A recent report on gender-based violence and sexual assault makes recommendations which, if put into action, could help make headway on reducing what is a serious problem in our society.
The report, titled “Taking Action to End Violence Against Young Women and Girls in Canada,” was released in March by the House of Commons Standing Committee on the Status of Women. Among its recommendations was a call for mandatory training for all judges and police officers on issues involving sexual assault.
At the report’s release, Marilyn Gladu, a Conservative MP and chair of the committee, said, “Addressing the issue of harassment in public places and the victim blaming-and-shaming that occurs throughout the reporting and judicial system will be key to prevent violence and to ensure that survivors do not suffer further at the hands of the police, the RCMP and the judiciary.”
Implementation of the recommendation would be a step toward eliminating one of the major obstacles to victims coming forward to report incidents of sexual assault. The controversy involving Judge Robin Camp, who asked during a 2014 sex-assault trial why the female victim didn’t just keep her knees together, pointed out the “blame the victim” attitude that discourages the reporting of such crimes.
The report also mentioned society’s pervasive “rape culture” that creates conditions which lead to sexual violence.
Liberal MP and committee vice-chair Pam Damoff noted that during the committee’s year-long investigation, witnesses told “about a pervasive rape culture in Canada that normalizes, excuses and tolerates violence against young women and girls in public spaces, across universities and college campuses, and online.”
Such sexist attitudes, even when they don’t involve physical violence, are nevertheless an assault on females.
One example was the series of hateful Facebook posts aimed at female classmates which led to the suspension in January 2015 of 13 dentistry students at Dalhousie University.
Several of the report’s recommendations were aimed at tackling the problem at post-secondary campuses. They included a call to require post-secondary institutions to implement stand-alone sexual assault policies; to provide sexual violence intervention and sensitivity training for all students and staff during orientation times; and to look into requiring require all university and college administrations to establish sexual assault centres on campus, with free counselling services.
The report drew the support of the Canadian Federation of Students, which urged quick action to implement the recommendations.
Of course, the problem goes beyond college and university campuses. It’s an unhealthy attitude that permeates society at large and is fuelled by a culture that is quick to treat women as sex objects. It’s with that broader scope in mind that another recommendation suggested the development of a nation-wide awareness campaign to educate the public about consent, healthy sexuality and bystander intervention.
It all boils down to a matter of respect for the female gender, something which, perhaps for numerous reasons, far too many males in Canada have not developed.
Changing these attitudes is the key to making progress on the problem of sexual and gender-based violence.