UW student researches perception of sexual violence on campus

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With Ontario&rsquo;s post-secondary institutions under pressure to reform policies related to sexual violence, UW knowledge and integration student Clarice Chin chose to investigate affirmative consent and perceptions of sexual violence on campus.</p>

Examining the feasibility of affirmative consent for her undergraduate thesis, Chin recruited 10 students via email, posters, and in-class announcements to partake in a study. Five men and five women from undergraduate and graduate studies were asked to define sexual consent and affirmative consent, as well as discuss the achievability of affirmative consent and its pros and cons.

Chin discovered that the participants found the idea of affirmative consent to be comforting. 

“What I did notice in terms of a general theme in the data was that students … think it’s something that should happen; it makes them feel safe, it makes them feel protected,” Chin said.

Affirmative consent requires verbal confirmation between the participants to engage in sexual activity. However, affirmative consent is one of many types of confirmation that fall under the umbrella of sexual consent. For example, enthusiastic consent measures a participant’s eagerness to engage in a sexual act.

Students indicated that despite the level of comfort it provides, they thought affirmative consent might diminish the sexual experience. 

“There’s this really big fear of it being awkward to incorporate into dialogue before a sexual act,” Chin said. “They’re also scared of rejecting somebody else, because there were some participants who mentioned that, specifically, women feel pressured into doing it because they’ve already gone so far with this person.”

Chin found that, in the students’ opinion, the most preferred method of being educated on sexual violence is campus talks and events. However, even this form of education has drawbacks as scheduling conflicts and location can make it difficult for students to reach these proceedings.

Presently, any acts of misconduct related to sexual violence at UW fall under Policy 71. This policy focuses on disciplinary actions for academic and non-academic acts of misconduct by students. According to Chin, this policy is vague.

“This policy, as far as I understand it, if students [were to] report sexual violence, and the school has to discipline a student, it would fall under policy 71 which is a very broad policy that covers a number of different things, such as academic integrity, cheating, and things as that,” Chin said. “It’s not incredibly clear what the university is supposed to do or how it’s supposed to be handled.”

The Ontario government has urged post-secondary institutions to reform their sexual assault policies through the Its Never Okay campaign. Many Canadian universities have recently discussed implementing new sexual violence policies, including the University of British Columbia and the University of Guelph.

Chin explained that token resistance can have long-term negative effects and lead to false consent. Token resistance involves one sexual partner saying no, when they really mean yes. 

“It’s a manipulative tool, so they want to make their male counterpart be a little bit more aggressive, be more domineering, which is a traditional sexual script,” Chin said.

Chin explained that this can result in dishonest communication between the partners.

Additionally, some students indicated that they weren’t as comfortable approaching campus police about sexual violence as they were regional police.

“One student said ‘I would go to Waterloo regional police. I wouldn’t go to campus police’,” Chin said. “‘Once I go to [campus police] what are they going to do with what I tell them and how are they going to treat me as a victim? That is not very clearly outlined anywhere.’”

Presently, a group called The Working Group is revising UW’s sexual violence policies. Only one undergraduate student and one graduate student are active on the committee.

“I feel like students should have a voice in this group that will affect them the most,” Chin said. “That’s why I wanted to ask students on affirmative consent, just like what are we getting right and what are we getting wrong, and what do students really need.”

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