Ford government yet to release results of Ontario-wide sexual violence survey conducted a year ago

Ministry cites privacy concerns for delay

Ford government yet to release results of Ontario-wide sexual violence survey conducted a year ago

In February 2018, over 20,000 U of T students completed Student Voices on Sexual Violence, an Ontario-wide survey about sexual violence sent by the provincial government to all postsecondary institutions. However, one year later the results have still not been released and the current Progressive Conservative (PC) government was unable to give a timeline on when the results can be expected.

With more than 160,000 students participating, the survey was created to help the province and universities benchmark and understand sexual violence.

It was developed in fall 2017 by the previous Liberal government’s Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development, currently known under the PC government as the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (TCU).

In an interview with The Globe and Mail in March 2018, Mitzie Hunter, the previous Liberal minister and current MPP for Scarborough—Guildwood, said that the results would be released to postsecondary institutions in summer 2018, and that certain portions of the report would be released to the public that fall.

After the Liberals lost the June 2018 provincial election to the PCs, MPP Merrilee Fullerton succeeded Hunter as the new Minister of TCU, taking over responsibility for the release of the data.

Government blames privacy concerns for delay

Fullerton’s office told The Varsity that the results of the survey have not been compiled due to concerns about the confidentiality of students.

When asked for the reasons behind the delay and for a release date, Fullerton’s media relations representative Tanya Blazina wrote that the survey vendor, identified as CCI Research on the survey’s website, is “continuing the process of compiling the data in a way that protects participant privacy.”

“Initial projections underestimated the time this work would take.”

When pressed again for a release date, Blazina repeated that the project had underestimated the timeline.

According to the FAQ on the survey’s website, “CCI Research will conduct this survey in a manner that protects your identity… Results will only ever be reported in a format that preserves confidentiality.”

When CCI Research was asked by The Varsity to independently verify the government’s assessment about the survey’s progress, the company redirected all questions to Blazina.

When The Varsity asked Hunter about the delayed results, she noted that confidentiality was the utmost concern when developing the survey.

“I think [Fullerton] should explain what the risks are… There was thought given to confidentiality and the privacy of those [completing] the survey so that it would not be attributable to any individual,” she said.

“The survey has been completed by students for quite some time,” said Hunter. “It’s Minister Fullerton’s responsibility to make those results known to students and to the public.”

Increasing demands to release the data

Pressure has been mounting on the Ford government to release the survey results to universities and the public.

According to U of T Vice-Provost Students Sandy Welsh, the results of the survey currently remain unknown to schools and students alike.

“We have not received the data nor have any other universities,” she wrote to The Varsity.

Likewise, the Queen’s Journal, Queen’s University’s student paper, recently reported that Queen’s also has not received the results.

U of T group Silence is Violence, which recently released a 60-page report on sexual violence on campus, released a statement condemning the delay.

“The delay in releasing the data represents the PC government’s deprioritization of issues impacting women and other marginalized groups most affected by sexual trauma,” wrote Jessica Wright and Simran Dhunna, representatives of Silence is Violence.

Wright, a PhD candidate at U of T and researcher for Silence is Violence, believes that the survey’s results are necessary to create a safer campus.

“In order for [U of T] to act in accordance with Bill 132, which stipulates that they have [to] review their policies at least once every three years and then amend them as appropriate, and also [to] include student input in that process, we need to see the data from universities and colleges,” Wright told The Varsity. “We need to see what students said.”

Believe them

Examining sexual violence in academic spaces through the Neil deGrasse Tyson case

Believe them

A problematic side effect of the #MeToo movement is its overrepresentation of the stories of celebrities who have experienced sexual assault, at the expense of the experiences and stories of ordinary people. We need to remember that sexual assault is not an issue specific to Hollywood.

Of course it’s important to listen when any person, famous or not, speaks out about their experiences. But by focusing mostly on the experiences of those who are wealthy and privileged, we inadvertently ignore the experiences of everyone else.

This mindset is pervasive — it exists here at our university, and at many others too. As a recent report by the group Silence is Violence has revealed, around 20 per cent of students surveyed had experienced an incident that may be considered sexual violence. The report includes alleged perpetrators who are academic authorities: professors.

In the academic sphere, the deep power imbalance at every level contributes to the pervasiveness of sexual violence. As students, we might feel pressured to go along with inappropriate behaviour to maintain a formal relationship with certain professors we may even think it is the norm. And when the person in question also happens to be well-known, respected in their field, and charismatic, it becomes that much more difficult to come forward.

Nowhere is this power imbalance better exemplified than with Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, who is currently the subject of an investigation by Fox Entertainment and National Geographic, the networks that air one of one of his programs, Cosmos. His other program, StarTalk, was put on hiatus by National Geographic in early January while the investigation is being conducted.

Tyson is the crossing point between academic and celebrity. He is a household name, thanks to his accomplishments in astrophysics and scientific literacy advocacy. Thus, he presents us with a headlining case of how predators in academia can operate.

The accusations

Tyson has four accusations levelled against him. Dr. Katelyn Allers, a professor at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania, alleges that Tyson grabbed and touched her inappropriately during an American Astronomical Society (AAS) gathering in 2009.

