One in four women will be raped or experience an attempted rape as a university undergraduate.
That ratio is higher, close to two of three women, if you consider sexual coercion, sex the women say they didn’t want to have and felt pressured to have by their boyfriend or date, University of Windsor women’s studies professor Dusty Johnstone said this week.
Few sexual assaults are formally reported so the numbers are estimated and it is generally accepted that university students face a higher risk of sexual assault or attempted sexual assault during their first two years at university, Johnstone said.
To prevent sexual assaults, the University of Windsor runs Bystander Initiative workshops and credit courses that encourage students to intervene before a sexual assault may take place. It may be a student offering a friend or stranger a way home when that person seems too drunk to go home with someone else.
The initiative is in its fifth year and more than 1,500 students will be taking the three-hour workshop and have a chance to earn bonus marks in some courses. Johnstone said the program has almost doubled in size and the University of Windsor may be the only Canadian university offering credit courses along with workshops.
Teaching a class at orientation won’t work, she said. Johnstone hopes that, after three more years, it will get to the point where the majority of students on campus will have taken the workshop.
“We hope to reach that critical mass and start to see a shift in widespread attitudes and behaviours where bystanding is the norm,” Johnstone said. “Rather than not doing anything, the social norm is doing something.”
Allison Cadwallader, a fourth-year honours psychology and women’s studies student, might have minded her own business before she took the course that instilled a social responsibility to help prevent sexual assault. Now she teaches the workshops.
After taking the first part of the credit course, she saw a drunk couple coming out of a bar. The woman couldn’t walk on her own and the man with her was being verbally abusive. Even though the woman was a stranger, Cadwallader intervened and took the responsibility of getting her home by getting the woman a cab.
Amidst all the warnings about watching your drink at a bar, Cadwallader said the reality is that alcohol is the most widely used date rape drug.
For the first time this fall, about 100 seniors in charge of frosh week took the course. “I definitely see a positive shift,” Cadwallader said.
Anne Forrest, director of the women’s and gender studies program and a member of the Bystander Initiative team, said students aren’t supposed to be sex police but intervene in a situation where the person may not realize how much danger they are in, especially if they are new to campus.
The workshop dispels myths such as if the women is drunk, she deserves to be raped and that rapists as strangers hiding in the bushes. Most sexual assaults are done by someone you know, Forrest said.