Betty-Ann's Both Sides Blog

Change Attitudes, Not Laws

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This past week demonstrated that Asian men and Canadian university students have something in common- both believe that their sexual rights are paramount. To change these sad results and improve the lives of 50% of our population we must change attitudes. Laws aren’t enough.
It started when United Nations released a survey showing that nearly a quarter of men in Asia have raped at least one woman. Only one in ten of those rapes were with a woman who was not their wife or girlfriend. Of the men who raped, the majority admitted to being in a relationship with the victim.
It wasn’t a small sample either- ten thousand men from Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, China, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh participated. Nearly three quarters of the men who were surveyed, said they raped because they felt “sexual entitlement,” or because they wanted “entertainment.”
It would be easy for us to read these results, shake our heads and dismiss them with a sense of superiority for our “kinder, gentler” society. We could chalk them up to an inferior moral culture in a less developed part of the world.
However, before we are tempted to do so, we should consider the chant yelled by student leaders from Saint Mary’s University in Halifax about non-consensual underage sex that also came to light this past week.
On a video posted to YouTube one can see the crowd at the football field shouting, “Y is for your sister […] U is for underage, N is for no consent […] Saint Mary’s boys we like them young.” The frosh week chant glorifying underage sex with girls without consent was also posted online.
Clearly sexual entitlement and entertainment isn’t a long distance away in Asia- it is alive and well in Canada at a prominent institution of higher learning.
Fortunately, most St Mary’s students won’t take the next step to put these words into action but the chant does create an environment of acceptance for the power of men over women and the entitlement of seniority, particularly in sexual relations. But if even one student rapes his girlfriend for his own entertainment or personal gratification, it is too much and any words that suggest it is OK have to be eliminated.
Unfortunately, when apprised of this incident, the response of the leadership at St. Mary’s university and province of Nova Scotia came up woefully short. University President Colin Dodds proposed a presidential council to investigate the incident and Premier Darrell Dexter cautioned against overreaction.
As pointed out in a Globe and Mail editorial these comments and suggestions “are an absurdity in the very province where 17-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons committed suicide last spring – a tragedy that similarly involved humiliating images”.
The paper recommended that the students shown chanting in the video should be called to a disciplinary hearing by the university, where they should be held accountable for their actions. They broke the university’s code of conduct handed out to each student (coincidently during frosh week) so they need to be punished and possibly suspended.
I agree with the paper that the statements in the St Mary’s printed code of conduct need to be adhered to and held in the highest regard. We have laws all over the world protecting women from rape. The problem is that they aren’t enforced. We make excuses, blame the victim and reinforce the concept of entitlement.
The school will tell you that it is indeed reinforcing its code of conduct- the student union executive has been ordered to go to sensitivity training and to attend a conference on sexual violence and consent.
I have a better idea- let’s give some sensitivity training to Dexter and Dodds. Let’s have these leaders sit with underage victims who have been raped. Once they hear their stories of the resulting pain, hurt and suffering I predict they will develop empathy. Only then will they do everything in their power to be sure such chants are buried forever.
Laws only work if they reflect the attitudes of society and this is clearly a limiting factor in both St. Mary’s and in Asia. Rape is more than the libido- it is a result of misogyny. Attitudes will only change through education and leadership. We need people all over the world to stand up for women but we have to focus on our sphere of influence. Each of us can play a role in supporting this change by shining a light on these regressive attitudes in Canada. Are you ready to stand up and say that “it’s not right?”

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