Ashley Watson worked briefly as an assistant and driver for Tyson, while the show Cosmos was being filmed. She alleges that he repeatedly acted inappropriately toward her, made sexual advances, and invited her to his home, alone, for alcoholic drinks.

Another woman, who has chosen to remain anonymous, alleges that he made inappropriate comments toward her at a holiday party in the American Museum of Natural History in 2010. Then, there is the fourth and oldest accusation. A woman named Tchiya Amet alleges that Tyson drugged and raped her when they were both graduate students at the University of Texas at Austin in 1984.

In response to all but the anonymous claim, Tyson made a Facebook post on December 1, writing, “In any claim, evidence matters. Evidence always matters. But what happens when it’s just one person’s word against another’s, and the stories don’t agree? That’s when people tend to pass judgment on who is more credible than whom.

In and of itself, that is a valid point. In cases of sexual assault and harassment, which so often happen in private, with few or no witnesses, it can be hard to provide solid evidence beyond the memories of those involved, especially if the event happened years or decades ago.

Tyson’s response to Katelyn Allers and Ashley Watson

Tyson frames the incident with Allers as him taking a quick look to see if her tattoo of the solar system included Pluto. Allers describes Tyson’s behaviour as “uncomfortable and creepy” and says that he does not have “great respect for female bodily autonomy.”

Allers has also said that, had she been able to, she would have probably reported the incident as sexual harassment. But at the time, the AAS did not have a mechanism for reporting sexual harassment. Like so many academic institutions, the AAS took far too long to develop a response to what was a clear issue.

Here at U of T, resources for those who have experienced sexual violence are still few and far between. The tri-campus Sexual Violence Prevention and Support Centre only opened in 2017.

As for Watson, Tyson similarly tries to reframe the incidents to make himself seem more innocent. He characterizes their relationship as being close and friendly during the time she was employed as his assistant.

He does acknowledge saying to her, “If I hug you I might just want more,” but he also describes the incident as a well-meaning attempt to “express restrained but genuine affection.” And then, rather than acknowledge the discussion that he allegedly had with her when she came to his home for wine and cheese, he skips ahead in his narrative to her coming to his office afterward to describe the event as “creepy.”

Tyson straddles the line between trying to say that he had, and still has, the utmost respect for Watson, while also casting doubt on her narrative. Tyson writes, “She viewed the invite as an attempt to seduce her,” adding that their conversation was similar to how they always spoke to each other.

Tyson is selective when responding to Watson’s accusations, which gives him the wiggle room to selectively apologize. In Watson’s telling of the story, Tyson took off his shoes and shirt, put on “romantic” music, began talking about how humans need “releases” including “physical releases,” and referred to Watson as being “distracting.”

Tyson reframes both Watson and Allers’ cases to his advantage. Merely reading his response to the accusation makes him seem well-meaning and apologetic, and the accusations less serious. But as Tyson himself points out, the different versions of these stories don’t line up.

Tchiya Amet’s allegation

According to Amet, she and Tyson were friendly but did not date during their time together as graduate students. Then one day, in 1984, Amet says that Tyson offered her water, which, unbeknownst to her, was drugged, causing her to pass out and awaken with him performing oral sex on her. When he saw that she was awake, Amet says, he got on top of her and continued to rape her, and she passed out again.

Tyson acknowledges the seriousness of Amet’s allegations against him, but he frames the story quite differently. First, he says that he and Amet dated briefly and had been intimate a few times at her apartment. And then, rather than simply deny the allegations, Tyson goes further and brings up several facts about Amet, most of which are irrelevant to her story. He discusses how she dropped out of her graduate program failing to mention that Amet says this was because she was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after the alleged incident — how she changed her name, and that she holds some unusual spiritual beliefs.

Tyson brings up Amet’s idiosyncratic ideas and beliefs for no other reason but to discredit her. He  tells his audience to associate her with something unscientific, thus positioning himself as correct, logical, and honest. This creates a narrative that we have seen time and time again. Instead of discussing Amet’s allegations at a human level, Tyson positions himself as a logical, calm, scientific authority, and characterizes Amet as ignorant and confused.

Indeed, he even writes, “As a scientist, I found [her beliefs] odd.” It is Tyson’s analysis of her actual story, however, that seems most disturbing. He repeats that some parts of her memory are fuzzy and that she cannot remember every detail, suggesting that she has a “false memory” of the event.

As a scientist, Tyson should be aware that trauma can have profoundly strong effects on memory. Indeed, a large part of PTSD, according to researcher Dr. Kristin W. Samuelson, includes “the inability to recall important aspects of the trauma” and “that memory deficits are a product of neurobiological abnormalities caused by PTSD.

Combine this with Amet’s claims to have been drugged and passed out several times, and it’s no wonder that she has some difficulty recalling details of the alleged event. But for Tyson, and for his supporters, nothing Amet claims really matters. As a scientist, Tyson is given the kind of benefit of the doubt that Amet would never be given. By merely pointing to his own credentials, he is able to dismiss her claims entirely, because, again, he is a scientist and academic, and she is not.

