There has been considerable publicity about sexual assault on campus over the past while. Recently the CBC publicized a survey done in Canadian universities to try to determine the extent of the problem. Though the survey produced limited useful information due to the varying ways universities collect and report data, it does bring some issues to the forefront of discussion. Unfortunately, what has been missing form open dialogue has been inquiries into the underlying causes of “rape culture”. It is common place thee days for an issue to surface in the media, possibly leading to a publicity campaign to address the issue, without any deeper attempt to resolve fundamental causes of problems. Certainly collecting data is an important first step, though it is highly unlikely that any type of survey will come close to revealing the true extent of sexual assault on campus. This is largely because a very high proportion of campus sexual assault falls into the general categories of date and party rape. Both the perpetrators and the victims of this type of assault often don’t perceive these acts as actually being sexual assault. I have seen numerous young women who have only been able to name these occurrences as assault months or years later when talking about their sexual experiences with friends or therapists. Often the sense of shame associated with being in a vulnerable situation due to normal partying behaviour, can lead to self-blame, rather than being able to recognize the assault. When there is an aspect of alcohol or drug use, some degree of uncertainty about details of the assault may leave the person feeling confused over whether to report the incident. Beyond these aspects, incidents of sexual bullying or verbal hostility are unlikely to be reported.
Whether it is possible or not to get accurate statistics, it is clear that sexual assault on campus is a real problem. It is crucial to understand the many roots that lead to sexual assault. Apart from many aspects in our general society that can lead to violence, there are particular conditions and attitudes on campus that can promote violence. Any type of power imbalance in society can have an effect on how people treat other people. There has been a growing trend in universities to emulate corporate values rather than academic values. Ideally, universities should be places which primarily encourage intellectual and emotional growth, and where healthy relationships with mentors can be fostered. Yet universities have been moving away from this type of model, with administrations seeming less open to students, and with competition between students being encouraged. Universities are become more and more bureaucratic, seeing students as products more than as people. This emulates a growing trend in society where people are seen by the corporate world as disposable cogs in the wheel, and children are being raised in families where achievement and competition are more important than emotional growth. The problem of sexual assault on campus will never be solved unless universities begin taking seriously the fundamental emotional needs of individuals and communities. One can’t treat employees badly, foster extreme competition, idealize sport teams, all for the purpose of marketing the university, and then just have a few anti-assault programs or events and expect that all will be okay. Attitudes, empathy and fair treatment for all has to come from the top, and be evident to every person on campus. Without this, students will be immersed in an atmosphere where using other people is justified.