Ryerson University issued the following announcement on Jan. 15
As the #MeToo movement has spread around the world, there’s been a huge change in awareness about sexual assault and consent. More and more people are coming forward with their stories. Ryerson University Magazine spoke with Farrah Khan, manager of Ryerson’s Consent Comes First Office, and award-winning Globe and Mail journalist and Ryerson alumna Robyn Doolittle (Journalism ’06), two women who are changing how Canada deals with sexual assault and how survivors are supported.
In addition to her work at Ryerson, Khan is responsible for numerous initiatives to educate the public and support survivors. Last spring, at the invitation of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Khan joined the Gender Equality Council for Canada’s G7 Presidency. Doolittle is best known for her investigative journalism, most recently the Unfounded series for the Globe and Mail detailing how police handle sexual assaults, which has resulted in major changes to sexual assault investigations across Canada.
RU Magazine: Robyn, how did the Unfounded series come about?
Robyn: It was back when everyone was talking about the Jian Ghomeshi case and I was wondering if there was a way to look at this from an investigative stand-point. Is the criminal justice system discriminatory against sexual assault complainants, beyond just anecdotal one-off cases?
I came across a study that talked about unfounded rates, which is essentially when police finish an investigation, if they think that it’s not a real investigation, that the complaint is baseless, or it’s false, they designate it unfounded. And, then, it doesn’t count in their statistics.
This seemed to be the most obvious way to prove whether sexual assault cases are being disproportionately dismissed.
I collected all these numbers and nationally, the unfounded rate was 20 per cent. So, one in five complaints were being dismissed. But in 115 communities at least a third of complaints were being dismissed.
Before the series ran, I emailed all the police services (there’s 177 of them), outlining exactly what was in my series. “This is your unfounded rate. This is what the national unfounded rate is. These are the problems I find with the cases. You know, they’re not being investigated properly. They’re being closed before witnesses are being investigated, or being questioned.” I think 10 police services sent me responses.
After the series ran, there was overnight change, partly because ministers in various levels of government were demanding that they change.
We’ve had more than 30,000 cases being reviewed. Hundreds have been reopened. I know of at least a dozen that have resulted in charges.
Half of the country is now being policed by a service that is rolling out, or has rolled out, specialized sexual assault training that has a trauma-informed approach. And, half of the country is being policed by a service that has adopted civilian case review.
It means that those working in the violence-against-women field are being invited to review raw police files to look for signs of bias and investigative missteps.
So, in terms of what’s happening in Canada, it’s pretty radical, compared to other places in the world. And, it is totally related to media and political pressure…
Farrah: And feminist organizing.
Robyn: Totally. I mean, my work is built off of the work that these organizations and advocates have been pushing for, forever. It’s not like any of these ideas are new. They’ve been around for decades. And, then, this political/media push suddenly says, ‘Okay. We better do this now.’
RU Magazine: The investigative series came out around the time that #MeToo started. What did you think, Farrah, when those tweets started?
Farrah: #MeToo was a hashtag that was created by Tarana Burke, over a decade ago, to talk specifically about the impact of sexual violence on Black women and to give voice to survivors. But, then, when Alyssa Milano tweeted, I remember seeing people starting to post and I was like, hmm, I don’t want to see that right now. And, it took till the next day to really see that this was popping up.
I think social media can be fantastic as a place for folks that have been affected by sexual violence, to have an opportunity to connect with their peers. Or, to say to someone, ‘Yes. I’m not alone. There’s other people.’ I think, it was really fantastic in the conversations around #MeToo, we saw men take up that conversation. I can talk to a group of young men now about sexual violence, in a very different way because of Terry Crews.
So, it’s been really powerful in that way. I think, also, it’s been used to manipulate, harm and shame survivors.
And, I don’t think we were meant to be so immersed all the time in this because the exposure to trauma that people have on social media on a consistent basis is a lot for people.
Robyn: There’s this evolution that’s happening right now, in terms of the range of sexual misconduct. I recently interviewed Susan Brown Miller, who wrote Against Our Will, which is the first big book on rape, published in 1975.