While Tyson responded fairly quickly to the accusations by Watson and Allers and the media was also quick to report upon them, Amet has been telling her story since 2010. However, her accusations have only gotten mainstream press coverage recently. Since Amet has such “odd” beliefs, and since she dropped out of her graduate program, she has likely lost some credibility. Also, unlike Allers and Watson, Amet is a Black woman, which likely contributed to her being seen as less believable.

Believe them

At the end of the day, the strongest evidence anyone has to go on about all of these accusations is what those involved say. Tyson presents himself as an honest and trustworthy scientist. Conversely, he presents his accusers, particularly Amet, as untrustworthy. He reframes incidents to seem more innocent and to make his interactions with Allers and Watson seem like innocent mistakes, instead of predatory behavior.

But it shouldn’t matter at all what his motivations were. It doesn’t matter that he’s a famous scientist, or if Amet has strange spiritual beliefs or not. The only thing that actually matters is that we have four women who accused Tyson of predatory behaviour. We have to listen to them.

In the beginning of his Facebook post, Tyson notes that, “For a variety of reasons, most justified, some unjustified, men accused of sexual impropriety in today’s ‘me-too’ climate are presumed to be guilty by the court of public opinion.” This argument is a misleading one. It suggests that such allegations should instead be dealt with in a court of law, because a “court of public opinion” unfairly judges the accused without due process.

But the #MeToo movement is not a legal phenomenon. I doubt most of the people who believe Tyson’s accusers want Tyson to automatically be sent to jail without due process. #MeToo is primarily about providing voice to those who have been long silenced.

For so long, survivors of sexual violence, be they Hollywood starlets or students right here at U of T, were not believed. They were — and still are — dismissed as liars or attention seekers. There was no public accountability. And so their anger turned into decades of silence and shame. Meanwhile, those accused were always given the benefit of the doubt.

Even now, as the recent report from Silence is Violence shows us, institutions that are meant to protect survivors too often let them down, especially when the accused are intellectual authority figures who have gained public trust. As a society, as a university, and as individuals, we have to do better at doing the work of listening to survivors and taking them seriously. So let’s listen to Amet, Allers, and Watson.

Adina Heisler is a fourth-year Women and Gender Studies and English student at University College.

Years of sexual misconduct allegations from underage women hasn’t affected his success — but is time finally up for R. Kelly?

2019 is the year that we finally hold R. Kelly accountable

Years of sexual misconduct allegations from underage women hasn’t affected his success — but is time finally up for R. Kelly?

Content warning: discussions of sexual violence.

Robert Sylvester Kelly, or R. Kelly, is one of the most well-known R&B artists in the music industry. He has sold up to 100 million records globally, including singles such as “Ignition (Remix)” and “I Believe I Can Fly.” He wrote Michael Jackson’s hit “You Are Not Alone,” and has collaborated with various artists such as Chris Brown, Lady Gaga, and Celine Dion.

R. Kelly’s success, however, has been clouded by dozens of sexual abuse claims involving girls as young as 14. Lifetime’s highly anticipated, six-part docuseries, Surviving R. Kelly, provides commentary from journalists, activists, and celebrities on the decades of sexual misconduct allegations against R. Kelly.

Initial reports concerning R. Kelly were brought to media attention through his controversial relationship with his teenage protégée, Aaliyah. The release of her debut album, Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number, which Kelly produced, gave rise to speculations of a romance that led to a secret marriage. This marriage, although denied by R. Kelly, was supported with the release of an alleged marriage certificate that declared Aaliyah’s age as 18 — even though records show that she was 15 and Kelly was 27 at the time.

In 2002, the artist was indicted on 21 counts of child pornography after a sex tape showing him urinating into the mouth of a 14-year-old girl was released. Although he was eventually acquitted on the remaining charges in 2008, the fact that he continued to be a prominent figure in the music industry — even after the wide distribution of bootleg copies of his tape — is upsetting. Television shows such as Boondocks and Chappelle’s Show undermined the severity of his charges by adding a comic spin to the incident. Additionally, R. Kelly’s album release in 2003 justified support for him despite these revelations about his predatory behaviour.

In 2012, R. Kelly released his memoir, Soulacoaster, that revealed that he was molested as a child growing up in the South Side of Chicago. In a 2016 interview with GQ magazine, the artist recounted being abused by a female relative for six to eight years. Shockingly enough, when asked about his thoughts on the experience, Kelly referred to the abuse as a “generational curse,” in which members of his family, who were victimized as children, became abusers when they grew up. Although this is an attempt to come to terms with the trauma of his sexual abuse, this claim is unusual considering that R. Kelly has denied all allegations of sexual assault made against him over the years.

Amid the controversy surrounding Surviving R. Kelly, celebrities such as Chance the Rapper and Lady Gaga have taken to social media to condemn the R&B singer, even removing their collaborations with him from streaming platforms. Furthermore, RCA Records dropped R. Kelly from its record label and prosecutors in Chicago and Atlanta have reportedly launched investigations into the sexual misconduct claims against him. But while these actions are much needed, they are long overdue.

