The following is an open letter written by BUSU Vice-President, External Affairs, Alyssa Hall, which was sent to Ontario MPs and MPPs, during Consent Awareness Week, September, 2023.
The Brock University Students’ Union continues to emphasize the importance of ensuring that students studying on our campus, and on campuses across the country, have access to an education that is free from the threat of sexual violence, assault, and harassment. Post-secondary students deserve to feel and be safe in the educational spaces that they occupy both on and off campus.
In 2022, Ontario officially proclaimed that the third week of September be named Consent Awareness Week. Although this is an important first step towards ending gender-based sexual violence throughout the province, more work must still be done, especially as it relates to the prevention of gender-based sexual violence on post-secondary campuses.
The first six to eight weeks of classes for post-secondary students is commonly referred to as the Red Zone as this is a time of statistically heightened instances of sexual assault on campus. More than 50% of sexual assault involving a post-secondary student occurs during this time. Through consultation with students, it was revealed that the scope of current sexual violence policies and supports available fall short in trying to meet the needs of persons who have been impacted by gender-based sexual violence.
For students specifically, experiences of sexual violence impact their ability to fully participate and thrive within the sphere of post-secondary education, and in some cases prevent them from successfully completing their degree altogether. The trauma of gender-based sexual violence not only impacts a student’s education, but it also has the potential to impact their social, professional, and personal lives as well.
The goal of sexual violence prevention policy and services within all facets of Canadian life and society should be to end violence of this nature by preventing it from occurring in the first place. A first step is to increase awareness and education surrounding what it means to participate in healthy, safe, and consensual relationships of all kinds.
Under Canadian law, consent must be both positive and ongoing. However, a study from the Canadian Women’s Foundation reveals that 55% of people in Canada do not fully understand what consent in a relationship looks like. This is a concerning statistic, but it is not surprising as Statistics Canada reveals that 30% of women over the age of 15 have experienced sexual assault (not including instances of assault in intimate partner relationships) and 42% of Canadians know someone who has experienced sexual assault. It is also important to note the intersectionality of this issue as Indigenous women, 2SLGBTQIA+ persons, persons living with a disability, and racialized women are more likely to experience sexual assault, violence, and harassment.
Although the statistics listed above help to highlight the severity of gender-based sexual violence throughout the country, it is no secret that this data reflects an underreported truth. The vast majority of sexual assault, violence, and harassment remains underreported, and this data is therefore not entirely reflective of the reality and severity of the issue.
It is therefore imperative that steps be taken to address the prevention and eradication of gender-based sexual violence. Our students are asking for and deserve meaningful and transformative change to ensure that their post-secondary education experience is one that is free from the threat of sexual violence, sexual assault, and harassment.