“She Asked For It”: Why Campus Safety at UBC Isn’t Just About Security Guards

Buchanan Tower, UBC.

Buchanan Tower, UBC.

The University of British Columbia has been in the local and national headlines a great deal this fall. At the beginning of this term, controversy arose when a group of frosh week leaders were found to have led incoming students in a chant that minimized the impact of sexual assault.

Now, as students are facing the frenzy of mid-term exams, UBC is in the headlines once more for issues regarding sexual violence. In the past three weeks, three separate incidents of sexual assault have been reported on campus. As the RCMP have now declared, it is believed that all three stranger-attacks, which took place on the weekends between midnight and 3 am, were perpetrated by the same individual.

When news of these assaults emerged, I reflected back to the seeming indifference of many of the rape-chant leaders, thinking that if there had been any lingering doubt in our campus community that sexual violence was  not a subject to be minimized, joked about, or taken lightly, that these heinous attacks on women, on members of our university community, would make it very clear that sexual assault is a serious issue.

Yet, while the outrage against the attacker and expressions of fear about campus safety have been clearly expressed, so too have contempt, mockery, and disdain for the three victims.

While the Tweets in question have now been deleted, there have been at least two publicly-visible incidents of victim-blaming stemming from members of our own campus community. Both alluded to the fact that women at UBC’s campus should be smarter (well, more specifically, that they shouldn’t be “dumb”), and one asserted, very bluntly, that the victims were “asking for it.”

It’s horrendous enough to know that our campus is currently in a state of fear because of the actions of one depraved individual, and even more horrifying to know that in 2013, even after the discussions we’ve had on campus and in the news about why sexual assault is not the fault of the victim, that we’re seeing these kinds of statements being made.

But don’t listen to my criticism alone: listen to the woman who was the 2nd survivor in the recent string of assaults. She published a piece in the campus newspaper, which clearly articulated both the frustration of being spoken about like a news story, and the callous indifference with which people still talk about assaults that take place when an woman is walking home late at night. She writes:

Imagine sitting in class and having the professor bring up your sexual assault. I wanted to stand up at say, “Yo, this is my story. Who are you to talk about how I could have prevented this? Don’t I have the right to walk home alone?”

Imagine having to read about this on Twitter. Or in the comments section of a news story. Imagine having to hear your professors or your peers analyzing and scrutinizing your actions, speculating on what you could have and should have done differently. That’s not an indignity that any sexual assault survivor deserves.

Here’s the thing: people who have been affected by sexual violence are all around us. Whether we know it or not, we all likely know at least one survivor of sexual violence. They may be our professors. They may be fellow staff members. They may be peers in our classrooms. They are of all genders, all sexual orientations, all ages, all ethnic backgrounds, all socio-economic backgrounds, all professions. We never know who has been affected by it, and, as such, we never know who is hearing our words or reading them on the Internet.

Campus safety is not merely a question of how many security guards and police officers are on patrol, or of how many streetlights are installed to create visibility. It is also a question of how our campus community chooses to respond to survivors. If we take seriously the assertion that the University of British Columbia is a community of fellow students, faculty members, and staff members, ones who look out for and are concerned with the well-being of others, then it is simply unconscionable that we have members of the community who are actively seeking to blame and shame the victims of what are clearly horrendous and terrifying experiences. 

We can still have conversations about campus safety and precautions, but we can do this without blaming the women who were attacked.

We can still have conversations about our own fears about safety, without suggesting that if only the women had been “smarter,” they wouldn’t have been assaulted.

So long as there are individuals who are blaming women for their own assaults, no place, even a well-respected university campus, is a safe place for survivors.

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14 comments

  1. I dread having the conversation with my daughter about how to be safe and why. It’s so unfair that this is placed on women. I feel that more people should educate their sons about how to not attack women rather than women having to take full responsibility. I am a survivor of multiple sexual assaults. For awhile, I didn’t go anywhere at night alone then I realized I was living in fear. I hated that. However, being an overprotective mother, I don’t want my daughter to be put at risk. So, what do I tell her? I’m not really asking for advice here. Just thinking aloud.

