By Jennifer Elms - Star forum
Dear Editor: As students returned to campuses this month, they received an introductory how-to course on sexual assault.
A group of students from Saint Mary’s University (SMU) in Halifax are gaining increasing media attention for a 16-second video clip of a frosh event that has people across the country confused and outraged. The video clip was posted on Instagram by a student who attended the event. It portrays a crowd of students, led by 80 student leaders, participating in a chant that promotes non-consensual sex with underage girls.
The behaviour raises a number of questions about morals and women’s rights. It also calls into question an education system and a society that condones it.
In an interview on Nova Scotia CBC news, the student union president announced that “this is something that happens every year and this is a chant that’s been done in the past.” How the administration of a university has never questioned the vile nature of the message it promotes for years is shocking.
Unfortunately, the acceptance of language and jokes about sexual violence is not a new trend. Rape culture has been around for decades. In fact, our thoughts, words and actions often make fun of rape. People who speak out against it are accused of being “too sensitive” or, God forbid, feminists. (Gasp!)
Well, here’s a fact we cannot deny — a 17-year-old in Nova Scotia died in April 2013 because of the alleged zzactions of four youth.
The victimization and death of this underage student is an example of what happens when sexual allegedviolence is allowed to be used as a joke to demean women and girls. Personhood is stolen. Dignity is destroyed. Life is lost. Rape becomes entertainment.
In fact, it’s been suggested that these young people don’t actually “realize” that they are doing anything wrong by joking about sexual violence. In her closing remarks about the frosh incident, CBC news reporter, Elizabeth Chiu, states that: “clearly, they didn’t realize that this chant was inappropriate.”
This statement assumes that the students didn’t know that chanting about having sex with underage girls and grabbing their backsides, without consent, is wrong. Moreover, it implies that ignorance can excuse them from responsibility for the consequences of their actions. Imagine the intimidation and fear felt by female students beginning their first semester at SMU.
First of all, it is ridiculous to think that post-secondary students would not be able to recognize that the chant had a bad message.
The students chanted words like, “underage,” “no consent” and “we like them young” with sexual references too lewd to repeat.
It would be impossible not to know this was wrong.
Secondly, it is reckless to use the excuse that youth are too young, too ignorant and, therefore, too stupid to recognize when their behaviour is inappropriate. Youth should be outraged that the general population would think that they are that unintelligent to not know what they were doing or saying.
Our youth are far smarter and better than that.
Sadly, nearly one in four female students in Canada experience sexual assault (Ontario Women’s Directorate, 2013).
In fact, the issue has become so serious that projects have been federally funded across the country to address gender-based violence and its prevention, including our own region’s CAMPUS Project and Project PEACE. But we all have a role to play in stopping behavior that promotes rape culture.
The incident at SMU is just one example of the type of condoned behaviour that perpetuates rape culture throughout our country.
The excuse of ignorance is a cop-out from addressing the real issues.
Insensitivity to behaviours that promote sexual violence and the subordination of women is the real issue.
Language that attempts to “poke fun” at the violation of a woman's body, or in this case, a child’s body is the real issue.
A campus, a group or a society that condones this type of behaviour is the real issue.
Until we start addressing the real issues, rape culture will exist and women and girls will continue to be the subject of a dangerous joke that mocks and endangers their bodies, lives and dignity.
There is no excuse for ignorance, especially when it supports violence against women and girls.
Jennifer Elms is executive director, Western Regional Coalition to End Violence. The coalition is supported by Corner Brook Status of Women Council, CAMPUS Project, Project P.E.A.C.E. and Committee on Family Violence.