A young man assaults a young woman at a house party. His friend captures the moment with his camera, and partygoers ignore the scene. The aggressor looks directly into the camera, makes eye contact with the viewers, and says, “Thanks for keeping your mouth shut.”
The public service announcement, released by the Government of Ontario in conjunction with their $41 million action plan to combat sexual violence, has a clear message: “When you do nothing, you’re helping him, but when you do something, you’re helping her.”
Kathleen Wynne, Ontario’s premier, has proposed a strengthening of laws to combat sexual assault and violence, improve campus safety, and challenge prevailing attitudes that contribute to sexual violence.
The plan commits to introducing legislation that will strengthen provisions related to sexual assault and harassment in the workplace, in housing, through the civil claims process, and on campuses.
The legislation will also require universities and colleges to collaborate with students to adopt campus-wide sexual harassment and assault policies. The policies will include training, prevention, complaint procedures, and response protocols.
The Wynne government has already included recommendations from the Ontario branch of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) in the Action Plan.
Anna Goldfinch, CFS national executive representative, says recommendations include mandatory sexual assault policies with student consultation during creation and review, mandatory public reporting of sexual assaults, and funding for training, consent education, and support services.
While there is an appreciation for the inclusion of student voices, concerns remain that the plan may not go far enough to fully address the safety concerns of college and university students.
“We believe there are a few things still missing, and we will continue to call for a sexual assault support division to hold institutions accountable to their new policies, and give students recourse if they do not receive adequate support from their institution,” says Goldfinch.
Sexual assault rates are five times higher for women under the age of 35.
On campuses, four out of five female undergraduate students have reported a sexual violation while in a dating relationship. Young women have also reported the highest rates of being stalked.
“Campuses are a reflection of our society, which means that they are not immune to issues we face in our daily lives like sexism and rape culture,” says Goldfinch. “Post-secondary students experience a disproportionate number of sexual assaults compared to the general population.”
According to the Rape Crisis Centre, the term “rape culture” was coined to show the ways in which society normalizes male sexual violence and engages in victim blaming.
One of the goals of the action plan is to eliminate rape culture on campus by ensuring that all students have information on sexual assault and harassment prevention. Another goal is to introduce a policy that requires post-secondary institutions to publicly report incidents of sexual violence.
All colleges and universities will also participate in a province-wide awareness campaign in September 2015.
“We want to eliminate rape culture on campus. We want school environments to be safe and respectful. We want every student, in every university and college in Ontario, to be able to learn and study and experience campus life at its finest, free from sexual violence and harassment,” reads a statement in the Action Plan.
Sexual violence is directly connected to gender inequality. One of the biggest challenges victims of sexual assault face are damaging perceptions of sex and gender, which work to perpetuate sexual violence, and which can have far reaching consequences for victims. Victims of sexual abuse are more likely to experience depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, and self-harm.
The hashtags #WhoWillYouHelp and #ItsNeverOkay invite Twitter users to speak out against misogyny and sexual violence, and are beginning to gain traction on the social media site.
According to Belinda Bien, communications and policy advisor to the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, the Ontario government is hoping to introduce the legislation in autumn 2015.
“The Ministry believes the action plan is a bold plan for combating sexual violence. The Ministry is working closely with both Colleges Ontario and the Council of Ontario Universities and has engaged with student associations to ensure meaningful steps are being taken to address this issue,” says Bien.