Anne-Marie Roy, leader of the Student Federation at the University of Ottawa in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, has denounced the rape culture she says is prevalent at Canadian universities after she was the subject of a sexually graphic online chat. Roy, 24, has been threatened with legal action if she released the content of the conversation by four of the males involved in the chat.
Roy became aware of the conversation through an anonymous email that was sent to her. She notes that the five involved in the conversation were in positions of leadership on campus and believes that the behavior demonstrated by those involved in the conversation should not go unnoticed by anyone else on campus. Roy says she received a copy of Facebook screenshots of the conversation via email on Feb. 10, while the University of Ottawa was going through its student elections.
The conversation included references to acts that the men wanted to perform on her, including both anal and oral sex. One said that someone should “punish her with their shaft,” while another said he believed his “reputation would destroy her”.
Roy confronted one of the people involved in the conversation in person, and there was an email apology from all five involved sent to her shortly thereafter. They acknowledged the extremely coarse nature of their conversation and said that there was no threat intended by any of what was said.
Roy was not satisfied with the email, however; she intended to bring up the conversation in a motion to condemn what these student leaders discussed at a Feb. 23 Students’ Union Board of Administration meeting. Two of those involved sit on the board, and the other three help organize events on campus. The five who had been involved in the conversation made it clear to Roy that the conversation was considered private and that if she were to introduce the contents of the conversation at the meeting, she would be violating their human rights.
Roy realizes that, in experiencing being the target of a sexually charged conversation, there is a “rape culture” that seems to exist at Canadian universities, and she is prepared to denounce it. She consulted a lawyer prior to the board meeting and decided to go ahead with her motion of condemnation, but received a cease and desist letter from the men involved with the online conversation during the meeting.
The letter alleged that Roy told the men that she would drop the motion about the conversation if they promised they would not run for student elections in the future. Roy says she never had that conversation with the men.
The letter identified four of the men involved in the conversation as Michel Fournier-Simard, Alexandre Giroux, Alexandre Larochelle and Robert-Marc Tremblay. Pat Marquis, who did not threaten legal action but was also involved, says he learned a great deal from the fallout of the conversation. He notes that the language all men used was “demeaning” and that it was very sexually violent.
Marquis had been involved in the students’ union as vice-president until he received hate mail and threats regarding his role in the conversation. He resigned this weekend, and says of the conversation that while involved in the conversation, it seemed like boys’ locker room conversation, but he now realizes that it was definitely an offensive one. Another man involved with the conversation believes a copy of it was sent to Roy illegally, and while he did nothing to stop it at the time, he wants to promote the end of “rape culture” altogether.
Larochelle and his lawyer are meeting with Roy’s team this week in an effort to put the situation to rest. Lawyer Michael D. Swindley provided the Canadian Press with a copy of the letter he sent to Roy’s letter and said in the letter that there was nothing in the letter that could be found to be misogynistic, referring to rape or “slut-shaming”.
The University of Ottawa was stunned by the conversation between the five men and says that the conversation has no place anywhere in society. Staff from the university are working with Roy currently to develop what they feel is an “appropriate response” to the violence in the conversation.
An associate professor from Simon Fraser University, Wanda Cassidy, says that the conversation was technically a form of cyberbullying, though Roy was not directly involved. She should know; she studies cyberbullying in schools and universities. She says that everyone should start considering the footprint that the internet leaves on everyone, and says that 20 years ago, the men involved in the conversation would have been outside having a beer and the content of the conversation may well have been a non-issue, as there would have been no official record of it at all.
Roy has denounced the “rape culture” that she says is prevalent at Canadian universities, but is not about to back down even with the threat of legal action. She says she believes those involved in the conversation should be held accountable for what they said and their choice of words, as the culture continues to be circulated within social circles everywhere.
By Christina St-Jean
Yahoo News Canada