The numbers of students who are victim to sexual violence is higher than we presume, as many cases are not reported and others are silenced. By internalizing norms and finding excuses for rape we feed into a culture where students must become weary of their surroundings.
This past year has been one which had me questioning if my own attitude has been one that feeds into “rape culture.” A term coined in the 1970’s by American feminists to describe an atmosphere within our societies which propagate sexual harassment and the objectification of individuals, to a point where acts such as rape are excused. Prior to moving to Canada, living in Pakistan tinted my view of this generation, a conservative society where stigmatized scenarios die as whispers amongst the people.
Never having to experience someone close to me be the victim of such a heinous crime, and never even heard of someone within my extended circle affected by rape, one begins to presume it never takes place. This is far from the truth of the matter. Due to skewed religious preachings by our politicians and an aura of shame placed upon being the victim of sexual assault, Pakistanis rarely vocalize their experiences. Inadvertently Pakistan has become a rape-prone society. There is a grave danger when one’s culture makes a habit of excusing perpetrator’s and my eyes were opened to this reality only after moving to a country which does not actively try to silence you.
Once I’d moved to Toronto, I began to befriend individuals of all cultures and backgrounds, suddenly no topic of conversation was taboo or couldn’t be spoken about. I no longer had to wear a muzzle or filter my words.
Within my first year, I had three friends and two acquaintances who were the victims of sexual assault. There is a profound sadness in realizing those close to you were stripped of their rights, their dignity, and had their sense of security threatened. A campus that seemed safe suddenly began to morph into a place where I glanced behind my shoulder while walking. I found myself too afraid to even walk alone once the sun went down.
Sexual violence amongst students is globally pervasive. A staggering statistic of 11.2% of all students experience sexual violence, and suddenly I was a part of this statistic. The events that took place in my first year had me questioning what role we allow ourselves to play in this narrative, and how many more cases we just never hear about? With an undergraduate student population of 80,000 people, there must be stories buried daily to which the university is not aware. Still, it had not touched me on a personal level, until one day I received a call from back home.
You never imagine people close to you are ever capable of things such as rape. Taking someone’s autonomy, with no regard, forcing yourself upon them, one assumes no matter what your upbringing you would know better.
The call I received that day was of traveling gossip, a young man I had spent many years in the same class with, and experienced countless moments of friendship with, was accused of sexually assaulting two girls who were in inebriated states. My first reaction was denial, followed by confusion. I had spent hours with this person, he seemed harmless. The truth baffles me to this day, but what nauseated me more was that I fed into victim blaming.
I, a self-proclaimed feminist, actively knowing what happens when we begin to doubt the victim, and yet this poisonous mindset that rape is taboo lead me to find excuses for his behavior. I silently observed as others within our society had mixed reactions.
There were those who convinced themselves these young girls were seeking attention, those who had convinced his mother he must have mental health issues, but never once did anyone but these young girls acknowledge the height of his actions. Other women had internalized the norm of “they brought it upon themselves,” to such an extent that the victims became terrified of their identities being revealed.
Living in a world where we fear others’ reactions, fear being ostracized or speaking too loud, we end up bystanders. When rape happens within a community we must ask ourselves, why? How did allow for this to take place, whether it be a college campus or high school party? More importantly, how can we prevent it?
Read also: Let’s Talk About Sex…And Consent