OPINION: Denormalize Sexual Assault

by | Mar 5, 2024 | Campus, In The Mag!, Opinions | 0 comments

Starting the conversation on sexual assault on campus

Reader discretion is advised

Imagine that you’re walking through the hallways after finishing your six-to-nine class. As you walk towards the dimly lit parkade, a dark figure creeps behind you. They’re watching every step you take, and looking at what you’re wearing, whether you have headphones on, or if your nails are pointed or rounded. Do you see them? 

That figure, in whatever form it chooses to take, affects 50 per cent of post-secondary students across Alberta, according to a 2023 survey published by the Government of Alberta. Statistics Canada reports that 95 per cent of sexual assault victims do not file a police report. 

The main reason students don’t file reports is because they don’t feel like it’s serious enough to talk about. 

Well, fuck that. 

Sexual assault doesn’t have to be a stomach-curdling, blood-pumping scene that feels like it should be in 13 Reasons Why. Why have we become so accustomed to the violation of our bodies? Does someone surprise kissing you in the rain after you denied multiple advances, touching your thigh on the bus ride home after a long day, or making rape jokes because of your outfit not warrant a conversation? Whatever happens, staying silent is not the answer.

So, what exactly has MacEwan done to counteract the rise in stalking and sexual assault numbers? Well for one, if you’re feeling unsafe walking to MacEwan residence, your car, or the bus stop, you can call Safe Walk, a SAMU services where two volunteers will escort you to your designated location. Kelsey Holmquist, the Safe Walk assistant talked about the training process in which they learn the basic procedures and values of the program. Volunteers also complete a course called, “It Takes All of Us” which has sections on being aware of sexual consent and sexual violence on campus. 

“I do think there’s a lot said just to feel like you’re not by yourself, to have someone with you. I think there is safety in numbers.”

Kelsey Holmquist, Safe Walk assistant

MacEwan’s Office of Sexual Violence Prevention, Education and Response (OSVPER) published a survey in 2020 detailing the nature of sexual assault and violence on- and off- campus. The survey shows that within 2019, 12 per cent of students had sexual contact with someone that they didn’t consent to, while 38 per cent had inappropriate jokes, comments, and advances made towards them. 

Yet, these findings are from 2019 which is nearly five years ago. With a constantly evolving system, we still have no answers on what MacEwan’s current climate looks like. For reference, in 2019, Donald Trump was still the U.S. president, the SAMU building was still a wooden hallway under construction, and COVID-19 had not yet made headlines. 

Are we really supposed to rely on numbers from a different time? Now, who knows what kind of social landscape wraps its ugly head around campus? But, when you find anonymous posts on MacEwan Annonymous Acknowledgements, Admit and confessions (MAAC) detailing the misogyny IN student clubs or how to “chase cheeks” with students sharing their experiences in the comments, it creates a sense of doubt that the 2019 survey’s numbers hold up today. 

So yes, MacEwan has implemented some ways to stay safe on campus with the help of Safe Walk and OSVPER, but who can really say if these resources are helpful when the data is outdated and only some of the experiences are told through an anonymous Facebook page. 

OSVPER is a wonderful on-campus resource to have when it’s done correctly, and when people actually know about it. Students are able to connect with someone for support regarding any past or present sexual violence that might occur. The sexual violence response coordinator, Mame Penda Diouf, is available to “provide accompaniment if someone needs to be accompanied. Diouf says, “. . . like if anybody in the university community is impacted by sexual violence, if they come to me, I will be able to provide support in mental health, physical health, academic accomodation, workplace accomodation, residence accomodations, all of those things are things we are able to work together and help in the healing process.”

“If someone on campus has experience sexual violence and they come to our office, we will make sure to put measures around that person to make them feel safe. As we work for the student, we work for the staff and for the faculty, to make them feel safe.”

Mame Penda Diouf, OSVPER sexual violence response coordinator

While it is not directly stated in the survey, only 2 per cent of students told OSVPER about their sexual assault and stalking experiences. It’s insane to think that, while this survey is outdated, the numbers may have gotten lower. This can be the case because of a pandemic that trapped people inside with potentially dangerous individuals with no private space to contact the OSVPER centre. On a campus where 50 per cent of students have stated that they were sexually assaulted or the victim of a gender-based crime, MacEwan should look into why students aren’t accessing the resources to help them maintain their mental and physical health after traumatic moments. 

Services like OSVPER and Safe Walk have done their best to make students feel safe. Safe Walk is constantly maintaining their schedule so the volunteers can ensure students have access when they need it. OSVPER is for students when they need it, but the worst part is that the people who know about it don’t use the service because they don’t believe their experience is worth mentioning or that it  was “normal.” 

Too many of us have become desensitized to the assault and violation of our bodies. Too many of us have sat in silence, yearning for the pain to leave our body, waiting for someone to see the tears behind our eyes and the scars on our body. Too many of us wait for someone to help heal what was broken. MacEwan has done a great job at marketing sexual assault and violence services, but they need to show students that there is no normalcy in sexual assault.

Graphic by Thai Sirikoone

Leanna Bressan

The Griff


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