May 22, 2018

Unlearning sexism, ending rape culture and slaying patriarchy one conversation at a time

Carla Bertsch shares three things you need to know during Sexual Violence Awareness Month
Carla Bertsch encourages open conversations across UCalgary campuses in support of Sexual Violence Awareness Month.

Carla Bertsch encourages open conversations across UCalgary campuses in support of Sexual Violence A

Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

Time’s Up. Me too. Although simple statements, these four words have caused a ripple effect, sparking international awareness about sexual violence in a matter of months.

Recently, Alberta joined the chorus of voices standing in solidarity by declaring May as Sexual Violence Awareness Month. In an age where mindsets like “boys will be boys” are being replaced by a culture of consent, understanding what sexual violence is and how to stop it is the first step in supporting change.     

What is sexual violence?

In unison with the university’s sexual violence policy, Carla Bertsch, the University of Calgary’s sexual violence support advocate, defines sexual violence as an umbrella term used for any act of violence based on someone’s biological sex or gender identity. “Many people think of sexual violence as a physical act, but it encompasses much more,” Bertsch explains.

“There’s a spectrum, including sexist or sexually explicit jokes, to physical attacks. It includes all forms of violence that attack a person’s body, sexuality, feelings of safety or sense of self.”

Three things you should know about sexual violence

While there is endless information about sexual violence, everyone needs to understand three key facts:

1. Sexual violence is prevalent in Canada: 39 per cent of women and 12 per cent of men are sexually assaulted.

With the high rate of sexual violence, raising awareness is pivotal to providing a safe environment where students can flourish.

“Because sexual violence disproportionately affects women, we’re losing the opportunity to see the full potential from a specific population of learners,” Bertsch says. “When you don’t feel safe, your ability to show up authentically, creatively, intelligently — things students need to thrive — is limited.”

2. Rape culture is at the base of sexual violence.

While we often shy away from subjects like rape culture, because it excuses sexual violence, this complex set of attitudes and beliefs need to be brought into conversation.  

“In a rape culture, sexual violence against women is normalized and is perpetuated through a range of activities from the use of derogatory language and narrowly defined gender roles to the glamorization of sexual violence in popular culture,” Bertsch says.

"Both men and women assume that sexual violence is just a part of life, but much of what we accept as inevitable can be changed.”

Although 94 per cent of all sexual assaults in Canada are perpetrated by men, Bertsch points out that sexism, victim blaming and upholding patriarchy, misogyny and rape culture exist in all genders. Learning what rape culture is is key to knowing when to speak up and disrupt harmful narratives.

3. Sexual violence intersects with many areas of discrimination.

Sexual violence is difficult to address because it’s connected to many other forms of discrimination. Intersections with race, ability, gender and sexual identity affect access to justice and risk of violence.

“Sexual violence disproportionately affects women, but it also disproportionately affects women of colour, transgender women and women with different abilities,” Bertsch states. “To make change, we need to address all of these areas of oppression and bring them into the conversation.”

Support sexual violence awareness through conversations

Tackling a pervasive problem like sexual violence can seem daunting, but beginning with open conversation is a step in the right direction. Throughout Sexual Violence Awareness Month, find Bertsch and volunteers encouraging dialogue about topics including sexual violence, sexuality, gender roles, and rape culture at information tables across campus.

“Enacting change requires more than understanding, but a willingness to explore what you think you know, and being open to challenging long-held beliefs,” Bertsch says. “Sexual violence is neither accidental nor occasional, which makes it avoidable. We need to hold each other capable of better behaviour and choose to be better.”   

For campus and community resources, visit the Sexual Violence Support website. If you have been affected by sexual violence, you can arrange a confidential consultation with Carla by email — to talk, to have someone listen and support you.