Western University Sexual Violence and Validation of Rape Culture 

by Sofia Freitas
Image: Archives of Ontario / Flickr

It is no secret that despite societal progression on a global scale, women across the world are still subjected to gratuitous violence and misogynistic preconceptions, with their heinous aggressors primarily known to be men. With this unfortunate notion understood, the incrementing sexual violence countless female students faced on the Western University campus came as no surprise. How can we, as a global community, supersede the outdated and vile beliefs regarding women and young girls alike if we are raised within a society which still fosters and actively upholds rape culture? 

The multiple reports of sexual assault this fall, as circulated via social media platforms, occurred after an on-campus party. These incidents prompted a further investigation from university officials, who are currently looking into the various reports stated on TikTok – a video-sharing platform. The officials also asserted that there have been an additional four unrelated reports of sexual violence, all received within a week. 

The drastic increase in sexual assault and harassment rightfully heightens anxiety and fear among female students, as testified by a first-year student, Calista Coleman, who confided the following when asked to share any remarks regarding the reports: “I’m a little nervous, and my parents are nervous and upset. It’s a little scary. There’s all this stuff going on and then adjusting to being in a new place all by yourself, it’s scary.” Subsequently, Western University, in collaboration with London police, canvassed students door-to-door, demanding the campus community to come forward with any possibly useful information. 

Western’s Vice President, Chris Alleyne provided an articulate insight regarding the horrific incidents: “I think this environment is challenging, especially to women and this particular age group, because of the pervasive nature of gender-based violence in society. I think that sexual violence is pervasive in society, Western is reflective of broader society and certainly, we have the opportunity to educate our students around the issues of consent.” Unfortunately, Alleyne is entirely, harrowingly correct. However, little to no initiatives were enacted as a response to the reports. Rather, the university responded quite passively, and the men convicted of the crimes did not face any punishment whatsoever. Instead, the unfortunate victims are forced to cope with their trauma whilst attending classes with their aggressors. 

Rape culture is not only prevalent within educational facilities, such as Western University, but it is also universally recognized as an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is either normalized or excused within media and pop culture. Rape culture is also perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language, the objectification and degradation of women’s bodies, in addition to the glamourization of sexual violence, establishing a society that entirely disregards women’s liberty and safety. Unfortunately, rape culture affects every single woman; the rape of a singular woman incites degradation, horror, and restricted liberty for all women on a global scale. 

This vicious cycle of fear is what we define as rape culture. It exists within dozens of normalized statements regarding both its victims and aggressors. These statements and notions consist of the following: victim-blaming; the infamous “she asked for it!”; trivializing sexual assault; the notorious and rage inciting “boys will be boys”; gratuitous gendered violence within media; defining manhood as “dominant” and sexually aggressive; as well as defining womanhood as “submissive” and sexually passive. 

As a result, most women live in fear of rape, and this fear dictates many of the everyday choices we make. It infringes upon our free will as a whole. Men, however, do not generally share this same fear. Therefore, this is how rape functions as a powerful, all-encompassing means by which the entire female population is held captive by patriarchal forces, even though many men do not rape, and many women are not subjected to rape. 

However, in order to stray away from defeat, we must also keep in mind that there exist many ways to combat and counteract this issue (because evidently, simply verbalizing consent or lack thereof, has proven to be unsuccessful).  For one, in order to repress rape culture, the language surrounding the objectification or degradation of women should become obsolete. Secondly, it is crucial to speak out if you hear someone else making an offensive joke or trivializing rape, as passivity excuses and normalizes the issue. And lastly, if a friend of a loved one expresses that they were a victim of sexual assault, take them seriously and be unconditionally supportive.

Therefore, through the multiple recent sexual violence reports at Western University, it has been made abundantly clear that despite the overall shift in the majority of social structures and policies, the persistent and prevalent issue of rape culture and sexual violence against women remains unduly intact. 

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