Over the past few weeks, most media outlets have been talking about sexual assault. There have been articles about the women who have recently come forward with allegations against former CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi, those who have gone to the police, opinion pieces and articles on why women do not report sexual assault to the police. Social media has also been present in this discussion on an individual level and a global level with the hashtags #BeenRapedNeverReported and #ibelievelucy along with tweets about rape culture, the judicial system and the allegations against Jian Ghomeshi.
The media has been talking about it, social media has been talking about it, coworkers in offices have been talking about it and people in social circles have been talking about it. It’s time for universities to start talking about it.
On October 30th, in wake of the allegations of sexual assault made by 9 women against Jian Ghomeshi, Macleans posted and article titled “Why don’t Canadian universities want to talk about sexual assault?” (article link under sources). The article discussed how many universities lack policies about sexual assault on campus and services for victims despite women ages 15-24 experiencing the highest rates of sexual assaults in the country. Universities usually avoid conversations about sexual assault on campus due to a fear of negative publicity that will compromise their ability to raise funds. Universities do not want to risk losing funding by having a bad reputation but what happens when universities don’t talk about sexual assault?
A Facebook post has recently been circulating social media regarding life in York University’s residence in 1988. The post describes how women from each residence were brought together so residence staff could warn them about Jian Ghomeshi. Several women had told their residence advertisers about bad dates where they had been choked or hit. RA’s gave warnings about going on dates with him, the co-ed washroom and not being in a stairwell with him.
What if there was a proper sexual assault policy in place? If the allegations were found to be true, he may have been kicked out of school and would not have gone on to hold such a high position of power that victims allege have protected him for all of these years. Charges may have been filed and if found guilty, he may have not been hired for that position. If the allegations were true and he was caught, he may have not gone on to allegedly assault 9 other women. This is not to pick on or point fingers at York University whatsoever. This is a problem across the board at all post-secondary institutions and I doubt the outcome would have differed if Ghomeshi attended another school.
Universities and colleges need to start talking about sexual assault because Ghomeshi is just one example that happens to be publicly known of alleged perpetrators who graduate with their degree, go on to get jobs consequence free and allegedly continue to assault. Post secondary schools have an opportunity to stop those who sexually assault and prevent further assaults. If those who sexually assault knew they would not get away with it and would face consequences academically such as expulsion, they may think twice. If those who assault face real consequences for their actions early, they may not assault again. There are no studies that say all perpetrators of sexual assault in university stop assaulting after graduation.
In regards to universities and colleges not wanting to ruin their reputation by talking about sexual assault; what better reputation is there than a safe school?
**note: allegations against Ghomeshi have not been proven in court**