Letter to the Editor: January 27th

This article discusses sexual assault and may be triggering for some readers. The Kingston Sexual Assault Centre’s 24-hour crisis and support phone line can be reached at 613-544-6424 / 1-800-544-6424. 

Dear Editor,

I know this letter wasn’t the first of its kind and won’t be the last. As graduation approaches, I’ve been reflecting a lot on the things I’ve learned. Queen’s has been profoundly transformative, but in hopes of being candid about my experience, I thought you should know I wasn’t prepared for the degree to which sexual violence would live on every page of my university experience.

I know: don’t drink too much, don’t stay out late, and be mindful of the clothes you wear. I followed all these rules to blend in and keep myself safe. But, unfortunately, that didn’t save me or my friends from the predators at Queen’s.

Sure, I had some understanding of the prevalence of sexual violence in high school. I thought the odd guys who groped passed-out girls at parties were bad apples (I mean it was America, what did I expect?). You’re moving to Canada now, it has to be better than America.

What I should’ve expected was this:

Every Tuesday you walk to class, and you don’t have the space on one hand to count the rapists you see on your way to your 8:30. When you get to class, a man who has committed acts of sexual violence raises his hand eagerly to offer input on the importance of female empowerment in the book you’re reading.

When you work out at the ARC, you’re met with more familiar faces to remind you that feeling unsafe is part of the Queen’s experience.

Every organization, club, and society on campus is lined with men who have committed sexual violence against you, your housemates, and your friends.

When you go out, you wait in line at one of the bars that don’t openly drug its female customers. Even here there is a risk because after you get in, the men you recognize (the ones that have done things prisoners wouldn’t try) are downing beers at the bar. You’d lose friends, some guys, but more disappointingly some girls who don’t take issue with sexual violence (I’ll admit I envy their ignorance, but it doesn’t save them either).

You thought that sexual assault in university was just as simple as someone spiking a drink (yes, that does happen). But on your second night at Queen’s, you learn saying no is trivial and meaningless. It’s funny how words work. I’d spend the next four years studying the power of language, concerned with the arrangement of words. Recall: in the beginning there was the Word, Logos, the word within a word, I’ll give you my word. I know the weight of words (so why didn’t mine hold you back?). So, unfortunately, Queen’s has been a learning experience.

If I try hard enough to remember, I’m still that 18-year-old girl. Looking back, I can picture my independence looming with the future at my fingertips. It all flashes before my eyes: my acceptance letter, my first rugger, and shuffling through move-in boxes.

Before my parents packed up the car, I wish they would’ve shown me where I could put all this rage.

I go to therapy to talk about this. How sexual violence permeates every part of my life at Queen’s. I complain that everyone I know is one degree of separation from a known perpetrator (it’s a big school, why do I know so many rapists?). I cross U&U beside people who shouldn’t be allowed on parole. I wish they’d disappear (thanks QUIP and study abroad). I think of how some books are more protected than some women I know. I fume endlessly, wishing to inflict violence so that at least I’ve done something besides going to war with myself.

For a long time, I was afraid that Queen’s is a microcosm of the real world. I lay awake, and wonder if this perpetual state of fear and anger will continue to haunt me long after I walk across the stage in my cap and gown. I consider if moving into a new apartment, in a new city, will bring about the same frustrations.

Queen’s is more than a few bad apples: the roots in the tree are rotten. Queen’s breeds entitlement that protects and normalizes these heinous acts (dear editor, did you know about all this?). Why, when the conversation turns to sexual assault, does everyone have a story or three?

As my parents prepare my brother for university, I am keenly aware of how his preparation and mine will differ. I know he will heed their warning about drinking too much, avoiding clothes that expose his cleavage, and reminding him to never go out alone.

Dear editor, if you have a son, I hope you remember this letter. I hope you give him the strength to stand up to his friends and to know basic human decency. Remind him daily that it’s okay to be the guy that walks his friends home, but it’s not okay to be the one that leaves their skin degraded and bones dishevelled.


Till next time,

Emma Mastre

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