I head off to University in 40 days 23hours and 37minutes. I’m moving across the country to face the majestic jungles of Toronto (yes, I’ll embarrassingly admit I’ve listened to some Drake songs in preparation). The process of packing up my life is both terrifying and exciting and most of all: new. But enough with the cliches. As I’ve begun to pack up my favourite items I’ve added a new thing to the list: a hard plastic, sealable, durable, water bottle. Yes, I’m environmentally friendly, but that’s not why. I was sitting with a friend of mine, who just finished first year at a smaller college, and she was drinking from a very similar container. We got on the topic of first year, and I shared my very real fears of being a sophomore female student. In 2013, I watched as the video of a pro-rape chant at Saint Mary’s University in Nova Scotia went viral. More recently, Dalhousie University in Halifax reached global attention when a Facebook Group consisting of male students was discovered that also promoted rape.
I asked her without hesitation, “do you know anyone who has been raped?”. Her answer was right away “yes”. She went on to say she knew three people. She also said, “I don’t know if others would consider it rape, but they took drinks from people which got them intoxicated beyond what they had wanted and the next morning they learned of sexual acts they did not soberly consent to or in any way want or remember.” I wish I could offer up some accurate and shocking college rape statistics to support my point here, but none will ever come close to accurate. The definitions of rape are extremely foggy, the support for victims hard to access, and the shame that makes it nearly impossible to come forward endless. As an attempt I’ll share with you the statistics from a US National study that said one in four women in College have reported surviving rape or attempted rape, in their lifetime. As well, 673,000 women currently attending U.S. colleges and universities have experienced rape.
Canadian statistics on rape are significantly lower, although this might sound uplifting many say this may in fact be an indicator of an even deeper issue. A CBC story recently spoke about these statistics and how they indicate Universities may not have proper resources in place for students to feel comfortable reaching out for support or to report rape. The article also spoke about a separate student survey that was conducted at The University of Ottawa that showed over 44% of female students had experienced a form of sexual assault. The same University had only seen 10 students file reports of sexual assault over the course of five years. My friend then signalled to her sealable water bottle and told me, “I actually carried a water bottle like this around with me to parties. When it hung around my wrist, it had to be completely sealed or it would spill. This made it so I had control of my drink and no one could slip in drugs such as ruffies”. My first question was what people’s responses were, was that socially acceptable? Some people did ask them what the deal with the water bottle was, but her response was always casually, “I just don’t want to get raped.” This was a complete slap-in the face realization. I too have read the Buzzfeed articles on nail polish that can detect ruffies in drinks and all the inventions that might be coming soon, but the reality is that I’m leaving in 40 days 23 hours and 37 minutes and I don’t see anything on the shelves that can help prevent rape in these type of circumstances. The closest thing you may be able to find is actually Amy Schumer. No, Amy is not going to follow you around campus at night like a super uncensured bodyguard (although that would be awesome). Instead, she’s produced mainstream media content that actually addresses this issues. Her sketch ‘Football Town Nights” speaks about it perfectly. The coach tells them there will be a new rule of: “no rape”. The rule is followed up by confusion and upset from the students, followed by comments such as, “what if it’s halloween, and she’s dressed like a sexy cat?”, “what if she thinks it’s rape, but I don’t?”, “what if my mom is the DA and won’t prosecute?”, “what if someone else is raping her, and I’m just like filming it on my phone?” and of course, “what if she’s drunk and has a slight reputation and no one is going to believe her?”
Often we find how to act through mainstream media and pop culture. For people I know that often includes Youtube, Social Media, Television, etc. If all of that information coming at you from different angles is showing situations where it seems okay to rape, it’s going to seem okay. If you want to change people’s actions you have to change their mindsets first. So Amy may not directly be there with me, but being able to share and like content that highlights this issue starts a conversation that needs to be had. Before I end I’ll mention a few resources to reach out for help if you’ve experienced sexual assault: RAINN: Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network, EROC: End Rape On Campus (works in the US to support rape victims as well as activists who work on the subject), and check out this list with 20 groups stopping domestic violence.
As well, there are activists globally fighting sexual violence towards women. Horrifically, in many other places around the world forms of rape are still legalized. CNN has an article on marital rape in India and its legalities: cnn.com/martial-rape-india. The article also speaks about education as a form of preventative action. An example of activists fighting against this is Kubra Khademi, a 25 year-old artist from Afghanistan, who went viral globally this week with her piece on street harassment. She wore metal armour through the streets of Kabul to protest street harassment and violence. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Nigerian author and feminist (the spoken section of the song “Flawless” by Beyonce is hers!!!), says: “Culture does not make people. People make culture. If it is true that the full humanity of women is not our culture, then we can and must make it our culture.” Start a conversation. Talk about consent, rape culture in media, and read more on such subjects. Observe the content that you are sharing and supporting: What are they telling you? Are these messages you want to see more of? Produce and support content in the society around you that you want to see more of, because you make culture. You produce the demand for culture, and you decide what becomes popular. Remember, poppers, to see change, share change, be change. Much love xo.