  2. There are two very simple choices that every other non-make-believe-fantasy-world human being has to deal with when confronted with the reality of a world where there are people who will attack them: either prepare, or don’t.

    Seriously, what the hell do you want us to do? Near as I can feel, it’s just to feel like horrible rapists. Because we aren’t rapists. Most of us, that is. So we can’t rape any less than we already do, which is zero. We can’t be white knights because we’ve all been on the wrong end of THAT getting abused. We can’t actually protect you unless we are with you at all times. The only thing that leaves is trying to equip you to protect yourselves from the people we have no knowledge of or connection to and therefore no degree of input toward their behavior.
    You know what I want to happen to a guy who actually forces you to have sex with you? I want you to shoot his balls off. But because that’s apparently victim-blaming, I don’t see anything we can do besides feel bad about our gender being all natural-born rapist monsters, or something. Am I missing something here, or is this entire rape hysteria movement intended to demonize all males?

    1. A few things to say in response, Ian. First of all, I’m fairly certain that most women know, from childhood, that they are supposed to prepare for the possibilities of being attacked. We hear about these incidents all the time, and when there are reports of increased attacks in a particular location, most women generally take precautions. Women and/or those who might be or be seen as physically vulnerable are usually quite aware of these things, but they also need to balance that with the need to not have lives that are controlled by fear. We do not live in, as you call it, a “make believe fantasy world.” Talk to any woman you know. I’m sure she’ll tell you about how she walks to her car late at night with her keys grasped in her hand, with security on speed dial, and knowledge that she should try and aim for a perpetrator’s eyes, throat, or genitalia. And furthermore, preparation does not always mean that a victim will be able to fight back. The particular situation, a victim’s fear response, and a variety of other factors means that women may not be able to shoot the rapist’s balls off, or prevent a rape from happening.

      Secondly, this post was not a criticism of the advice/resources given to women by the university. As I mentioned, we can still have a discussion of the importance of being aware of one’s surroundings, of trying to walk with a friend/group if possible, and even to be able to instruct women in basic self-defense. My post, rather, was about the fact that the women who have been attacked have been blamed for what happened. Were these women living in a fantasy world where they didn’t prepare? I really doubt it.

      Thirdly, I have never said that all men are “natural-born rapists,” and I am frustrated that this is the perceived implication. There is ONE assailant at work here, as I clearly said, and rather than men taking away the lesson that “rape hysteria” is about “demonizing males,” it ought to be the take-away that it’s really awful and horrible that the select few men who are perpetrating attacks are making it difficult for other men to be seen as trustworthy. I had a conversation just last week with a male friend of mine who was talking about how strange it is, as a fairly tall/strong man, to walk down the street and know that in certain situations, he might be perceived as a threat. Rape culture does NOT just affect women. It affects ALL of us.

      Men aren’t or shouldn’t be resigned to “feeling bad about their gender.” But I think the target of the frustration really needs to be the particular men who are committing the crimes.

  3. Sexual abuse and violence against women is a global epidemic.

    Ian, you really have no comprehension of the history of man and woman and what is happening in the world. The vast majority of child sexual abuse and violence against women is perpetrated by men – you got it. I doubt it writing what you did. Men need to take the rightful place of protecting women and children.

  4. Hi Lucia,

    My name is Vivian Luk, I’m a report with The Canadian Press. I was wondering if you can be available for an interview today regarding the recent assaults on the UBC campus and rape culture? Please let me know. I’m at 604-692-1164.

    Many thanks,
    Vivian

  5. Great post, Lucia. You have to wonder if the context were different – say the attack occurred at noon when one of her young women was walking back from class – would she still be accused of lacking preparedness or be an easier victim to sympathize with. The answer doesn’t matter though; as you point out, in both cases the focus isn’t where it should be: on the victims.

  6. I totally agree with your message and it pisses me off to know that such aberrant behavior was done under the auspices of acceptance. It also speaks to the people of influence misleading women and the discussion of rape. This is just one step removed from a hate crime.

    If I ever hear a man or in some cases a woman using terms that are misogynistic I tell them to stop. I will not stand for it. By the way, I have a 25 yr old daughter. God help the person who tries to denigrate her that way.

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