Taberet Hall Ottawa UParents can’t afford to stand on the side lines of the discussion about sexual assault on Canadian campuses. And with students home for the holidays, now is an ideal time to address the matter with them.

Whether it’s Dalhousie University dentistry students posting misogynist Facebook messages directed at classmates, two University of Ottawa hockey team members charged with sexually assaulting a woman while on a team trip; or frosh week chants at both St. Mary’s University and the University of British Columbia encouraging the rape of underage girls; one thing is certain–rape culture is flourishing across the country.  

At least one in five Canadian university women has experienced rape or attempted rape, according to Charlene Senn, a psychology and women’s studies professor at the University of Windsor.  In October, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology released a survey revealing that 17 per cent of female and five per cent of male undergrad respondents experienced unwanted sexual behaviours involving physical force, threat or incapacitation for anything from sexual touching or kissing to sexual penetration. Six per cent of females experienced unwanted sexual penetration.

Parents can’t rely on universities to protect their children. Although recently, the Council of Ontario Universities announced their members will be developing programs to support victims and to prevent sexual assault, there is currently only a patchwork of policies and practices across the country. Even at those universities that provide presentations on sexual assault, not all students take part.

In addition, research shows that social media campaigns such as the University of Alberta’s “Don’t Be That Guy” need to be intensive to change people’s behavior and that a single exposure to messages about date rape is inadequate.

This means it is so important that parents address the issue with their children well before they head off to university.

While I told my three children to evaluate possible long term negative consequences of whatever they might do, I failed to address specifically the issues of date rape and sexual assault, other than warning them not to walk alone at night. At the time I was more concerned about sexually transmitted diseases. Here is what I would tell them in today’s context:

  1. You will be under tremendous pressure to binge drink and have careless sex. This is a very dangerous combination because you lose your ability to make good decisions. The fall period, known as the Red Zone, is particularly dangerous because of increased likelihood of sexual assault. A  U.S. study in 2007 found that 50 per cent of sexual assaults occur between August and November and women who are new students are more likely to be assaulted.
  2. It would be wise to decide well in advance and when you are completely sober, that you want to have sex with a particular person and then wait for an appropriate time.
  3. If you engage in sex, ensure you and your partner are equally enthusiastic. You need to be respectful and caring. You also don’t want to find yourself on the wrong side of the law.  Canadian criminal law requires consent or voluntary agreement to engage in the sexual activity in question.  A 1999 a Supreme Court decision ruled against implied consent and stated that consent means agreement to engage in sexual activity through affirmative communication by words or conduct. You need to check in with your partner several times as you proceed.
  4. By law, a drunk partner cannot give his or her consent to sex.
  5. Do not think you are safe just because you are with someone you know. American statistics indicate that 85 to 90 per cent of sexual assaults are carried out by acquaintances, romantic partners and friends, and about half occur on dates.
  6. Any time you start to engage in sexual activity and then change your mind, you or your partner has the right to stop. Be extremely clear about it.
  7. Do not leave your drink unattended. Date rape drugs could be poured into your drink and knock you unconscious, leaving you vulnerable for sexual assault with little or no memory of it.
  8. Always carry a charged cell phone with you and as much as possible develop an exit plan.
  9. Do not contribute to rape culture on campus by making or laughing at jokes on the topic.
  10. If you are sexually assaulted, please tell me. I will support you in whatever action you want to take including nothing if that is the case. If you don’t want to talk to me, go to student services on your campus for counselling.  You may want to do both.

If parents do not address this issue out of embarrassment or because they think their own sons and daughters are smart enough to avoid such situations, they do so at the peril of their children. Discussing the matter with them  gives our students the skills, knowledge and confidence they need to deal with rape culture on campus.

If you wish to read more on this topic, please see the web sites at the Students Active for Ending Rape and Kent State University. 

Do you have any advice for students?  I would love to hear from you.  Please leave your comments in the Reply Box below.




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Join the conversation! 2 Comments

  1. A thoughtful post about a touchy topic. I think you spent just enough time and addressed the aspects of the problem to allow me to feel much more informed and gave me access to a variety of resources. As a parent of a daughter who was raped as a teenager, but didn’t come talk to me until years later, I’ve often wondered how I could have helped her be more prepared or safe….or how she can do the same with her own children in not too many years. Thank you for making this feel like a problem that can be addressed proactively.


    • Thank you for your comments. It is not unusual for children not to talk to their parents about having been sexually violated. Although none of their fears may be based in reality, they may think they will be blamed for what happened; or they are concerned about worrying their parents; or they may think that their parents will force them to take some action, such as reporting the incident to the police, that they would rather not do. They may also feel that they acted foolishly and don’t want their parents to know.

      It is really important for you not to blame yourself either for the incident or for the fact that she didn’t tell you until years later. All of us do our best, given the context in which we live. I think it is wonderful that she could eventually tell you and could trust you with her feelings.

      Good luck to both of you.

      Liked by 1 person


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