It was so interesting because before Against Our Will, rape was not viewed as a political social issue. It was a deviant, rare crime that no one really talked about or thought about. I was struggling sometimes in the interview to think of a world when sexual violence was not top of mind. Miller said, “We just didn’t talk about it. It just wasn’t a thing we thought about. It was this rare thing. We didn’t realize it was ubiquitous in the culture.”
I’m bringing this up as this is evidence of us moving along. #MeToo has moved the bar from violent rape to other ranges of sexual misconduct.
RU Magazine: What’s ahead in the wake of the #MeToo movement?
Robyn: I am writing a book that is exploring this reckoning that’s happening. What I’m really interested in is how the #MeToo movement and these demands to reform our criminal justice system are working together and clashing.
So, it’s really complicated and murky. I think people are kind of nervous about having these conversations, because you don’t want to be branded as a victim blamer, or not with it, or a right-wing crazy conservative, misogynist. We’re just trying to navigate all of these things.
Farrah: There are a couple of things that I’d like to see. I worry sometimes that we pour money into an issue and then, when it’s not seen as relevant or important anymore, that money dries up.
And so, I worry about the sustainable funding of rape crisis centres and sexual assault centres across Canada, including campus services.
In terms of a #MeToo movement, I think there are multiple movements on sexual violence. I don’t think all of them have to do with the police services because the majority of people don’t go to the police.
I’m interested in talking about the fact that if we’re not going to the police, how do we invest our time and resources in other ways to address this? Not just healing individually, but healing collectively. How do we, when we know somebody who’s done something really crappy and we’re not down with their behaviour, how do we call them in?
And, the last thing that kind of excites me about this is that we’re having conversations for the first time, I think, in a long time about the impact of this. The impact is not just a one-time thing. It’s not episodic, in that you’re sexually assaulted and it’s done. No, it’s a long-term piece.
So, how are we going to build a world that recognizes that so many of us have been harmed? And a trauma-informed world? Instead of saying, ‘It’s just a special interest group,’ it’s actually not. It’s so many of us. It’s one in three women and one in six men. Because, it’s not a quick fix. It’s a conversation that is ongoing.
Another thing that I’m interested in for university campuses is a larger conversation about child sexual abuse and sexual assault of children and youth. We know that 55 per cent of the cases that go to police are young people, under the age of 17.
And, if we’re going to talk about addressing sexual violence on campuses, we’ve got to deal with what’s happening in high schools and grade schools and work with that group.
RU Magazine: What’s the most important thing for people to know about consent?
Farrah: What we really would want people to understand is that consent is a dynamic process.
It’s not a contract that you sign. There are a lot of [consent] apps right now that if you click and then your partner clicks, everything’s good. But, it’s a dynamic process, and it’s not just for sex.
So, we talk about the fact that it’s about asking somebody what your gender pronoun is and respecting it. Or it could be even, “Can I take your picture?” Or, “Can I post that picture?”
And, we want to say that consent isn’t just one way. It’s multiple ways. For students, staff and faculty, it’s understanding that we practice consent every day, not just in our sexual relationships, but also in our everyday life.
Robyn: In Canada, we have one of the most progressive set of laws and common-law court decisions in the world, around consent. In Canada we have an affirmative consent standard.
So, it’s not whether you say, “no.” It’s whether you indicate, “yes”. And “yes” doesn’t mean saying, “Yes, I will have sex with you.” It means that you have indicated to that person that you are a willing participant in the sexual activity. And you don’t need to fight back.
You don’t need to say, “No,” for it to be sexual assault. The other thing is we have laws around incapacity.
So, if someone is so drunk, or so high, that they are incapacitated, or if they’re unconscious, they can’t consent to sex.
This interview has been edited and condensed. Listen to the full interview on the Ryerson Today podcast page.
Original source: https://www.ryerson.ca/news-events/news/2019/01/voices-for-consent/