Despite the amount of attention that Surviving R. Kelly has brought to the artist’s history of sexual abuse, it is important to note that it simply restates allegations that have been disclosed to the public in the past. It is no secret that R. Kelly preys on Black girls; a simple Google search reveals a plethora of disturbing evidence that dates back as far as 1994.

Historically, Black women and girls have been cast in society as essentially ‘unrapeable.’ Common stereotypes that portray them as loud, angry, barbaric, and whorish have contributed to the idea that they are incapable of being victims of sexual assault and are undeserving of the same responses afforded to white women in the same circumstances.

What would have happened if R. Kelly’s accusers were white?

If society would be willing to hold R. Kelly accountable for alleged actions against white women, why has it taken so long to respond to his exploitations of Black women? Why has it taken until 2019 for the voices of R. Kelly’s survivors to finally be heard?

However, this is not just a problem that can be blamed on the shortcomings of society at large. The Black community has also played a role in perpetuating decades of R. Kelly’s sexual offences. This is part of a larger dilemma that has seen this community ignore to his abuses for “the sake of racial solidarity,” as suggested by journalist Sesali Bowen. On separate occasions, both Chance the Rapper and Ohio State University professor Treva Lindsey have elaborated on this, explaining how the Black community has become “hypersensitized to [Black] male oppression.”

The most prominent view of the Black community centres on the struggles of Black men living in the racist climate of the United States, where they are criminalized because of the colour of their skin. This creates the perception that the negative actions of one Black man are representative of the entire Black population. As a result, there’s a sense of protectionism around the image of the ‘Black man’ that overlooks his treatment of Black women — especially, in the case of R. Kelly, where the allegations of sexual misconduct against him have taken a back seat to his prominence in the entertainment industry.

In the age of Time’s Up and #MeToo, a number of male celebrities have faced consequences for their inappropriate actions against women. However, R. Kelly has not faced the same reality as these men. Movements such as #MuteRKelly have been successful in cancelling his concerts and limiting his radio play, yet this progress continues to be offset by his fans who have taken to social media to discredit survivors and by individuals who continue to stream his music.

By continuing to listen to R. Kelly’s music, we are fostering the belief that R. Kelly is untouchable, and undeserving of the same punishments that we have given to other male celebrities who have used their status to exploit women. There are too many allegations against R. Kelly for us to continue to ignore them.

It is time for us to stand in solidarity with the survivors of his sexual misconduct.

R. Kelly has not been indicted on any counts of sexual misconduct, and as of press time, continues to deny all allegations against him.

Silence is Violence releases years-long report on sexual violence at U of T

20 per cent of respondents report experiencing sexual violence, marginalized students experience higher rates

Silence is Violence releases years-long report on sexual violence at U of T

A 60-page report from grassroots organization Silence is Violence (SiV) revealed major systemic issues regarding the prevalence and university’s treatment of sexual assault cases across all three U of T campuses.

A feminist activist group at U of T addressing rape culture and sexual violence on university campuses, SiV released its report on January 21 after beginning the project in 2016.

The report details statistics on identity and their relation to the prevalence of sexual violence, as well as overall awareness and attitudes toward existing resources and governing policies.

The findings come from a survey of more than 500 anonymous students, ranging in racial and ethnic backgrounds, gender identities, sexual orientations, and programs of study. SiV acknowledged the limitations of its methodology, namely that it overrepresented women and that participants were anonymous.

Statistics across demographics

Approximately 52.2 per cent of participants indicated that their lives as students had been impacted by sexual violence.

Moreover, as many as 20 per cent reported experiencing at least one instance of sexual violence during their time at U of T or were uncertain whether the incident they experienced was an act of sexual violence. Further, 30 per cent of students indicated that they knew of someone who had experienced sexual violence on campus.

In an interview with The Varsity, SiV team lead and U of T PhD student Jessica Wright shared her concern with the high proportion of instances when students were unsure if what they had experienced was sexual violence.

“I’d say one of the most surprising findings for me personally was that there were so many descriptions of physical violence and experiences of coercion that students didn’t identify or think constituted sexual violence,” said Wright. “I think that speaks to a lack of awareness about what constitutes sexual violence and the epidemic.”

The study further found that marginalized students believed that their identities — whether racial, gendered, sexual, or regarding disabilities — affected their perpetrator’s actions. According to the report, marginalized students experience a disproportionately high rate of sexual violence.

Indigenous respondents reported a rate of 74.1 per cent. Survivors with a disability and mental health issue reported a rate of 92.3 per cent.

“It is imperative that the university recognizes that sexual violence disproportionately affects marginalized people and that survivors of sexual violence can never be effectively supported by a universal ‘one-size-fits-all’ response,” reads the report.        

Wright said that the fact that marginalized students experience higher rates of sexual violence must be “explicitly recognized by the university and considered in every action to address sexual violence on campus.”

“In order for there to be a response to marginalized students at the university, we need intersectional responses,” said Wright.

Reporting sexual violence cases

Of the students who experienced cases of sexual violence, 75 per cent said they were unable or unwilling to report their assault. A variety of factors played into students’ decisions, particularly distrust in receiving the necessary help from university officials.

