Under the UN Women’s research lens, the changing dynamics of gender-based violence leave critical holes in support networks for women globally. In conjunction with widely curtailed access to support networks and services during the pandemic, these widespread gaps pose new challenges to the already extant one in three women who are victims of violence in their lifetime. Heightened precarity is narrowly affecting women within social and academic networks on campuses, and on both global and domestic scales.
In light of the recent events at Western University, where 30 or more students were drugged and/or sexually assaulted in a campus dormitory during the first week of school, a conversation about the adequacy of current violence-prevention strategies and discourse at York has become warranted.
In response to safety concerns and past cases of campus sexual assault, York has instituted GoSAFE, CCTV measures, and weekly safety bulletins. Despite the heightened security measures, many on campus feel that a different approach to violence prevention is needed to address issues that extend beyond security, and instead concern the gender inequities that result in violence and inadequate support systems on campus.
Nora York, a fourth-year biology student, says, “I don’t think surveillance ensures safety. I think that to prevent on-campus assault, a shift in university culture needs to take place.”
November 25 is an invitation to shed a light on the internal relations that make violence against women an ongoing issue on campuses.
The entangled objectives of consent education and respect for women’s bodily and sexual autonomy are focal for Dr. Krista Hunt, professor of Violence Against Women at York, and in her teaching philosophy. Dr. Hunt says, “teaching violence against women, for me, needs to be very action-oriented — it needs to be preventative.”
Dr. Hunt looks to reframe the prevention of violence against women, not as something that requires a system of “top-down surveillance measures,” as she calls it, but as a social shift that can be facilitated through creative educational strategies. According to Dr. Hunt, engaging male peers in consent and active bystander training and discourse, that is led by male instructors, has the potential to reverse patterns of casual sexism and violence amongst young men.
Dr. Hunt continues to say that “male students don’t see this as really being their issue, it’s like, ‘I don’t do anything to women, so why do I have to participate?’”
Katelyn McFadden, a fourth-year gender and women’s studies student and a pupil of Dr. Hunt, echoes her professor in her frustration over the scheduling of consent week being nearly a month after Frosh Week this year. “What’s the point of doing all this work if it’s only being done when an incident occurs?”
McFadden continues by saying, “Frosh Week is huge for first-year students to connect and meet. This is where consent should really be talked about.”
Both McFadden and Dr. Hunt believes that the appropriate and proactive move for the university is to position consent information week at the beginning of the school year, to align students with anti-violence attitudes.
The Centre for Sexual Violence Response, Support, & Education at York leads Consent Week, and reframes the issue of sexual violence against women not as an one of security, but as one that requires understanding of the nuanced gender relations that lead to sexual violence. It suggests the same victim-centred approach to support and education that Dr. Hunt has been proposing for years.
According to their website, The Centre’s mission is to build safer spaces through a host of programs and services, and, more broadly, “to foster a culture where attitudes and behaviours that perpetuate sexual violence are rejected, survivors are supported, community members are educated, and those who commit incidents of sexual violence are held accountable.”