Silence is not consent.
Especially when it comes to sex.
That is one of the many messages the ‘yes means yes’ campaign is trying to convey to Durham College and UOIT students.
Allison Hector-Alexander, diversity officer for Durham College and UOIT, says she hopes to create an environment of openness and safe space to encourage new conversations for students at the school to talk about safe sex and what that means to each individual.
“The yes means yes campaign is an initiative that came out of some feedback we’d gotten that there wasn’t a lot of information or conversation and dialogue about healthy sexual practices, healthy sex, healthy sexuality, about consent and what that means and the whole framework of sexual assault,” she said.
Hector-Alexander recruited a number of student ambassadors or ‘champions’. There hasn’t been a lot of talk at Durham College or UOIT about safe sex or knowing what consent really means to each individual, she said, and that’s going to change with this campaign.
‘Yes means yes’ is a collaboration between Hector-Alexander, the Campus Health Centre, Residence and Student Life offices, and officially launched in September of last year.
“We don’t want students, or anybody, to feel that they’re going to be judged based on their decisions,” said Hector-Alexander. “When the student decides that this is something they want to do then that yes is their yes.”
Recent events in the media such as the Dalhousie University students who posted inappropriate comments on a Facebook page have spurred a social media movement to take back consent and take ownership for personal sexual experiences and preferences.
However, social media is also blamed for encouraging rape culture in the past few years. Apps such as Tinder or Grindr are a particularly easy way for anyone with a smartphone to find a partner in a matter of minutes.
According to the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), more than 80 per cent of rape cases on college or university campuses happen when the victim knows the aggressor.
Hector-Alexander says the campaign is designed around an individual’s personal ownership and responsibility, even with someone familiar.
“When we’re making these decisions how safe are we being?” said Hector-Alexander.
Information and statistics about sexual assault can be potentially inaccurate. According to Statistics Canada, fewer than one in ten occurrences are actually reported to the police, which is significantly less than other crimes. According to Statistics Canada, about eight per cent of sexual assaults in 2008 were reported to police, compared to about 40 per cent of physical assaults.
According to the Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence against Women and children, women do not wish to report instances of sexual assault for a number of reasons, including fear of humiliation or simply not believed.
Sexual crimes do not only victimize women but 70 per cent of self-reported sexual assaults occur against them, according to Statistics Canada.
Imbyr Montgomery, a yes means yes champion with Durham College and UOIT, says that campaign is an obvious step the school needed to take.
“Colleges are a culture and colleges do exist within kind of itself (sic), there needs to be consequences for people who don’t respect boundaries,” Montgomery said. “You can see with all the stuff with Dalhousie, they’re protecting the people who were assaulting people and they’re ignoring the people who were assaulted and just making concessions like they have different classrooms and stuff. That’s not a consequence for crossing someone’s boundaries.”
Montgomery says it’s hard to gauge student reaction to the campaign since its inception, but is optimistic.
“Our posters keep disappearing so I’m assuming people like the posters,” Montgomery said. “We have the ‘yes means yes’ buttons and then maybe distribution of safer sex stuff like condoms…We’re going to focus on advertising our discussions and trying to get people to come into that. That’s better than reading a poster or reading a button because you’re actually receiving real information and having real discussions.”