Dear Ron Byrne,
I was distraught reading your email sent last Tuesday discussing the CBC’s recent coverage regarding reported sexual assaults on Canadian university campuses, and Mount Allison’s place in these statistics.
I understand it is your responsibility to act as a liaison between those within the Mount Allison community and relevant happenings outside of that community – such as the CBC report. I agree that when reading any news coverage, it is important to consider where the statistics which lead to such an analysis come from.
The recent dialogue surrounding the issue of rates of sexual assault on campuses and the way these sexual assaults are being managed is worrying, not only to those directly involved or have the greatest potential to be targeted, but to all Canadians. What does this culture of sexual assault, which seems to be emerging within our campuses, say about Canadian youth culture on a grander scale? In particular, what does this say about those who will likely be able to access privileged positions within Canadian society, namely university graduates borne of this culture?
I understand your concern with the report, and your urging of students and faculty members to do the same. However, I take issue with the way you have chosen to approach this subject for a number of reasons.
Firstly, the way to begin such a conversation is not to try to exempt oneself from it. In your criticism of the CBC’s ability to report accurately to the public, it seems as if you are discounting any responsibility the school may have in such a conversation. This blatant disregard of issues pertinent to all Canadians, whether on or off campuses, is cause for concern.
I regret to say I’ve been losing faith in the university administration since this time last year, during the strike. Had I been a Mount Allison student for longer, it’s likely I would have become disillusioned earlier – as it stands, as transfer student who arrived in September 2013, it took all of four months for me to develop a sense of unease at the way issues pertinent to me have been handled. This brings me to my second point of concern, one which became glaringly clear during the strike last year. The administration of this school is so obsessed with its public image and the maintenance of its ranking that it seems to have forgotten why the university was able to attain such a ranking in the first place. You, Ron, and others who are in charge of public relations and image crafting of the university seem to care a great deal more for those outside the university community than those within it.
The CBC article should be a catalyst for discussion about and reevaluation of how the university manages sexual assault, as well as attitudes towards sexual assault on campus. Your disregard for CBC’s ability to report correct statistics seems like a knee-jerk response which attempts to protect the financial interests of the university. If you were truly interested in the welfare of the students, your criticism wouldn’t have begun with such a callous, self-interested statement.
Finally comes the point that hits closest to home for me: You handled the situation in such a way to bring stigma upon those who had reported rape. Because Mount Allison has the highest percentage of reported rape cases per student in New Brunswick does not necessarily mean we have the highest percentage of reported rapes. It is well recognised that rates of reporting do not equate to rates of attack. I cannot be privy to the knowledge of how the reported rates compares to the actual rates at our university. I can be only glad that at least there is a culture of reporting here. The administration’s disavowal of sexual assault reports is equivalent to its disregard that rape happens at all. This attitude makes the monumental act of reporting a sexual assault all the more difficult.
I have experienced rape. I am hesitant to say I am a rape victim, as I don’t like to call myself a victim, even though that is the truth. My sexual assault did not take place on a university campus. It happened before I was involved in academia, at the age of 17. The blame I placed on myself for years was a major obstacle and continues to be a constant factor in my view of myself. However, thanks to supportive friends and time, I’ve come to the acceptance that being raped was not my fault. Until now, I’ve not even considered coming forward and talking about what it means to be a rape victim in the public sphere. Your statement prompted me to do this, and to contribute to the dialogue of what reporting rape means, at least for me.
As noted in the CBC article, the number of sexual assaults reported on campuses is surprisingly low on Canadian university campuses. They key word here is reported. In many cases, I assume victims who have not reported have become demoralized due to the clearly ineffective way schools have been handling cases of sexual assault. Students who have been assaulted have to see their assailants on campus every day and stay focused academically with the knowledge that their attackers are more than likely not going to face any consequences. In most circumstances, it’s easier to not report and avoid having to perpetuate the experience than to have to relive the experience continually in proving sexual assault really occurred. If a victim should choose to report, they must then wait for a verdict regarding punitive action against their attacker(s), a decision which seldom results in any punishment for the accused.
Rather than being demoralized by external circumstances, victims often place blame internally. Even if a supportive framework exists to allow someone who has been sexually assaulted to come forward and be relatively secure in the knowledge that they will find justice, the social stigma surrounding the act of being raped, rather than of doing the act, prevents them.
I did not report my rape. At the time, I wanted the entire experience to disappear. I felt without value, careless, like I was acting irresponsibly, and generally worthless. It took me years to be able to talk about the experience with those closest to me. Now, five years later, I hope to be able to use what happened to me as a tool, to be able to contribute to the conversation in a full and constructive way, and to help encourage other victims of sexual assault to seek support in the way that is best for them.
Your insensitivity both infuriates and disgusts me. I’ve realized that being raped is no longer something to feel shameful about. The university’s complete inability to recognize sexual assault on its own campus and its disavowal of incidents which have been reported, however, is a shameful act.