by Ela Esra Gunad, BWSS Manager of Communications & Resource Development
Last week Battered Women’s Support Services (BWSS) came together with students and community at University of British Columbia (UBC) for Take Back The Night Rally and March in response to six reported sexual assaults on campus. UBC officials continue to focus on women and how they should protect themselves while not addressing the need to challenge the very visible rape culture on campus nor calling out to the man who feels entitled to commit these sexual assaults with no impunity. Telling women not to walk alone at night and to carry safety whistles cannot and will not build safety on campus. These actions do not address the real contributing factors and roots of sexual violence. They do perpetuate the gender inequality and the belief of men that they have the right to use violence against women. With more than 200 people, we, women and our male allies marched in the Take Back The Night (TBTN) Rally on Wednesday night to use our voice against rape culture, address the reality we are living in our society and take action to create safe space for women to live free from violence.
These six sexual assaults are not separate and isolated incidents, they are part of the larger systemic and societal issue of violence against women. The normalization of rape, victim blaming, and lack of trust and confidence in university authorities and the criminal justice system results in the majority of sexual assaults on campus not being reported. There are far more sexual assaults occurring on campus than we may want to ever know. 52% of the student body on UBC campus are women trying to get an education. Women have the right to safety and the right to access education without being in constant fear.
UBC is perpetuating the rape culture and the patriarchal system that allows violence against women to continue by focusing on women and their behaviors. We acknowledge the history of how settlers came to stand here on the Unceded Musqueam Territory that UBC currently occupies,is directly tied to the callous acts of violence against women. The university authorities continue to hold women responsible for their safety while not sending a single message out around the behaviours and attitudes of men on campus. The perpetrator(s) behind these assaults are men. UBC is responsible to shift the behaviours done and attitudes held by men and ensure safe space for girls and women to have equal access to education. BWSS asks UBC to address the rape culture on campus, ensure women have equal access to education as male students, and focus on changing the attitudes and behaviors of men who choose to use violence.
The RCMP is declining to release the sexual assault statistics for UBC. But, we know the highest rate of sexual violence against women occurs on campus within the first eight weeks of classes. As a university knowing that, we want to hear what UBC is doing to address this reality, what efforts UBC is putting to provide a safer campus without holding women responsible for those incidents. We see UBC is considering changes to security and increasing the number of security officials. However, this is simply not enough to guarantee women the exercise and enjoyment of basic freedoms on a basis of equality with men. We want to see the academic works of UBC around strategies and practical measures on the elimination of violence against women not only on paper, but also in practice.
Gender-based violence has serious long-term impact on the emotional, cognitive, physical, social, and spiritual well-being of women. To achieve lasting change and end violence against girls and women, the university needs to revise and develop policies and systems and apply them into all aspects of the university from departments, programs, student groups to curriculums. UBC should consider the crucial importance of recognizing the reality of rape culture to conduct reliable investigations. As an anti-violence organization working over 30 years to end violence against women, we invite UBC to work with women’s organization in this process and have needed imput from women’s organizations.
Over many years, Take Back The Night (TBTN) has been taking place as a way to stand against sexual violence, speak out against rape culture and demand women’s safety on our streets, in our communities, in our society. Women are continuously harassed and assaulted both day and night all over the world. Every 17 minutes in Canada, a woman is raped. As a result, the first Take Back The Night in Canadian history was held in Vancouver in 1978. After 35 years, women in Vancouver came together on Unceded Musqueam territory at TBTN to urge UBC, Campus Security, and the RCMP to stop blaming victims and survivors of sexual assault and to take steps to change the culture of violence. Until this happens, UBC and authorises to serve and protect continue to fail women.
The change will come with our brave steps. As our Executive Director Angela Marie MacDougall says, “Each of us have the power and the responsibility to take a stand against gender violence. Today, we are seeing the women of our community standing together in their power, reclaiming their voice and taking to the streets taking back what is rightfully theirs”.
As an institution of education, UBC has a responsibility to educate male students and the larger community on campus about the reality of rape and the impact and to alter any attitudes and behaviours that perpetuate such a culture. Battered Women’s Support Services demands UBC to recognize and to work on changing the current rape culture on campus. This can be started by putting an immediate stop to victim blaming, holding men accountable for their actions, and developing programs and systems including a trustworthy and accessible process for reporting sexual assaults.
Until all girls and women live free from violence, we will continue to take action and call on UBC to take effective measure to guarantee human rights and safety for women!