Surviving rape culture at Queen’s
WARNING: This piece talks about sexual violence and may be
triggering for some readers.
Five years ago I came to Queen’s a closeted queer virgin. As I’m preparing to leave Queen’s, I finally have some space to reflect on the impact rape culture in this community has had on me as a queer survivor of sexual violence.
I was so excited to finally be in a place where I could safely be queer and finally learn and figure out who I would be as a queer person. I was also so excited about the prospects of such a larger dating pool as compared to back home. Like many first years, I was excited and anxious as hell about sex.
I didn’t go on my first date until second-year. I went out with this PhD student. We made out a little at the end of that date and it was so nice. On our second date we went to a queer dance. He bought drink after drink, saying he was too drunk to finish them, and repeatedly gave them to me to finish. He sent me a text from the bathroom saying he really liked me and didn’t want to have sex. I said “that’s great,” because neither did I.
When it came time to leave, he talked me into taking him home, saying we didn’t have to do anything. After we got to my place, I spent the next two hours fighting off his advances and waiting for him to fall asleep. It turned out he wasn’t that drunk at all and he had been feeding me drinks.
After he left the next morning, I felt so ashamed and embarrassed. When I told him I didn’t want to see him again, he threatened to slander me.
It would take months before I’d be able to name what happened as sexual assault. I spent so much time blaming myself for not wanting to have sex, something dominant masculinity taught me I should have no hesitancies about. I didn’t know how to talk about what happened. Eventually I realized he was responsible for crossing and trying to cross my boundaries, and not listening to my repeated “no’s.” That was his fault, not mine.
Later that year, I met another guy and we went on a few dates. I decided to go home with him, though cautiously. Things quickly changed. His demeanour became forceful and he ignored my feelings of discomfort and fear. I was no longer consenting. My memories of what happened are fractured and confusing, but he took me to his friend’s place and raped me while his two friends stood outside watching.
I’ve spent the rest of my time at Queen’s struggling to deal with these experiences.
I walked around campus on edge, afraid of running into my first assaulter, who’s still a student. He started trying to say hello to me when he saw me. Having to acknowledge him made me feel sick. I started avoiding certain buildings.
I stopped going to queer dances because he would often be there. Walking around campus continues to trigger my anxiety and I’m still afraid of seeing him, because each time I do it fills me with so much anger and triggers memories of both assaults.
My post-traumatic stress disorder and related symptoms made school more difficult than ever. I was always being triggered — by things people would say in class, by a video a professor showed in which someone was raped, by a snippet of conversation I’d overhear at CoGro. I told my professors vague stories about being depressed, going through a rough time, praying for mercy and luckily receiving it.
As a survivor, I’ve been lucky. I was able to find support from the people I told about what happened to me. The friends I trusted with my experience listened to me and made me feel heard.
They validated my feelings and told me that what had happened to me was wrong and was violent. Not all survivors at Queen’s have this experience. Victim blaming, shaming and silencing are so prevalent on this campus, as elsewhere.
Most of us who are survivors don’t have much of a community supporting us. We’re floating around, trying to pretend things are okay, trying to do school work and extracurriculars and appear normal.
That’s what everyone wants us to do — remain silent about our experiences because of social pressure, fear of our assaulters, shaming, blaming, and embarrassment, and because we have limited options.
As a male survivor I found myself desperately searching for things to read about my experience. How have other queer men healed from and survived sexual violence? How does gender impact experiences of sexual violence? How does any person heal from something like this?
I started reading as many zines as I could get my hands on, the only resources I could find that talked about sexual assault, consent, and how to support a survivor. What I was looking for was a guide on how to heal from these experiences, but it doesn’t exist.
On my first day of class last fall, a guy started talking to me about how he lost his meal card, then told me he hoped someone didn’t rape all of his meals. I asked him if he had just made a rape joke. He defended what he said as “just an expression.”
Last fall there were three reported sexual assaults in the student village, all near Victoria Park. One of them was witnessed by two men, who still have not come forward to help identify the assaulter. The assaulter in all of the cases was described as a young white male with brown hair.
Last fall also saw vandalism to the blue lights across campus. As a survivor, I think that putting in more blue lights is an ineffective strategy anyway.
The blue lights and Walkhome are both strategies that put the onus on people to not get sexually assaulted — they don’t target those who might or intend to sexually assault someone.
How can they be considered effective when according to one survey, 35 per cent of men said they would commit sexual assault if they knew they could get away with it and when 85 per cent of rapes are committed by a person the victim knows (not a stranger you encounter walking home)? Why does our University and our student government still have no strategies for targeting potential sexual assaulters?
This winter, one person running for AMS executive told a rape joke in an interview with QTV saying, “Take her easy, if she’s easy, take her twice.” I want to use these examples to point to the deeply entrenched rape culture at Queen’s. It’s a culture myself and other survivors struggle against — and struggle to survive — every day we walk on (and off) this campus.
I don’t have easy answers for how to transform rape culture, because, after all, Queen’s is just a microcosm of a society in which assaulters are protected and rape is normalized, minimized, justified and sanctioned in so many ways.
I do think we need a sexual assault centre on this campus, one that caters to the needs of everyone who experiences sexual violence, one that offers specialized services for people who experience gender-based violence, and one that takes into account how differences in power (based on race, class, ability, gender, sexuality, age, etc.) impact experiences of sexual violence. I think we need a resource centre by and for survivors. I want to see educational workshops on this campus about consent that are targeted to young men. I want to see young men working to transform ourselves and each other because we are all responsible for this gendered and patriarchal violence.
This year has continually reaffirmed for me how prevalent rape culture is on this campus. It’s also shown me how many students are struggling against this, with both Sexual Violence Awareness Week happening last fall and Rape Awareness Week this winter. Both initiatives are encouraging as they continue to work towards cultural change. However, transformative justice and an end to patriarchal violence needs more work from all of us.
The author has asked to remain anonymous in the online version of this opinion piece.