“As a female, you’re supposed to be passive. You’re never in the right. You’re malicious and melodramatic. I believed, and to some degree still do, that it was my actions that put me in that place and that I was in no position to speak up about what had happened. Above all, I didn’t think anyone would believe me,” wrote one participant.

The 25 per cent of participants who were able to report their assault were not satisfied with the resources provided or did not follow through with the report.

When asked about their comfort level with reporting sexual violence to Campus Police, participants rated it a 5.47 out of 10 on average. When asked the same regarding university staff, the average score was 5.09 out of 10.

Some students experienced sexual assault from university faculty, with one student reporting an incident with an associate dean, accounting for larger distrust in senior staff. Only one student indicated that they were able to report with a clear end result.

Next steps for the university

Of the 544 participants, 11.4 per cent expressed confidence in the university’s efforts to prevent and respond to sexual violence, while 33.4 per cent expressed neutrality.

Survivors criticized campus authorities and staff in their handling of sexual violence cases, questioning both the training and experience of officials and their commitment to prevention and adequate response efforts.  

“University of Toronto staff (especially those who are higher up the hierarchy) are deeply invested in protecting the institution’s brand. Their #1 priority is themselves and the institution, not the students,” wrote one student.

“I think that UofT doesn’t have a very deep analysis of the issue and they aren’t really committed to stopping sexual violence from happening, only to making it look like it has stopped happening,” wrote another participant about the university’s commitment to sexual violence prevention.

Overall, participants called for a series of transparent and accessible sexual violence resources on campus, as well as a more welcoming and open environment.

One of the major recommendations from the report was for an autonomous Anti-Sexual Violence and Survivor Support Hub. The hub would operate as a space for students to receive counselling and education, as well as a route for disclosing or reporting sexual violence.

Wright said that the hub would have to be autonomous from U of T “because we know that the university unfortunately does have a vested interest in protecting their reputation when it comes to the prevalence of sexual violence on campus.”

Currently, U of T operates a Sexual Violence Prevention & Support Centre to deal with disclosures and reports. However, respondents reported a low awareness of the centre, with only 4.2 per cent referencing it as a resource.

In contrast, 40 per cent of respondents referenced the Campus Police as their primary source of reference for sexual violence cases. However, racialized students found it a barrier when seeking assistance.

As of January 1, 2017, the university has a Sexual Violence and Harassment policy in place, detailing specifics about sensitive information disclosure, reporting, and resources for survivors. Critics have raised concerns over the lack of a sexual violence prevention committee and efforts on prevention-led education.

The Varsity spoke to Angela Treglia, Director of the university’s Sexual Violence Prevention & Support Centre, about the report’s findings.

The centre is fairly new — starting its tri-campus operations in 2017 — and Treglia acknowledges that there is still a lot of work that needs to be done.

“There is a recognition around the intersection of sexual violence and other forms of discrimination and harassment. We definitely recognize that there are individuals from marginalized communities who are disproportionately affected by sexual violence,” said Treglia.

“The Sexual Violence Prevention & Support Centre was developed as a space for individuals who experience sexual violence for them to go and get support, and we take an intersectional and client-centred approach to our work.”

She explained that the centre hopes to work  with equity and outreach groups on campus in order to respond to the needs of minority groups and continues to listen to student feedback.

When it comes to what the school can do better, the report states that, “The University of Toronto must be more intentional in its response to sexual violence on campus if it is to ever legitimately support survivors at U of T; there must be a move to transparent, accessible, well-advertised, and survivor-driven sexual violence resources, such as those outlined in our recommendations.”

With files from Josie Kao

Ending the silence on sexual violence

The new SiV report means time’s up for U of T’s survivor-last approach

Ending the silence on sexual violence

U of T’s past and present policies on sexual violence have been consistently met with controversy and criticism. Trinity College student Tamsyn Riddle has previously detailed the ways in which U of T failed her. In 2015, the administration repeatedly deflected responsibility and gave Riddle the impression that her case was not important enough to be taken seriously after she was sexually assaulted by another student. At the end of the 17-month-long ordeal, she filed a human rights complaint against the university and against Trinity College.

More recently, a survivor of sexual violence on campus saw sexual assault charges against her assailant dismissed, although a judge convicted the assailant of assault causing bodily harm that took place at the same time as the sex act. These stories are only the ones that have received media coverage.

Now, criticism has come to a head. Last Monday, campus-community organization Silence is Violence (SiV) published a groundbreaking report on sexual violence at U of T. The group is experientially-led, meaning that survivors take on driving leadership roles in the fight against sexual violence on Canada’s university campuses. 

The three-year long research effort culminated in a 60-page document that held the results of a survey of hundreds of students on their experiences surrounding sexual violence at U of T. The report found that many students have been affected by sexual abuse, that students did not feel supported by U of T’s resources on sexual violence, and that marginalized students felt particularly neglected. 

The implications of this report are clear. U of T has failed to fulfil its responsibilities and respond effectively to the needs of survivors on campus. The SiV report has the potential to drive meaningful change by providing U of T with data on the testimonies and the needs of survivors, including instructions and recommendations for improvements to university services, processes, and policies. 

