Manitoba students meet to discuss sexual assault on campus

Nearly 100 university students from across the province met in Winnipeg this weekend to discuss how universities can foster a culture of consent on campus and better assist victims of sexual assault.
Nearly 100 students from across Manitoba met at the University of Winnipeg Saturday and Sunday to discuss sexual assault and fostering a culture of consent on campus. (CBC)

Students from across Manitoba met this weekend to talk about ways they can turn what they call "pervasive rape culture" on campus into cultures that value consent.

Nearly 100 students from the University of Winnipeg, the University of Manitoba, Brandon University and Université de Saint-Boniface gathered in downtown Winnipeg for the event hosted by the Canadian Federation of Students Manitoba (CFSM).

Sexual assault on campuses was top on the agenda.

"It happens and it happens more often than we think ... we need to be believing the stories of survivors. It's so critical," said Michael Barkman, chair of the CFSM.

"Victim blaming, victim shaming is such a pervasive problem," he said.

Rape culture is defined as "the normalization of sexual violence maintained by deeply entrenched cultural misogyny," said Laura Garinger, women commissioner for the CFSM.

"It both covers up and excuses sexual violence."

There are a multitude of ways rape culture dominates university culture today, through comments, physical violence and online violence, Barkman said.

Fostering a culture of consent

According to research done by the CFSM across several campuses in Manitoba, 9 out of 10 cases of sexual assault go unreported.

Instead of going to the police or school officials, victims of sexual assault and harassment are opting to speak to their peers and student associations, said Barkman.

"It's actually kind of quite difficult to find concrete data because of that reporting challenge," he said, adding that the awareness of the rampant rape culture comes from both quantitative and qualitative research.

With people like Return of the Kings' Roosh V in the headlines (who has previously advocated for legalizing rape in a blog post) make conversations about consent culture so important right now, he said.

This weekend the Winnipeg forum discussed topics ranging from colonization to feminism to tangible steps they can take to make sure students understand what consent is, and perhaps more importantly, what it isn't.

The goal is to continue a "no means no" campaign across campuses and to fight for improved supports for victims, said Barkman.

"That's been a huge issue on so many of our campuses, is really an inadequate and quite offensive response policies to sexual violence," he said.