Realities of rape culture on campus

Trauma and trigger warnings more than mere concepts for survivors of sexual assault at Queen’s

UEmpowered Queen’s was created to give survivors a voice
Image by: Colin Tomchick
UEmpowered Queen’s was created to give survivors a voice

WARNING: This piece talks about sexual violence and may be triggering for some readers.

Use Walkhome, try the buddy system at night and don’t drink so much.

That was the advice one student says she was given as a first-year when she visited Health, Counselling and Disability Services (HCDS) in 2009 to deal with the emotional trauma that resulted from her sexual assault.

The student, who asked to remain anonymous, was raped at a house party a month before she came to Queen’s.

“Typically when you think about rape, it’s a bump in the middle of the night or it’s someone you’re walking home alone and you don’t really know the person,” she said. “But the person was actually my best friend.”

The student said the assault occurred when she was nearly passed out after drinking a lot.

She remembers feeling something heavy on top of her, and when she woke up the next morning, she was confused about what had happened. She questioned her friend, and after initially claiming he didn’t remember anything about the night before, he soon admitted what he did.

“He just kind of gave me this look and he just said ‘don’t pretend that you haven’t wanted this,’” she said. “And he just kind of started spitting out random things. You could tell he wasn’t really thinking. He was like ‘you’ve wanted this, don’t make it a big deal.’”

“The only thing I could say was ‘I was asleep, I was completely dead. I wasn’t asking for anything.’ That’s when he broke down and started crying.”

The student, now in her fourth year, said she was sick to her stomach when she realized what had happened.

She later went home and showered for an hour and a half.

She proceeded to scrub herself with a metal brush and Vim cleaning powder, only stopping when she began to bleed because she feared she’d develop noticeable scars.

She’d had to wait at the rapist’s house for hours before her ride — another friend — arrived, and when she did, the student told her about the rape. The friend wanted to hear both sides of the story before jumping to any conclusions, she said.

The blasé reaction is something the student has become familiar with.

Her appointments with the HCDS counselors were unfruitful, she said, providing her with suggestions for avoiding rape by a stranger rather than addressing the reality of her trauma.

“I was like, well, I’m not drinking that much, I know about Walkhome because I was there during Frosh Week, and I’m not really scared about walking home at night. I’m scared about being friends with a guy now.”

The student had been motivated to seek help when she realized how deeply the assault was affecting her daily life. She was uncomfortable brushing up against patrons at her movie theatre job. For a year after the rape, she slept on the floor because she felt uncomfortable sleeping in beds. She also felt uncomfortable entering residence rooms in which more men than women were present.

“I’m pretty sure all of my professors think I’m just late to every class but I can’t sit beside two guys, I can’t sit in between them,” she said. “So in first year when you have big auditorium [lectures] I would always have to come in late because by that time, everyone has their seats and you can choose strategically where to sit.”

In 2012, only two cases of sexual assault and four cases of sexual harassment were reported to Campus Security.

“This does not necessarily include those reported to human rights, to counselors, to police, and of course those not reported at all,” Arig Girgrah, assistant dean of student affairs told the Journal via email.

In Kingston, the number of reported assaults increased last year, with 112 reported to police between January and September 2012 alone compared to 66 in all of 2011.

That number, however, likely pales in comparison to the actual number of assaults committed; in 2010, the Sexual Assault Centre (SAC) Kingston received 500 calls to their crisis line and offered over 1,000 counselling sessions.

She acknowledged that sexual assault is a problem “socially and on campus as it is on most North American societies/communities and campuses.”

“Queen’s is addressing the issue through a variety of annual awareness raising campaigns, public education forums, training of student peer mentors, educators and support personnel [and] provision of support services (counselling, advising),” she said.

This is also being addressed through collaboration with campus and community partners and development within the counselling service. Health, Counselling and Disability Services deferred to Gigrah for comment on the nature of counseling sessions.

The student who spoke to the Journal is one of many who chose not to pursue legal charges. She did confront her rapist online as a form of closure.

She told him: “I want you to know how I sleep on the floor at night and how when I go to the gym the smell of sweat puts me in a panic and I want you to know that, because it will make me feel better.” She eventually found a counselor at home who helped her recognize her triggers and her panics attacks, but she’s still caught off guard in certain situations.

“In film we’d watch movies with rape scenes and stuff like that, and I just remember getting that feeling like everyone here knows that I’ve been raped, everyone here can totally see it,” she said. “I remember sitting in class absolutely terrified as I watched this, but thinking if I leave, then everyone will know and everyone’s going to ask me questions about it.”

The climate is changing, she said. A few years ago, students could get away with joking about an exam “raping” them; today, after the dialogue groups have been created, students are likely to be called out for such comments, she said.

In February, UEmpowered Queen’s was created on Facebook. The page shares anonymous stories of those who have experienced sexual assault.

“I think that once this shame, silencing and stigma is eradicated, it will become easier and more common for individuals to report incidences of sexual violence,” the creator of the page, who asked to be anonymous, said. “And in order to reclaim our voices, we first need a safe place to share them.”

Also in February, ASUS representative to the AMS Alexander Prescott left a Facebook comment about rape culture — which implied that some “onus” should be on the victim based on their conduct. This sparked a fierce debate at ASUS assembly and resulted in three other assembly members resigning in protest of Prescott’s views.

At a special assembly meeting held to discuss Prescott’s censure, many students spoke about rape culture, including their personal experiences.

“Rape Culture has been kept in the dark for so long because of the silence, shame, and stigma that accompany being a victim/survivor of sex- or gender-based violence,” the creator said. “Everybody thinks that they are alone, until they realize how much the 1-in-4 statistic applies to the very environment we currently live in.”


assault, sexual

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