The data paints a picture of a chaotic, bureaucratic, and self-interested system, which survivors are forced to navigate in isolation with no proper understanding of what services they are being offered. This system is not friendly, but hostile to victims, especially as they may need to repeat the story of their trauma to numerous staff members. The onus is often placed upon students to research and figure out where they can report instances of sexual violence and where they can find support. 

Let’s not mince words. Survivors are in survivor mode. Some may not have the mental stamina to navigate this convoluted system, and we should not ask them to do so. If the university requires what is, for many, the impossible, in order to gain support and justice, then many will be excluded from such support and justice.

The university must not only play a role in helping students navigate the aftermath of such incidents, but should also proactively combat rape culture on campus. 

Yet U of T currently has no mention of rape culture in its policy on sexual violence. This is one of the reasons why, in 2017, U of T’s sexual violence policy scored a low letter-grade C from the nationwide student organization Our Turn. 

There are reasons why publicly and privately funded institutions like U of T may not address sexual violence on campus in the most effective ways. Consider, for example, that U of T does not adequately advertise the services it provides to deal with sexual violence on campus, leaving many students in the dark. Meanwhile, study groups, co-curricular opportunities, and other university services are thoroughly announced, often by professors on syllabus days. 

To advertise after-the-fact services like counselling for survivors, or to campaign and educate against the existing rape culture on campus, risks publicizing the simple fact that sexual violence happens at U of T. Acknowledging the problem does not elevate the reputation of the university. It disparages it. 

And recall that reputation is everything to an elite, top-ranked institution like U of T, because it justifies high tuition and boosts enrolment numbers. Applicants are on the hunt for the universities with the best rates of student success and the best academic and co-curricular opportunities, among other qualities. Hence, U of T has a vested interest in suppressing the magnitude of sexual violence on campus from the public. That kind of data and awareness has the potential to negatively affect enrolment and monetary contributions from donors. 

Based on the current system’s glaring problems, which survivors at U of T have to navigate, the university obviously has not completed its due diligence in consulting those touched by sexual violence about the services it offers to them. Victims are not asked what services, processes, and outcomes they need; they instead are told what the university is willing to provide. 

The research done by SiV means that U of T is in an excellent position to start tackling the problem. The report outlines the anxieties and concerns that students have about the process of reporting sexual violence and the support that U of T offers. U of T can choose to hear these voices and make changes accordingly to policies and service centres. SiV also provides a detailed statement of recommendations on how the university can improve and take meaningful action. 

The university must provide an accessible, navigable, survivor-first system to report and find support in the wake of sexual violence, as well as take action against an unchecked rape culture on campus. Time is up for U of T’s survivor-last approach to dealing with sexual violence.

Cameron Wheeler is a second-year English student at Woodsworth College. 

Toward a decent, dignified masculinity

The St. Michael’s College School scandal shows that we need to shape a healthier culture for boys

Toward a decent, dignified masculinity

Content warning: discussion of sexual violence.

In mid-November, videos surfaced on social media that showed an alleged assault and sexual assault at St. Michael’s College School (SMCS) — an all-boys private school just a few kilometres away from U of T. Hearing this news left me feeling physically ill. Six boys connected to the incidents have been charged, while the police continue to investigate other separate incidents. Recently, both the principal and president of the school have resigned.

The scandal compelled me to question what hazing entails, which is the common thread between all the incidents. The practice refers to the initiation of students into a group through humiliation.

Hazing and toxic masculinity

Professor Michael Atkinson of the Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Education describes hazing as “a physical, psychological and emotional gauntlet [that] new members of [a] group must endure to be respected as legitimate insiders.” He notes that the practice occurs regardless of the respective gender of the team, group, or club, which is usually sports-related.

While Atkinson recognizes that this behaviour is not exclusive to men, it is essentially boys and men who undertake a larger risk when performing these said “rituals,” taking it to the “proverbial next level.” I now recognize that there is a spectrum of hazing, which I believe is synonymous with society’s understanding of bullying: public shaming and degrading, abusive behaviour, and varying degrees of violence and assault.

With this in mind, I believe that now is as important a time as ever for all of us to reflect on our complacency in a culture that breeds toxic male behaviour. The notion of toxic masculinity is a controversial one, and in this context it is not meant to be a targeted, gender-oriented criticism on men. My intent is to shed light on its very real existence, as shown by the SMCS scandal.

The boys in question are trapped in their own culture of what it means to be male. Misogyny, chauvinism, vehement toxicity, and the deep-rooted subversion of ‘emotion’ facilitates a lifestyle that many young boys observe, learn, and thus embody. Internalization of such beliefs stems from something much larger than the boys who committed these horrific acts.

Institutions like SMCS must be held accountable for histories of abuse and perpetuation of hypermasculinity, enforced by implicit values that are in turn modelled by teachers. Sports is the locus of pride and glory at SMCS, and after the story broke, alumni have spoken out about their high school experiences, noting that it is not just students that exhibit cruel behaviour, but also teachers and coaches.

But whether your coach slaps you in the face at football practice or your principal withholds videos of a gang sexual assault for a few days, being a boy in high school today means staying silent, complicit, and petrified.

