Op-Ed

Some of the words associated with the #MeToo movement. Credit: David Campion-Smith.

Universities need to get serious about sexual assault

With the #MeToo movement making waves in our schools, campuses, and across the entertainment industry, it seems you can’t go a day scrolling through social media without a new allegation of sexual harassment or worse surfacing about a beloved male celebrity, student, or a disproportionate amount of hockey players.  

And while being alerted to new perpetrators of sexual harassment may seem disheartening at first, ultimately, it’s a good thing. The #MeToo movement, which was created by Tarana Burke in 2006, and gained popularity in October of 2017 when Alyssa Milano tweeted about it, has blown up but has also seen some backlash.

Most recently, Christie Blatchford, a columnist at the Ottawa Citizen, wrote an opinion piece titled “With #MeToo we have lost the presumption of innocence,” in which she claims that the rise of victims coming out about their abuse and sharing their stories is unfair to the accused, since it seemingly harms their careers without a foundation upon which to base the accusations.

This is problematic for a number of reasons. First of all, this dated attitude towards survivors is toxic and the reason why, despite statistics telling us that 1 in 3 Canadian women will experience sexual assault in their lifetime, it remains one of the most underreported violent crimes.

Furthermore, Blatchford’s main criticism of the movement is in reference to a “shitty men list” created and circulated by Moira Donegan and copycats, in which women anonymously name men who have allegedly harassed or assaulted them in the workplace. These lists, while in their own way still useful, don’t accurately represent the movement or its participants.

Now I’m not saying women are untouchable beings with zero flaws and angelic morals. We’re human, we’re capable of telling a lie, and it’s reasonable to approach serious allegations like these with caution, but it’s important to apply logic here as well.

The purpose of #MeToo is not to “execute (men with) no trial,” like Blatchford makes it out to be. It’s to shed light on injustices and change the norm that society has accepted when it comes to talking about sex and violence, and the ways in which they intersect, and I don’t just mean in Hollywood.

With #MeToo came Time’s Up, a movement that goes beyond Hollywood to help everyday women in the workplace who have dealt with sexual misconduct. It’s also important to note that the women behind these movements have not remained anonymous.

There is no benefit to someone to lie about being sexually assaulted. These are women who have just as much, if not more, on the line as the men that they are accusing. This is not an attention seeking campaign. This is a movement in counterculture, it’s part of the ever evolving feminist agenda, it’s a policy changing conversation, and sadly, it’s not taking place in Canada.

The harmful thought patterns of people who see #MeToo as just another witch hunt are reflected right here on Canadian university campuses. The University of Ottawa is not immune to its fair share of sexual assault scandals, and even with our own student federation working to rectify rape culture, we still have a lot of punching up to do.

Take the case of the student who was charged with sexual assault, yet was still admitted to the common law program at the U of O because a “prison sentence would impact his future.”  Or this case of this hockey player at Queen’s University who was charged with sexual assault but had his sentence “postponed so it wouldn’t hurt his internship.” Or, these hockey players at, once again, the U of O, who had their sexual assault trial delayed for a second time at the request of the defence.

Or, most recently, this case in Calgary, where Connor Neurauter, a convicted sex offender, hockey player, and student at the University of Calgary, had his next-to-nothing sentence of 90 days delayed so he could focus on his studies.

This isn’t an isolated incident. Increasingly, male students facing charges of sexual assault are having their trials or their sentences delayed because it just doesn’t suit their schedule, or their plans for the future, which frankly they ruined themselves when they broke the law and assaulted another human being. What kind of message is this sending to survivors?

As a student, and as a woman, I’m fed up. It is exhausting and infuriating to read about the countless stories of sexual assault being brought to light only to have the men responsible get slapped on the wrist, and sent back to school.

I don’t care how much “potential” these students have. They also had the potential not to rape, or assault, or harrass. The perpetrators of this violence need to be held responsible for their actions. They aren’t kids. You know who was a kid? Neurater’s thirteen year-old victim.

The fact of the matter is that we live in a society which systematically prioritizes the future of young men, regardless of convict status, over the safety of their female counterparts. This isn’t news, this isn’t even an opinion. This is simply a fact, and it needs to change.