On Campus

Sexual violence still rampant

New UWO campaign calls 'on men to be accountable for their behaviours'

More than 55 people were sexually assaulted every day in Canada last year. And while that number has decreased slightly from rates in 2008, the University Students’ Council at the University of Western Ontario is doing their part to decrease this number even more.

The USC is launching their I Know Someone campaign this week, with the aim of “challenging male and female students to increase their awareness and involvement in reducing incidents of sexual violence.”

They’re hoping to do this through social marketing and training seminars on campus. Posters around campus will depict a variety of realities around sexual assault. One reads: “I know someone who thinks it’s funny to call her friend a slut.”

The project is in collaboration with the Sexual Assault Centre London and Changing Ways, an organization that helps men overcome abusive and violent behaviours. They received $118,000 in funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation for two years to help promote their work.

“We are not telling women how to keep themselves safe, we are calling on men to be accountable for their behaviours, and we are telling them both men and women can experience sexual violence on campus, and we can all do something about it,” Louise Pitre, director of London’s sexual assault centre, told the London Free Press.

“Men and women can challenge their friends about unacceptable behaviour … the derogatory remarks that we make and that we think are funny,” she continued. “Speak up and hold people accountable to their language, because language is very powerful and is used to demean women and men.”

Western’s efforts are the latest in a number of attempts to protect people from sexual assault. Take Back The Night campaigns now appear on several campuses across the globe and marches have been occurring in Canada since 1980. The third Friday in September is now the annual day for the marches against sexual violence.

Likewise, the White Ribbon Campaign challenges men to end violence against women. Beginning in Canada in 1991, a group of young men decided wearing a white ribbon was their way of showing the world they didn’t condone violence and that they would never participate in it. The campaign is now also widely associated with the Montreal Massacre in 1989.

Slowly, sexual violence is decreasing, confidence is being restored and the streets and campuses of this country are becoming a safer place to be.

There’s still much work to be done, but it’s about changing attitudes and making people think about their words and actions. Western’s campaign is a good first step in breaking down the stigma, fear and victimization a lot of people feel around the subject. Even today, much sexual crime goes unreported.

Campaigns like Western’s are a constructive way to start a dialogue around all the factors that can contribute to violence, and it’s a great way to get people to think twice before they speak or act. More campaigns like theirs are needed.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.