My heart is with the survivors of these senseless, torturous crimes. I’m sorrowful for those boys and for the persistent neglect to acknowledge men and boys as survivors of sexual violence — not just perpetrators. The media attention and panic that have ensued do not help either.

Survivors are indeed subject to shame and trauma, the psychological aftermath that has the power to debilitate or disguise itself in various ways. It creeps and seeps into anything; it does not discriminate. But even more, being a boy in this context has an added stigma.

While it is crucial that the perpetrators are held responsible for their actions, it is important to acknowledge the bigger picture here: they are products of society. It is important that we do not simply dismiss bullies as the isolated ‘bad guys,’ because that doesn’t solve the problem. Their behaviour is one that is taught, learned, and assembled by culture — and society must take some responsibility for this.

What is important to consider is that what happened at SMCS is not unique: it could happen at any educational institution, including U of T. It has simply come to public awareness now. Any institution that covertly or overtly allows or ignores signs of humiliation, torment, and verbal abuse is one that can house crimes such as the ones at SMCS. It starts with the consistent normalization and lack of questioning of truly toxic behaviour.

Moving forward

I must admit, however, that bullying cannot be eradicated entirely, for I believe it is an exploration of power dynamics expressed by and through children. But there can and must be change within our schools and homes. Temperaments and conduct must be monitored exhaustively by the gatekeepers of our youth’s success: parents, educators, and mentors.

Even more, school policy must position visible tools and resources to navigate such situations at its forefront, and this begins at the top. As U of T students, professors, and leaders, we should ask our institution what it’s doing to combat a culture of silence.

The SMCS events should act as a wake-up call to all board members and educational leaders. We need to break the stigma. We need to show that it is an act of courage to reach out for help. An anonymous voicemail service that will be implemented at SMCS is a start that other institutions should follow.

Universities and schools should also strongly enforce a zero-tolerance policy for hazing rituals and any kind of verbal, physical, or sexual abuse, while also implementing clear, non-negotiable consequences for such behaviour.

Additionally, school and university boards should implement curriculum surrounding emotional literacy. Equating sensitivity with weakness is outdated and needs to be challenged. Rather, learning how to manage emotion can help youth make rational decisions.

Inhabiting a healthier culture

The fact of the matter is that I’m a student and aspiring teacher who has no formal training in the field of education yet. Although I don’t have the answers to the issues of hypermasculinity and bullying in schools, I hope that our education system invests in the work, planning, discussion, and commitment required to find solutions. When I become a teacher, I will do everything in my power to realize and inhabit a healthier culture in our schools.

The goal is show boys how to be decent, dignified men. Parents, teachers, leaders, and adults: we can do better, for the sake of our succeeding generations and our youth. Let the events at SMCS serve as a reminder to take personal responsibility for our actions, and to question the behaviour we embody or witness.

Melanie Cohen is a fourth-year Book & Media Studies, English, and Religion student at Victoria College.

Bringing men into the #MeToo conversation

Reflecting on sexual violence at St. Michael’s College School

Bringing men into the #MeToo conversation

Content warning: discussions of sexual violence.

In recent weeks, the incidents that occurred at St. Michael’s College School (SMCS) have garnered national attention. Opinions range from two extremes, from alumni arguing that the incidents reflect their experiences to angry moms yelling at newscasters that “there’s a bad apple in every crowd.”

This incident is about something bigger than a few bad apples. It is not just an isolated incident of bullying or hazing. Many journalists and commentators are quick to blame the mix of “regressive” Catholicism, the toxic masculinity that stereotypically defines all boys’ schools, and the elitism that comes from the privilege of a private education.

But this incident is bigger than that. It’s part of a bigger pattern where men, like Jian Ghomeshi or Patrick Walsh, thought their entitlement to someone else’s body superseded that individual’s right to life, liberty, and security.

This is part of #MeToo, and it’s about time Toronto sees it that way.

This behaviour extends far beyond high school. According to a 2014 Statistics Canada survey, 41 per cent of all self-reported sexual assault incidents were reported by students, and 58 per cent of male offenders are between the ages of 18–34. It is, and always has been, a pervasive issue on college campuses. U of T has as much of a responsibility to spread awareness about these issues as SMCS.

While the legal system is rightly treating these incidents as sexual assaults, many articles solely refer to the abuse as hazing. This fails to acknowledge the unique context in which sexual assault occurs.

For example, one SMCS mother was quoted in The Toronto Sun as praising the school’s response, highlighting the fact that hazing rituals exist at other private all-boys schools. But no one has bothered to ask why those boys used that particular method to ‘haze.’ Throwing water on someone or making them march in circles is not the same as using a sexual act to degrade an individual’s bodily integrity.

Sexual violence is about using sex as a tool for power and control. What happened at SMCS was sexual violence.

Sexual assault is thought to be about sexual gratification, so when an assault, like the one at SMCS, is not overtly sexually motivated, focus shifts away from the sexual nature of the crime. For many people, the incident does not align with the biased societal conception of the ‘ideal’ victim. The young boy subjected to ‘hazing’ doesn’t match society’s idea of a #MeToo victim: a young, innocent, white woman.

