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“Ending Rape” event reframes discussion on sexual violence

By Roisin Cowan-Kuist

Content Warning: This story discusses sexual violence.

When it comes to sexual violence, the topic is all too often framed as a women’s issue, said Keith Edwards, Western’s guest speaker at the “Ending Rape” event on Thursday, Feb. 22.

Edwards is a scholar who studies sexual violence and college men’s issues. He recently co-chaired College Student Educators Internationals’ Presidential Task Force on Sexual Violence Prevention in Higher Education, according to Western Today.

Edwards said viewing sexual harassment, assault and rape as issues that only affect women is a cultural narrative that must be challenged.

“If we know men are overwhelmingly the perpetrators of sexual violence, we can’t ignore gender,” Edwards said.

Edwards explained that viewing sexual violence through this lens fails to recognize other people who experience sexual violence, such as trans and non-gender conforming people. It also places the burden and blame on the shoulders of survivors, Edwards said.

The event, which was hosted by Western’s Men’s Resiliency Committee and the AS Womxn’s Identity Resource Center, offered audience members an examination of what Edwards referred to as a cultural “miseducation” in sex, particularly for male-identifying people.

“We know that these acts of violence, aggression, power and control are bad,” Edwards said. “And we really want to believe that people who commit sexual violence are deviant in our normal culture. But when we really look closely we see that more often than not they are normal people in our deviant culture.”

Edwards went on to explain that the common “stranger in the bushes” view of who commits rape is only representative of a small percentage of recorded instances of sexual violence.

In seven out of 10 cases of rape, the victim knows the rapist, according to the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) and based on Department of Justice statistics. The same report found that on college campuses nationwide, sexual assault is more prevalent than other crimes.

Edwards said lack of education on informed consent, paired with warped cultural views on masculinity, are key forces driving high rates of sexual violence.

Audience member and Whatcom Community College student Dakota Evans explained that many men lack the tools necessary to define what is and isn’t sexual assault.

“We do kind of have a very polarized view of it, saying like ‘Oh this is rape, or this isn’t rape,’” Evans said.  “A lot of people don’t really look at the grey, in-between areas.”

But those areas of ambiguity are exactly the places in which normal, healthy sexual interactions can quickly turn into ones of violence, Edwards said.

“Everybody in this room knows somebody, or maybe doesn’t know that they know somebody, who has experienced sexual assault. It’s still not women’s problem. It’s a men’s issue.”

Taliah Coe, Western student

Edwards emphasized that in any sexual interaction, consent must be given by all parties involved at every stage, and that consent must be informed. This means that intoxication from substances of any kind often hinder one’s ability to give informed consent, Edwards explained.

“We live in a culture that teaches us that the hookup scene and the alcohol scene are the same,” Edwards said. “We live in a culture that doesn’t teach us that alcohol isn’t going to make consent possible.”

Edwards ended the talk by reiterating that different intersections of oppression, such as racism and classism, are vital in understanding how toxic masculinity is disseminated throughout our culture.

He also emphasized the importance of men holding other men accountable and speaking up when they see someone perpetuating violence through speech or action.

“When we speak up, we don’t just do it for others,” Edwards said. “Speaking up against sexual violence doesn’t just benefit other people, it benefits us as well.”

Taliah Coe, a Western student who attended the event, said that events like “Ending Rape” that focus on perpetrators of sexual violence as opposed to survivors leads to a more productive conversation and acknowledges the breadth of the issue.

“Everybody in this room knows somebody, or maybe doesn’t know that they know somebody, who has experienced sexual assault,” Coe said. “It’s still not women’s problem. It’s a men’s issue.”

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