The hidden side of sexual assault at university

All those lights won’t necessarily remove the fear for some people./ Brett Nielsen

All those lights won’t necessarily remove the fear for some people./ Brett Nielsen

Just because no one reports anything doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.

Author: Alex Antoneshyn

Imagine that you’ve been mugged and survived to tell the story but when you do, friends and family members dismiss your trauma with varying shades of ignorance. In such a scenario, these responses are insensitive, demeaning, and blameful of your actions. Yet, they can hardly be considered alien in the context of sexual assault. Often, they are accompanied by other comments that are worse.

“How much did you have to drink?”

“Did you lead him on?”

“But did you like it?”

These comments, perhaps, are the reason people report only an estimated one in ten sexual assaults. If, according to Statistics Canada’s Juristat report of Summer 2010, 472,000 women reported a case of sexual assault in 2009, that means approximately 4,720,000 women were sexually assaulted that year and at least 4,248,000 women’s attackers went unpunished. And that’s excluding the statistics regarding male victims, which are considered less accurate.

If this doesn’t shock you, a CBC article recently stated that between 2009 and 2013, the University of Saskatchewan had ten reports of sexual assault and Saskatchewan Polytechnic Institute, zero. Our own university had only six reported cases. While these statistics may mean that sexual assaults rarely happen on university campuses, it is more likely that universities are doing a poor job of encouraging victims to seek assistance, especially since college-aged women are the biggest target group. There is also the climate that doubts, dismisses, and trivializes the stories of victims who come forward. For example, look at the controversy surrounding the allegations against Jian Ghomeshi and Bill Cosby.

I don’t want to make those who haven’t reported sexual assaults feel guilty, but to question the environment that pressures them to do so; I mentioned the stigmatization that accompanies victimization. Perhaps those assaulted fear being accused of lying, of encouraging or initiating the assault, or, from there on, being recognized as simply a victim. These are all products of rape culture, which normalizes sexual violence. From advertisements that objectify and sexualize the female body, to describing the brutal defeat of a team’s opponent as ‘rape’, society justifies minimizing the significance of sexual assault.

If a victim does choose to report the assault to authorities, not only does stigmatization become a real possibility, but it also becomes nearly inevitable and a very unpleasant experience. Compared to dealing with the trauma alone, subjecting oneself to numerous recounts of the incident may seem to multiply the emotional burden rather than lessen it. This decision is doubly unappealing, since many assault charges are fruitless in conclusion. Instead of confidence in the system to discipline attackers, a victim may begin thinking there’s nothing the police can do.

Finally, what might be the simplest factor in the low number of sexual assaults reported is confusion or cluelessness on who to turn to for help. While this may seem like the easiest call to make in such a situation, panic and distress often cloud our sensibility.

These elements in mind, it becomes obvious that improved social awareness and understanding of sexual assault is necessary for both the decline of sexual assaults and increase of those that are reported. Our social structures should be teaching us that in no circumstances are non-consensual sex acts acceptable, nor should anyone blame the victim. We need to prove to those assaulted that our institutions are there to help them, to aid them through their trauma, and to enact disciplinary measures against attackers. However, society will continue to only partially be successful in these endeavours as long as it fails to instil the message among its participants that only an individual holds the rights to their own person, regardless of gender or age or ethnicity. Universal recognition of individual equality remains to be achieved and is the solution to these problems.

If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, or in the case that you become one, please contact the following groups for assistance: Campus Security (306-585-4999), the University’s Health and Discrimination line (306-585-5400), the U of R’s Women’s Center (306-584-1255), the Regina Women’s Center (306-522-2777), and the public Sexual Assault Line (306-352-0434). They are there to help.

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