When society fails to appropriately respond to these non-‘ideal’ victims, there are grave repercussions. It took months for the police to recognize that the series of murders in Toronto’s Gay Village were connected. It took even longer for police to tie killer Robert Pickton to the women who went missing in Vancouver’s Lower East Side.

Many believe that sexual assault against men is rare. It’s not. From 2009–2014, 13 per cent of sexual assault victims in Canada were male. However, since not all sexual assaults are reported,  this number only represents about 10 per cent of all sexual assaults, resulting in little research or resources dedicated to supporting male victims. Researchers estimate that progress for male victims of sexual assault is about 20 years behind that of women.

When society fails to educate boys on sexual assault, we can end up with cases like this — where groups of boys believe that sexually assaulting someone and posting it online is just regular hazing. It’s considered ‘boys being boys’ instead of a crime.

The boys at SMCS believe such a thing because children learn from their environment. There’s a pervasive cultural belief that violence and aggression is a natural extension of male sexuality. If society doesn’t see this event as part of #MeToo, the boys won’t either. Worse, if the perpetrators don’t see their actions as sexual assault, it won’t stop them from committing similar crimes in the future.

So let’s see this for what it really is: a single sexual assault which reflects our broader lack of understanding about sexual violence. This is not just boys being boys. Let’s make space in #MeToo for men to come forward — a space where boys don’t have to fear that their accusations will be dismissed.

Ella Benedetti, Olivia Berkovits, Rachel Gordon, Christian Logue are master’s students at the Centre for Criminology & Sociolegal Studies.

Why are we addicted to belittling the experiences of survivors?

Exploring why our criminal justice system allows sexual assault perpetrators to walk away without answering for their actions

Why are we addicted to belittling the experiences of survivors?

Content warning: discussions of sexual violence.

It is highly likely that while you are reading this article, a survivor of sexual assault is living through the following scenario or something similar:

A young woman reports a case of rape and is then subjected to a paradoxical investigative and judicial process.

Her role of survivor shifts, without her consent, to that of the bearer of guilt.

A nonexistent verdict accompanies the lack of actual empathy from the police and court system.

As a survivor of assault, she becomes the bearer of guilt and shame. Then the accused is given an inadequate punishment and she is left with the infamous words: “You asked for it.”

According to recent data provided by Statistics Canada, only one in 10 reported sexual assault cases will result in the criminal conviction of the perpetrator, with the vast majority being allowed to walk away from their actions. Survivors are silenced by a criminal justice system with flaws.

Why is society desperate to assume that most alleged victims are lying or mistaken? Is it because we’re afraid of how prevalent sexual assault really is?

The disturbingly low convictions for sexual violence have many explanations, but a major contributing factor is the prejudice and stereotypes that surround sexual assault cases.

For instance, survivors are often blamed for their own assault because of prejudices rooted in societal norms, which often suggest that the survivor put themselves in a risky situation. This furthers a narrative that the assault was bound to happen.

Alberta, 2014. Former Canadian Federal Court judge Robin Camp said to the 19-year-old sexual assault complainant in court, “Why couldn’t you just keep your knees together?”

Camp continued to engage in this misogynist rhetoric. He acquitted the accused, telling the young man that “sex and pain sometimes go together… that’s not necessarily a bad thing.”

Camp’s behaviour and response to this case is a clear demonstration of the prevalence of myths and stereotypes about sexual assault in our society and our court system. This is a serious concern and should be treated as such. Judges who display beliefs like Camp’s should have no place in our justice system.

Despite the recent rise of legal and social movements such as #MeToo and #WhyIDidn’tReport — which attempt to record the inequality of the outcomes of sexual assault — victim blaming remains a constant and fixed undercurrent in our culture.

The reality is that, as survivors stand to testify to their experience in front of judges and juries, they are often interrogated with questions of a highly intimate and volatile nature.

Defence lawyers actively strive to dismiss the case by using invasive tactics of questioning, which not only forces survivors to relive their experiences, but at times demoralizes and embarrasses them to the point where they have to drop out of the case entirely. This is yet another reason why perpetrators are able to slip through the cracks of our justice system.

Lawyers and judges often quickly dismiss these cases and move on to the next, allowing the perpetrator to continue harming others — who were, once again, simply ‘asking for it.’

Legal Director of the Women’s Legal Education Action Fund, Kim Stanton, addressed Camp’s conduct in an interview with FLARE, saying that “[having] a judge who is not adhering to the rule of law in Canada [is] very, very worrisome. For over 30 years, we have fought to have [women’s rights] protections in the actual letter of the law and if we now have a judge who knows the law and just simply chooses to ignore it or refuses to apply it — it’s a concern.”

The neglect from our criminal justice system is yet another problematic hurdle that survivors of sexual assault face.

It amounts to a system that allows perpetrators to walk away without having to acknowledge the consequences of their actions.

A system that is firmly founded on the concept of stereotyped female sexuality.

A system that will enable those in power to condemn the survivor as though it is their responsibility not to get raped in the first place.

Although Canada is, on the whole, socially progressive, we continue to struggle to acknowledge the problems plaguing our justice system with respect to sexual assault.