Saturday, September 16, 2017

Victimization Of Sexual Assault Survivors On Campus

The Hunting Ground (2015)

I became a teacher because I thought I would be able to make a real difference. That I would meet like minded individuals who felt passionate about the same things that I did. I thought that by getting to my students before they set off into the world, that I could help them become more aware of the issues that they would be facing and in doing so help advocate on behalf of those without a voice so that they too could become empowered. I knew that academia was fraught with its own difficulties. Terms like academic mobbing were not even in my vocabulary. It never occurred to me that the administrators would be preoccupied with their brand instead of the safety and well-being of their students. It was and is still inconceivable to me that education itself has become nothing more than a mill churning out graduates without so much as a second thought to character development. I realized early on just how blind I had been as a student myself and even as a teacher when I first began teaching full time in 2006. I was painfully naive and despite my efforts to educate myself I feel as though that I still am.

Pic © The Hunting Ground (2015)

In most instances survivors of sexual assault on campus decide to leave because the schools do not make any meaningful decisions that help these survivors. In one instance, a survivor was asked what she would like the school to do. Think about the absurdity of this question. How can she make this decision? At the time the school did not even have a policy in place addressing sexual assault. Though the government has since intervened and is imposing a requirement that all institutions create said policy, the simple fact of the matter is that the topic of sexual assault is taboo. What is equally as upsetting and frightening is that the people in power sacrifice their humanity and individuality and adopt the identity and stance of the institution as a whole. They recite a script that is so generic that it is infuriating and disrespectful to survivors of sexual assault. Every single case of sexual assault on campus is kept quiet under the threat of persecution and academic mobbing. Meanwhile, the rapist continues to enjoy the benefits of their education and they continue their hunt for their next victim.

Pic © The Hunting Ground (2015)

The schools have claimed that these predators are entitled to an education. Yes, you read that correctly. At most the schools will arrange the student schedules of both survivor and predator in such a way as they don't overlap. Sometimes the predator will be banned from certain areas including parts of the student residence. There may be some other insignificant punitive measure. Because the schools refuse to act appropriately on such heinous crimes they in fact compound the problem that the survivor is facing. It brings into question the validity of the claim against the predator when an institution as seemingly powerful as the school refuses to act in any meaningful way. Survivors then face a new problem. They are attacked again only this time its via social media or vandalism of their dorm rooms or cars. This time the attackers are not the predators themselves but the friends or the supporters or both of the predator. Thus, in the schools attempt to protect their image they behave in way that is adversarial towards the survivor of sexual assault. At it's worst, schools are enabling predators.

Ms. Mélanie Lemay - Survivor, Activist
Pic © Radio - Canada

Then there is the Police. Ms. Mélanie Lemay was a cegep student in the Eastern Townships in Quebec, Canada. She was sexually assaulted by a football player. Ms. Lemay decided to pursue her predator by placing her trust in both her school and the law. According to Ms. Lemay, the Police were less than supportive. "Do you realise that you will destroy his life?", asked a police officer when Ms. Lemay decided to file her formal complaint. The football team had also told her that they had no interest in losing one of their best players. "I understood that the quality of life of a woman is worth less in the balance than that of a man," said Mélanie Lemay (Cited in Plante, 2016).  Furthermore, according to Plante (2016), 
"A study conducted in six universities in the province, in which University de Sherbrooke participates, showed that one in three people (employees and students) has experienced sexual violence since entering university. Sexual violence includes both derogatory remarks with sexual connotations and sexual harassment, up to the point of sexual assault." 
Given the shaming of sexual assault survivors and the uncertainty that they face when it comes to receiving support from the school, campus community and police, this number is undoubtedly conservative. The fact remains that schools are more likely to pay out of pocket to silence not only survivors but equally to make predators go away. There is a boys' club whereby even discussions on regulating student-teacher relationships are met with disdain. The conversations around creating such policies that would protect students become embroiled in personal opinions and feelings when in fact it should be a black and white matter. Don't sexually assault women, men and gender non-conforming community members.

