A disagreement over the term “rape culture” has highlighted a division between Carleton students and the university’s administration as the school tries to re-write its sexual violence policy.
A group of sexual assault survivors and supporters want the university to acknowledge so-called rape culture. The group was upset when university officials didn’t show up to an April 2016 meeting to discuss the new sexual harassment policy.
Lauren Montgomery, a PhD student who is chair of the women’s caucus, said some of the university’s internal stakeholders were not willing to acknowledge rape culture and integrate it into the sexual violence policy.
“Rape culture is something that many survivors cite in their experiences,” Montgomery said. “Many of us talk about how it impacts our daily lives, our interactions on campus, how we experience the campus.”
Carrolyn Johnston, the coordinator of sexual assault services at Carleton, argued that the school couldn’t speak to why some stakeholders boycotted the meeting.
“There are divergent opinions around the concept of rape culture. Carleton is no different,” Johnston said. “It’s a good conversation to be having.”
Even so, the students were offended by the absence of members of the administration and wrote a letter outlining their concerns to the Carleton President, Roseann Runte.
The letter said that the university didn’t want to talk yet still expected to have their opinions to be considered and given a vote.
“These actions by university representatives are beyond offensive because they suggest that the collaborative process we entered into a year ago was simply window-dressing,” the letter said.
In an email, Runte said that conversations about important issues such as this might be sensitive, difficult and passionate.
“We recognize that powerful emotions can or may be triggered and express our care and concern for all who are taking their time to be personally engaged in such discussions,” she wrote.
The survivors, outreach workers and supporters stress for Carleton to be survivor-centric. Montgomery said proper funding for support services for survivors is necessary so that resources are accessible and efficient.
Johnston points out the effort Carleton has made in the prevention of sexual assault and supporting victims. Carleton provides front line services, such as individual counselling to survivors, peer support, public education and training.
“We are very committed to survivors on our campus and to engaging our community in education and public awareness raising,” Johnston said.
The passing of the Ontario government’s Bill 132 last year, which requires universities and colleges to have a sexual violence policy, prompted the meeting on April 11 that Montgomery alleged was boycotted by university officials.
The bill says that a college or university funded by the government “shall ensure that student input is considered, in an accordance with regulations, in the development of its sexual violence policy and every time the policy is reviewed.”
According to the Ontario legislation, rape culture is made up of “the beliefs, norms and behaviour that tolerate, justify and minimize sexual violence,” which Montgomery says puts pressure on victims to act a certain way.
It also creates a thought process that results in victim blaming and placing “the burden of truth” on the survivor, Montgomery said.