The Frosh Rape Chants are (Unfortunately) Simply Symptoms of the Broader Culture

This is a guest post by CYH volunteer Lyon.

Trigger warning: This blog post discusses sexualized violence and the violent chants used during frosh week at Saint Mary”s University and UBC.

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If you didn’t know already, rape culture is apparently alive and well among youth, even the older ones. On Labour Day, frosh (i.e., freshman orientation) leaders at Saint Mary”s University (SMU) in Halifax led students to chant an acronym about underage, non-consensual sex or in language that our media avoids using: rape. At the very least the chant, which started in 2009 according to students, normalizes the attitude that it is okay for SMU men to rape female minors. The media has pointed out  that this attitude is unsurprisingly prevalent among other Canadian universities, even UBC has their own close facsimile of the SMU chant. SMU Student Association President Jared Perry had the unfortunate job of telling the media: “we don”t necessarily look at the message.” Then he had to quit. But to be clear: does that chant really need to spell RAPE in order to convey its message? Do you need to know that Blurred Lines is about seeking sex from a woman who may or may not be giving consent to realize that it”s unabashedly sexist? Whether or not the general public understands the themes in Blurred Lines, it”s the song of the summer, having been #1 on the US Billboard 100 for 12 weeks. It”s clear that many are fine with any negative connotations that Blurred Lines contains and probably find those lyrics entertaining. It seems that students are used to an atmosphere where chants such as these are normal. Why did this finally get noticed? A participant posted a video of it on Instagram, allowing outsiders (and the media especially) a peek, and over the past year the suicides of Halifax resident Rehtaeh Parsons and Amanda Todd have forced the Nova Scotia government and much of the rest of Canada to at least take notice that rape is an actual issue in our country.

Amanda”s video of her story alongside her suicide was what helped bring her to our attention; similarly Parsons” suicide after 17 months of virtual inaction with accompanying events in her case rekindled media interest. Despite all that, the RCMP has done nothing significant with Amanda”s case. In early August, two males were arrested in Rehtaeh”s case. They are now facing child pornography charges. Around roughly the same time, cyberbullying legislation was passed in Nova Scotia that allowed victims to sue cyberbullies (if they”re minors, parents too are liable) and apply for a protection order. Though this is a step in the right direction, it circumvents a few main issues: that cyberbullying is a very indefinite description of the sexual extortion at the hands of sexual predators that Amanda (and many, many others) experienced. This law has only been passed in Nova Scotia; and ultimately it doesn”t address rape culture among youth in Canada. The RCMP only took Rehtaeh”s case more seriously after her death and after Anonymous, a cyberhacktivist group, threatened to release the names of the four boys that raped her and posted pictures of the act online.

In the week after Rehtaeh”s death, flyers and posters supporting the boys that raped Rehtaeh came out. There was also a Facebook group that had almost 130 members when it was shut down. Considering the prior behaviour of people in her community before her death, this isn”t much of a scoop. None of this ought to be. For every Amanda or Rehtaeh, there are many more women that have suffered similar experiences in Canada, and many men have as well. Reading through online articles from major media, none of them even mention PTSD or they gloss over it and briefly mention it as something Amanda or Rehtaeh experienced. If you don”t know anything about PTSD, people who suffer from it can be triggered into re-experiencing trauma almost as if it was actually happening when they”re asleep or when they”re awake. This illness is most commonly attributed to veterans, but it can happen to anyone. PTSD can numb someone”s emotions to the point where they can talk about their trauma while being calm to the utmost and possibly even seem glib.

Without Rehtaeh, I doubt the video of the rape chant from SMU would have been national news. These are simply a few of many news stories of an issue that is acutely underreported and that I mean literally. 1 in 10 sexual assaults are ever reported. I”m not going to continue into statistics right now, but know that it is very likely you personally know someone (maybe more) that has been sexually assaulted at some point in their lives. Canadians deserve more than media stories capitalizing on emotional momentum, we need a dialog that breaks the silence guarded by stigma, where cyber-bullying isn”t enough to characterize what happens and that psychological trauma along with the role of justice aren”t obviated. In order to change rape culture we need to recognize it and acknowledge its painful and deadly impacts. Simply letting our institutions and non profits work on it without our involvement and forgetting the people that cope with this is irresponsible.

For the student participants that think this is okay: I get it. When you tell us the content doesn”t matter I know it”s because we”ve become so inured to sex and violence portrayed in our media culture and played 24/7 on cable news. Have you ever thought welcoming new students like this normalizes rape culture? And that this has actual consequences? Consequences that continue the fatal cycle of people believing that it”s normal to violently take advantage of someone. After that, all those basic things that you take for granted: your sleep, your interpersonal relationships, working, feeling alright, it”s a Sisyphean effort to get them back for someone who has been raped. Some can”t take it.

People that fit the target description in the chant could even be amongst the crowd.

While you may have the privilege of not looking at the message, the clear message for others is that campus is one more space that they don”t feel welcome or safe.

You can help change the culture. Tuum Est.

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