"Light Up The Path To Residence!"
Pic © Antoni Nerestnat

Student activism, like 'Light Up The Path To Rez'!, is one of the only things that can be done to force the hand of college and university campuses. According to Antoni Nerestnat (2016) "Many students say they've heard of several incidents on the path in recent years, including sexual assaults, but say the lack of lights make it unlikely a victim would report what happened." There have been several sexual assaults on this path according to several staff, faculty and students. However, the cegep leases space on a university campus. Despite the fact that the path is almost exclusively used by cegep students (as their residence is on the other end of it), the cegep claims that the property belongs to the University. Nerestnat (2016) adds that "a school spokesperson [from the university] told CBC news that it is open to discussing possible solutions with Champlain College when the two sides negotiate the renewal of lease agreements that are set to expire next summer." Nearly a year later and the path to student residence is still unlit at night. Thus, sometimes activism is just not enough. However, it doesn't mean that students and faculty shouldn't stop trying - no matter what the cost.

Who Killed Theresa Allore?
Video © CBC. W5

This is not the first time that this particular cegep has been under scrutiny either. The death of Theresa Allore "on November 3, 1978, a friend saw Theresa on the stairs of the student residence. And then, she disappeared" (CBC News, 2002). At the time the student residence was in Compton, Quebec. The college as well as the police came under scrutiny for their lack of professionalism and decision making regarding Theresa Allore's disappearance. According to a former English teacher at this cegep, Prof. Michael Benison states that the college's reputation was at stake and this seemed to be part of why the school was so reluctant to do anything meaningful about finding her. The following spring, Theresa Allore's body "was found in four inches of water wearing a brassiere and panties," says John Allore. "That's the first thing that leads me to believe it's a sex crime." Her body was found just a few kilometers away from residence (CBC W5). Whilst the case of Theresa Allore is still unsolved and there is controversy as to what precisely happened, it should be noted that students have come forward warning each other that sexual assault on campus, including at residence, is still a problem today. These crimes are often unreported because of the belief that nothing will come of it other than the shame and stigmatization that many survivors of sexual assault inevitably face. When it is reported, schools across Canada do everything in their power to keep it silent.

Video © Lemon Drop Enterprises, LLC

With its infinite resources, these institutions often only apply temporary measures to help suppress issues. When faculty get involved to help support students the institutions are quick to target and apply academic mobbing tactics on said faculty members. It's a vicious circle that leaves faculty with two choices. Support students and risk losing their jobs (often quitting or burning out in lieu of academic mobbing) or keep quiet and live with the knowledge that they are contributing to the campus wide culture of rape by remaining silent. I suppose one can argue that there is a third option. Work with the school itself but often these are band-aid tactics on the school's parts that avoid meaningful engagement with the issues at hand. The problem also seems to be rooted at the student level. Several years ago, several students reported that their group would lose their funding from the Student Union if they kept discussing the importance of CONSENT. This divide seems to echo the divide that is taking place on many American college and university campuses amongst students, particularly where student athletes are concerned. I have personally witnessed first hand several student athletes bullying and physically intimidating both female and male faculty members throughout the last decade with little (read insignificant) to no consequence for their aggressive and inappropriate actions and behaviours. Thus, it begs the question what are we teaching not only these student athletes but the students that are there to learn about the basic concept of right and wrong?


The Hunting Ground (2015) may be about sexual assault and rape on college and university campuses in the United States of America. However, make no mistake, this film is equally about Canadian, British, Irish, Australian and [insert the name of your school or country here] schools as well. School administrators may claim that we don't know all the facts, but they are to blame for this as well. The lack of transparency, lack of policies governing sexual assault and outright lies has created an environment that is fraught with distrust and abuse. This film is a sobering reminder that the culture of rape is prevalent still and that despite government policies and interventions, these academic institutions are just part of a larger societal issue. In almost every sector that I have worked in I have witnessed companies and not for profit organizations fight tooth and nail to keep sexual assault cases private and hidden from public knowledge at the expense of the survivor. The real message these places should be sending out is that SEXUAL ASSAULT WILL NOT BE TOLERATED at their institution or organization. As a father of three children, I'd sooner send them to a school that not only publically supported sexual assault survivors but that equally expelled the predators. We have to question the efficacy of academia as a whole when we can't even lead by example, let alone teach right from wrong. Could one of many possible solutions be to hold these schools legally and financially liable for putting their interests above those of their sexaul assault survivors?

References

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