Anne-Marie Roy, president of the University of Ottawa’s Student Federation (SFUO), is sending out a clear message to students:
As post-secondary students head back to school, safety becomes a top priority. A growing concern regarding safety is the ‘epidemic of rape culture’ on campus.
Roy, a leader in the SFUO since 2013, has seen the school through multiple cases of sexual assault. Roy herself was a victim of sexual harassment last year, when a leaked Facebook message revealed sexual threats from male students.
In February of 2014 two University of Ottawa men’s hockey players were accused of sexually assaulting a young woman in Thunder Bay while away for a game. The two men are set to face charges in court, and the male hockey team is suspended for the 2014-2015 school year.
The controversial suspension is a serious move on the part of the university to stand against sexual violence, but “there is more work that needs to be done,” says Roy.
“University and college campuses are a reflection of what our society actually is. I think that the University of Ottawa, and all other universities, do need to show a bit more leadership in terms of tackling this issue,” she says.
A problem with the modern response to rape culture is the tendency to ‘victim-blame’; when services and programs to prevent sexual assault focus on arming potential victims with self-defense and preventative skills.
“We all know that, despite all of our efforts,” says Roy, “unfortunately it still happens.”
Roy wants to move forward with a message of responsibility and awareness, moving away from ‘victim-blaming’ towards “teaching what I think is a very good lesson – Don’t rape,” she says.
There is no one program or service in place to fight campus rape culture across Canada. But Roy stresses the importance of working with each community.
“I think that having a uniform approach in fighting rape culture is not effective,” she says. “The challenges that we see are not the same for students engaging in different activities across campus.”
For the SFUO this resulted in the formation of a task force against rape culture on campus, established in early 2014.
The aim is to ask, “what is the culture within particular spaces on campus, to come up with a tailored approach to tackle rape culture in each of these spaces” Roy explains.
In the meantime, her message to incoming and returning students about sexual violence is very simple.
“Just don’t do it,” she says.