Diversity Week

Women's Caucus on Sexual Assault

Hi all,

It has been brought to the attention of the Women’s Caucus that this week happens to be Diversity Week. Great! When we think about diversity, we do not only think about difference, but about equity, equality, access to justice, rights and the importance of questioning the status quo. In fact, the Women’s Caucus is celebrating diversity week for these reasons. We see Diversity Week as a way of encouraging dialogue which challenges the status quo, and we are eager to participate in this conversation.

We were hoping to take this moment to speak a bit about acknowledging the diversity of the student body in the context of criminal law class, in particular, when discussing sexual assault. Thinking about diversity matters in the context of teaching and learning about sexual assault because sexual assault by its very nature is a highly personal attack, both of physical integrity and emotional and intellectual well-being.

To teach and learn about sexual assault as though it is experienced as the same kind of trauma to each individual is to ignore the very individuality of the person assaulted: race, age, gender identity, sexuality, physical and mental ability, and socioeconomic status all contribute to the way in which an individual experiences and deals with such a violation. This speaks to both the assault itself and to the aftermath of reporting (made potentially more difficult by heterosexist, racist, classist and ableist prejudices that exist within the policing and legal system) and healing.

We also thought that diversity week gives us an opportunity to reflect on the fact that our classrooms are full of people from very wide backgrounds who have had a wide variety of experiences, including experiencing sexual assault. According to the Ontario Women’s Directorate:

  • It is estimated that one in three Canadian women will experience sexual assault in adult life.
  • Fewer than one in ten victims report the crime to the police.
  • People may not report because they fear they will not be believed, feel ashamed, blame themselves, or fear public scrutiny.
  • The victim and accused are known to each other in 82% of sexual assault incidents - this can include friends, acquaintances and family members.
  • It is estimated that 15% of Canadian female university students experience sexual assault.
  • Aboriginal women and women with disabilities are at increased risk of experiencing sexual assault.
  • Emotional symptoms may occur immediately after the assault, or may be delayed over weeks and months.
  • Conviction rates for sexual assault are lower than for other violent crimes.
  • Sexual offences are less likely than other types of violent crime to result in a finding of guilt.
For these reasons, and many more, we should stop and think about how our comments might impact someone else coming from a different perspective. If our comments do result in offence, our immediate reaction shouldn’t be to take the defense, but to stop and think why our comments may have been offensive. This is important, not just in the context of sexual assault, but in every single class and event at Osgoode. This article is in fact not exclusively about sexual assault at all, but rather about the way in which we recognize the different identities that constitute Osgoode, the ways in which we show those identities respect, and the ways in which we can learn from one another.

In the spirit of Diversity Week we would like to invite all students at Osgoode (yes, ALL of you) to join us in conversation. This year, the Women’s Caucus is hoping to put together some guidelines regarding talking about sexual assault in class and we would love to have a wide range of input. For that reason we will be sending out an open invitation to participate in dialogue along with us. What is working, what isn’t? Keep your calendars open in early March for an email from legal and lit about when this conversation might take place. If you can’t make it, or would like to respond to this article, email us at osgoodewomenscaucus@gmail.com.

Thanks,
Women’s Caucus.