Women Deliver Mobilization: A World and Relationships with Gender-Based Violence

May 08, 2019 , Written by Kathy Chan, student, Master of Public Health and Preethi Bokka, Project Co-ordinator, External Relations

“Silence is the enemy of consent.” - Staceyann Chin at Consent Culture Forum, 2015.

A powerful quote from Chin resonates the most with an institutional setting such as the university. A place where adolescence meets freedom, universities can play a significant role in educating its students on power and gender dynamics. Specifically, gendered violence in universities takes the form of sexual violence and harassment. Increasing rates of gender-based violence (GBV) on university campuses show how the emotional and physical safety of students is continually put at risk.

Statistics Canada (2014) reported that 41% of all sexual assaults happened to students in 2014. Sexual violence is one of the most common forms of GBV on campus and it includes unwanted sexual touching, sexual attacks and sexual activity where the victim was unable to consent (Statistics Canada, 2014). Over 80% of rapes happening on campuses are committed by a perpetrator who knows the victim (Canadian Federation of Students - Ontario, 2015). It is important to note that there is a high level of underreporting of sexual violence due to stigma, shame and fear of being further victimized during the legal process. International students face additional barriers to reporting due to an unfamiliar language and culture.

Sexual violence is made worse by the existing negative gender relations on campus. Male attitudes toward sexual violence have shown to be problematic. One Canadian survey showed that 60% of college aged males would commit sexual assault if they were never caught (Canadian Federation of Students, 2015). Furthermore, university-specific settings, such as fraternities harbour dangerous spaces and culture for women. Fraternity culture is commonly seen to be a hostile place where sexual domination, aggression and rape myths are learned and further perpetuated (Boswell & Spade, 1996). This can be seen in chants and banners with threatening messages toward women. The high use of alcohol and drugs in fraternities and sororities intensify the attitudes surrounding rape culture. These norms also extend to varsity athletic teams where masculinity is often equated with dominance. Without hesitation-- rape culture in universities is a real local issue.

But, also globally…

If sexual violence occurs in seemingly safe institutions such as universities, pivoting our lenses to the global community starts to highlight violence that goes further than sexual violence. In fact, sexual violence is only one form of gender-based violence (GBV) that has affected the lives of many self-identified women and girls as well as for members of LGBTQA2S+ communities.

Gender-based violence is violence “directed at an individual based on his or her [or their] biological sex or gender identity” (Women for Women International, 2019). GBV can occur publicly or privately and “includes physical, sexual, verbal, emotional and psychological abuse, threates, coercion, and economic or educational deprivation”.

GBV is known to exist in various forms, including but not limited to, intimate partner violence (IPV), human trafficking and sex slavery, harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM), and child, early or forced marriages.

Globally, the statistics on such violence is alarming. Alarming, but yet one cannot help but ask if it has been normalized? In regions such as Africa and the Middle-East, conflict-driven zones put women and children at risk of gender-based violence. These regions also show the highest rates of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), which is yet another form of GBV, with at least 200 million girls that have undergone FGM in 30 countries (United Nations, 2018).

Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) is, however, the most common form of violence that people of various genders are affected by. A number of national studies indicate that 70% of women have experienced IPV in their lifetime, and we know that  men, boys and transgender people are also affected by the same. For instance, in Canada, men are victims of one out of four cases of IPV (Vancouver Sun, 2019).

When we say GBV, it is important to recognize that , while it proportionally affects women, it is an issue that affects both heterosexual and non-heterosexual women, men, transgender and two-spirit people, as well as people of all ages. Statistics on various forms of GBV are inexhaustive, and GBV is an issue that many communities are battling against. It is important to remember that these numbers are lived realities for many, and the fight against GBV has to be ongoing and met with resilience.

SFU’s Efforts

Despite SFU’s efforts at creating a safe space, gender-based violence has occured and continues to happen on campus. In 2016, three separate sexual assault accusations within six months were aimed at one SFU student living in residence. In 2018, many students raised awareness on a Facebook page about an alleged serial sexual harasser on SFU’s Burnaby campus. Despite the high number of incidents reported with this harasser, only one known formal complaint was filed at the university. 

The BC government introduced a bill requiring all post-secondary institutions to implement a sexual assault policy by May 2017. In response, SFU created a working group consisting of students, faculty and staff to create and implement their policy, Sexual Violence Prevention, Education and Support (GP 44). Currently, SFU has the Sexual Violence Support & Prevention Office (SVSPO) which offers trauma-informed support, referrals and educational opportunities to the entire university community, including students, faculty and staff.. They strive to eliminate barriers to support for marginalized populations such as LGBTQ2S+, Indigenous people and people of color. The SVSPO also engages with the wider community by collaborating with other on and off campus organizations.

SFU students, staff and faculty are encouraged to seek support when they experience sexual violence regardless of when or where the incident(s) took place. The SVSPO has created tips on ways to respond to disclosures in a sensitive and trauma informed way and on their website you can watch a helpful video that highlights how someone can respond to a disclosure of sexual violence.  For example, they encourage using reaffirming phrases such as “I believe you” and “It’s not your fault” and empathizing with survivors, respecting their space and honoring the trust a survivor has given by disclosing a traumatic event. Ultimately, the video teaches us how to support one another because we are all in this together.

Moreover, educational opportunities are also available from the SVSPO such as workshops on bystander interventions, responding to disclosures and practicing consent. These workshops offer practical skills on how to respond and intervene when hurtful and harmful behaviour arises and workshops can be tailored to the needs and roles of specific audiences. Participating in these workshops is a way everyone can act as an ally, stand by survivors and explore ways to make social change towards ending sexual violence. It is not entirely out of scope to state that it is our duty to equip ourselves with necessary tools to tackle sexual violence!

By increasing dialogue and learning to recognize the signs of violence and spaces where this campus is conducive to perpetuating GBV, we can work towards the common goal of eliminating GBV and creating an environment where we all are and feel safe.

An Opportunity to Dream

In partnership with SFU’s mobilization against gender-based violence, we want to see your vision of “A World and Relationships without Gender-Based Violence.” This Artivist Event is an opportunity for artists and/or activists at SFU to depict or write about a world when gendered or sexual violence does not exist! Your artwork will be used to create a legacy collage that will be displayed at the Cultural Night, at the Women Deliver Conference, on June 5th! Please find more details here for a chance to win a prize: bit.ly/sfuw