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Sexual assault is a crime that has far-reaching effects felt by all Canadian girls and women.  A 2004 General Social Survey found that 58 per cent of Canadian women using public transit were worried about their safety after dark while waiting for or using public transit. 27 per cent of women were worried about being alone in their own homes at night. 16 per cent of women felt unsafe walking alone after nightfall.

Canadian communities are impacted by sexual assault.  Survivors may experience lost potential and productivity.  There are immediate and long-term physical and psychological affects that add to health care costs.  Funding is required for rape crisis centres, counselling, police and victim services, court and legal costs, as well as correctional services.  These are all important reasons why it’s imperative to prevent sexual violence.

The Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children (METRAC) reported that 12-to-17-year-old Canadians are the primary consumers of pornography.  35 per cent of these youth admitted watching sexually violent scenes while 37 per cent watched sexually explicit videos on a regular basis.

METRAC also found that exposure to violence and/or pornography increases:

  • acceptance of rape myths
  • acceptance of violence against women
  • sexual callousness
  • men’s reported willingness to rape

At the same time empathy for rape victims declines.

Pornography alone cannot be blamed for rape.  However, pornography portrays unhealthy, unrealistic relationships where men are verbally and physically abusive towards women.  This plays a role in desensitizing individuals, especially teens, to the act and outcomes of rape.     

Not all men are rapists. However, there is a pervasive culture of gendered violence that is acceptable among many men. The Canadian Federation of Students — Ontario released a fact sheet entitled Sexual Violence on Campuses which included the following disturbing statistics:

  • 60 per cent of college-aged males reported that under the right circumstances they would use force, rape, or both in sexual relations with women.
  • 20 per cent of male students believed forced sex (rape) was acceptable if someone spent money on a date, if the date is intoxicated or if they couple had been dating for an extended period of time.

A study entitled, “Denying Rape but Endorsing Forceful Intercourse: Exploring Differences Among Responders,” was published by the journal of Violence and Gender (Mar 2015, Vol. 2). A synopsis written by Ximena Ramirez highlighted the fact that the study asked male participants two questions:

  1.  “Have you ever coerced somebody to (have) intercourse by holding them down?”

      2.   “Have you ever raped somebody?”

When rape was described as coercing or forcing, 32 per cent of participants admitted to using this behaviour.  When the term “rape” was used only 13.6 per cent admitted to the exact same behaviour.

Media is very influential when it comes to shaping the attitudes young men have about sexual assault.  Recently, Bud Light added a new tag line to some of its bottles:  “The perfect beer for removing “no” from your vocabulary for the night” along with the hashtag #upforwhatever.  This ad campaign reinforces rape culture.  A petition has started demanding Bud Light end the campaign, pull existing product with the tag line and make a financial donation to promote pro-active consent education.

Positive pushback is happening on Canadian campuses where student led campaigns are working to counter rape culture and create more equitable learning and living environments.  For more than twenty years the Canadian Federation of Students — Ontario has been promoting the “No Means No” campaign.  If you don’t have consent then it’s sexual assault or rape.  Last word goes to students from Carlton University who know that, “No Means No.”