sports “stars” are being charged with sexual violence, I think there’s something within the culture of sports that not only encourages sexual violence but also encourages people to protect the perpetrators of sexual violence because of their ability in sports. (This could also be extrapolated to domestic violence as well.)

Lawrence Greenspon, an Ottawa lawyer and U of O alumnus, rejects that assumption.

“Are we going to reprogram all males between the ages of 18 and 22 that go to Ottawa University who want to talk about women in the locker room?  Really? I mean there is political correctness and then it’s going too far. I think that’s going too far.”

So, Lawrence Greenspon and I fucking disagree because Greenspon thinks that opening up a discourse about these issues is political correctness run amok and that “reprogram[ming] all the males…who want to talk about women in the locker room” is “going too far.” It’s really not.

What needs to happen is that we have to unpack the vast amounts of privilege and permissiveness that these athletes have so that they think that they can do whatever they want without fear of reproach. You know why Greenspon and his ilk don’t want to? Because by shining a light on these things, we are threatening that very privilege.

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