Professor Chris Linder’s Reflections to Colleges & Universities Engaging in Sexual Violence Prevention Work, Part 1
Thoughts from the Ontario Universities Taking Action Against Sexual Violence (OUTA) Conference in Kingston, ON
Professor Chris Linder, Assistant Professor at the University of Georgia, is a self-styled “educator, researcher, chef-wanna-be, runner, partner and risk-taker” who “hope[s] to provide a glimpse of [her] scholar-practitioner-activist philosophies as a way to connect with others.” She was also the OUTA Conference keynote speaker, sharing with participants her thoughts on the roots of sexual violence and the many implications this can have on post-secondary institutions engaging in sexual violence prevention work.
METRAC was lucky enough to be in attendance and we want to share with you some best practices that we will be reflecting on as we move forward in our work. This blog will be brought to you in three parts that mirror the three broad sections Professor Linder addressed in her talk. First, she explored how post-secondary institutions currently do work around sexual violence and the root causes of that sexual violence. Second, she highlighted the implications of that work for post-secondary institutions. Third, she offered advice for institutions on best practices.
PART 1: Current work and root causes
Sexual violence is all too present on Canada’s university and college campuses; in fact, 1 in 5 women will experience sexual violence while attending a post-secondary institution. Students, Canadian institutions and governments are making efforts to address this very serious issue, but what does that work look like on campus? Professor Linder made a distinction between three areas of action for universities and colleges: awareness, response, and prevention.
She defined awareness as the act of making people aware of a problem, and also aware of the resources and services available after an incident of sexual violence happens. This work includes the various awareness campaigns that exist on campuses that inform students about statistics and risks and list campus and community resources like the local sexual assault center.
It’s important to distinguish awareness from prevention, the act of education coupled with awareness that we hope will lead to the elimination of sexual violence. Here, we spent some time on the ways we might be failing at prevention, since the rate of sexual violence incidents is not steadily decreasing. Most notable is that current prevention attempts primarily focus on the potential victim rather than the potential perpetrator. If we truly want to address sexual violence it is necessary that messaging, training, and activities focus on those most likely to cause harm, which, according to most recent data, are overwhelmingly young men. Furthermore, current prevention programming places too much focus on the “stranger danger” aspect of sexual violence, and not enough focus on the fact that most victims know their attackers. There is a need to highlight that perpetrators of sexual violence have more in common than potential victims. Since rape is an act of power over another individual (we’ll flesh this out in a bit), perpetrators may give off a sense of entitlement, of anger, and of wanting to control others, all aspects that may be missing from our current prevention work.
We then moved on to response. Response is how institutions deal with sexual violence in the aftermath of an incident. Professor Linder cautioned against institution considering the importance of positive public perception over their commitment to survivors/victims of sexual violence. The failure of institutions to prevent or respond appropriately to a wrongdoing is institutional betrayal. Professor Linder warned that this betrayal is often harder for survivors to deal with than the incident of sexual violence itself. This trauma is expressed with the hashtag #JustSaySorry, where campus activists share their personal stories of institutional betrayal.
Now we delve into the why. Why is sexual assault so present on our campuses? Why is our culture steeped in rape myths that foster unsafe climates that lead to sexual violence?
Professor Linder shared how important it is to approach sexual violence by being “power-conscious”. This means being aware that sexual violence is rooted in power and oppression. The Rainbow Health Network defines “power” as:
Access to privileges such as information/knowledge, connections, experience and expertise, resources and decision making that enhance a person’s chances of getting what they need to live a comfortable, safe, productive and profitable life. Each person has different levels of power in different contexts depending on a personal combination of privileges and oppression.
and “oppression” as:
The obvious and subtle ways dominant groups unjustly maintain status, privilege and power over others, using physical, psychological, social or economic threats or force. Frequently an explicit ideology is used to sanction the unfair subjugation of an individual or group by a more powerful individual or group, which causes injustices in everyday interactions between marginalized groups and the dominant group.
Forms of oppression include ableism, sexism, racism, heterosexism, classism, and ageism. And here we come to the crux of the issue:
Sexual violence has a racialized history in North America.
Professor Linder shares with us the importance of historical context when thinking about sexual violence. It is important to highlight that:
From the colonization of Canada and the occupation of land that was not consented to being occupied to brutalizing and sexually assaulting the Indigenous people of this land over centuries, from the displacement to the rape of Black slaves, our culture has been informed by this history. It is crucial then that anti-sexual violence work not happen separately from anti-racism work, since sexual violence is rooted in colonialism and racism in Canada.
What does this grounding of sexual violence mean for colleges and universities in Canada? And what are the implications for the work happening on the ground? Join us next week for Part 2 as we continue exploring this topic with Professor Linder’s guidance!