Gender-based violence still an issue within the university community

Education, awareness, attentiveness key to putting an end to gender-based violence

A banner taped on the office door of Dr. Audrey MacNevin, assistant professor at Saint Mary’s University. Photo: Cara Downey

“SMU boys like them young… y is for your sister… o is for oh so tight… u is for underage… n is for no consent… g is for grab that ass…”

The infamous rape chant that students at Saint Mary’s University chanted during frosh week in 2013 ignited a mode of change that resulted in a system of action to be taken.

That action was the addition of the Sexualized Violence course to the sociology and criminology department at SMU.

The course objective is to examine critical perspectives and alternatives to dominating masculinity and the connection to sex, power and violence.

The term sexualized violence refers to the expression of violence, physical or psychological that’s carried out by sexual means or targeting sexuality.

Simply put, it’s an act of power and control that’s expressed sexually and aimed at individuals who experience multiple inequities.

That includes rape, sexual assault, and can also include unwanted sexual contact and hate speech.

Audrey MacNevin, assistant professor at SMU, said, “The course is answering a need for change, and people are now being held accountable for their actions.”

Saint Mary’s University in Halifax. Photo: Cara Downey

MacNevin said education needs to start early, especially “where most men get sexual education from pornography and those images are not accurate.”

“Education at the high school level is too late, it needs to start at the ground level.”

MacNevin said people previously may not have been inclined to act, but once a face is put to the issue, it changes the dynamics.

Rehtaeh Parsons is an example of how a human face mobilized people to respond.

“Sexualized violence is not more prevalent,” MacNevin said, “it’s just social media is playing the part in making it more visible.”

“Social media gives the appearance that there are more cases, but the cases have always been there.”

She said, “Hegemonic masculinity” is the problem: “The idea that real men shouldn’t cry and this notion of what is manly.”

MacNevin said men are victims of sexualized violence as well, but there is a notion that it’s not manly to come forward as a victim of assault.

The issue of gender based-violence is still evident and there are still hurdles in trying to curtail it.

The issue has arisen again in light of the recent Dalhousie dentistry scandal.

The Canadian Federation of Students, in a study released in December, stated 50 per cent of women in the country will experience a level of gender-based violence before the age of 25.

Gender-based violence is still commonplace on university campuses in the country.

One in 10 women in Canada will suffer some level of abuse by the hands of their partners at the university level, and 25 per cent of women who are in their undergrad will experience sexual assault.

The student group agrees education is key when discussing consent, the definition of sexual violence and the growing issue of rape culture.

Bilan Arte, national deputy chairperson at CFS, said at the university level there should be conversations on what gender-based violence is and how it will not be acceptable on campus.

“It needs to be spelled out clearly and the discussion should be normalized and more conversationalized,” Arte said.

“We don’t have it all figured out, but we need to develop more sexual assault counselling.”

Arte said, “In universities there is not a comprehensive policy to curtail sexual violence and to define what is sexual violence.”

Structure is needed to give the victims the ability to come forward and report the crime, while knowing they have a safe place to go and a strong support system backing them, Arte said.