By: Varvara Dyakonova
TW: The article includes mention of sexual violence, assault and rape.
My name is Varvara Dyakonova and I am an undergraduate student at Western University. At the beginning of each year, a group of upper-year students with the student council organize an orientation week or OWeek for first-year students to welcome them into university life. Usually, it is a week filled with different activities, new acquaintances and fun. However, OWeek 2021 ended in tragedy. According to various sources, up to 30 first-year students living in residences were drugged and sexually assaulted over the weekends of the second week of September.1 This has led to the student walkout when 12,000 students left the classes to protest against sexual violence and rape culture happening on campuses across the country, as well as demand for changes in university policies regarding sexual violence and the support of survivors.2
Sexual violence is defined as any physical, psychological violence that targets sexuality and gender, and it involves actions such as sexual abuse, assault, harassment, stalking, rape, cyber harassment, degrading sexual imagery, stalking, and other actions. Statistics show that 1 in 5 women in Canada, and 1 in 8 men have been assaulted in their lifetime. The majority (87%) of reported sexual assaults are women, in particular, young women and teenagers; 26% of victims are children younger than 13 years old. The vast majority (98%) of those who committed an assault are males around 33 years old. And in the majority of the assaults victims knew their assailant.3
The reasons for sexual assault can be traced to either cultural, psychological and environmental causes. Psychologically speaking, sexual abuse can be linked with the need to prove power, dominance or to fulfill aggression; besides that, people who have experienced sexual abuse in childhood might start to project these events onto other people, as well as it may be seen as right and appropriate for them. In various cultures, traditional gender roles are predominant. Thus, men are seen as dominant and powerful, and women are seen as passive and weak. As a result, men could see nothing wrong with objectifying and assaulting women. Equally important to mention is the special term used for justifying sexual violence and trivializing the seriousness of sexual assault – rape culture.
In the media, as well as in real life, there are countless portrayals of victims who are blamed for wearing “revealing” clothes, for being drunk, for being alone during the dark. It is called victim-blaming, which is a huge problem as it justifies the assault and shifts the responsibility from the assailants to the victims. The emotions and trauma the victim goes through after the incident cannot be explained. It is disbelief, denial, shame, hopelessness, self-doubt, blame, fear, anger and pain.4
For the general public, it might be difficult to understand what to do if somebody in their social circle or themselves experienced sexual assault. There are organizations helping to deal with the trauma, as well as psychological counselling. The organizations providing help are Rape Crisis Center,5 OCRCC,6 Victim Support Line7, and others. Additionally, it’s important to speak about it and educate people of all ages and genders on what sexual assault is, what consent is and how to act in various situations.
In conclusion, educate yourself and others, do not be afraid to help people you see are struggling, but also remember that sexual violence is not normal. And to victims, anywhere: know that you are heard, seen, and supported.
1 – “Police Taking Western University Sexual Violence Rumours ‘Seriously’ as They Try to Separate Fact from Fiction | CBC News.” CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, 14 Sept. 2021, https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/london/police-probing-western-university-sexual-violence-allegations-work-to-separate-fact-from-social-media-fiction-1.6175607.
2 – “Thousands of Western University Students Walkout to Support Survivors of Sexual Violence | CBC News.” CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, 17 Sept. 2021, https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/london/western-students-walkout-1.6179573.
3 – “A Statistical Profile of Sexual Assaults Reported by Police in Canada between 2009 and 2014.” Statistics Canada: Canada’s National Statistical Agency / Statistique Canada: Organisme Statistique National Du Canada, Government of Canada, Statistics Canada, 3 Oct. 2017, https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/85-002-x/2017001/article/54866-eng.htm.
4 – “Feelings & Stages Following a Sexual Assault.” Rape Crisis Center, 26 Apr. 2017, https://thercc.org/get-support/after-an-assault/feelings-stages-following-sexual-assault/.
5 – “About Rape Crisis Centre.” Rape Crisis Center, 20 Sept. 2021, https://thercc.org/about/.
6 – “Find Support: OCRCC.” OCRCC, https://sexualassaultsupport.ca/support/.
7 – “Get Help If You Are Experiencing Violence.” Ontario.ca, https://www.ontario.ca/page/get-help-if-you-are-experiencing-violence#section-3.