Home / Op-Ed / A sexual assault at the U of R

A sexual assault at the U of R

Wearing boots should not land you in this situation./ Michael Chmielewski
Wearing boots should not land you in this situation./ Michael Chmielewski

Clothes don’t provoke. The excuses need to end.

I have been attending the U of R for six years and have never worried about my safety when on campus – until now. I left the Carillon office in Riddell Centre while working on this issue to use the washroom at approximately 8:30 p.m. When I went down the hall to where the second-floor washrooms are, someone ran up to me and slapped me in the rear. I turned around expecting it was someone I knew playing a joke, or my boyfriend, who said he was going to stop by if he could. I was extremely surprised to find a man and a woman I didn’t know standing there laughing. What followed is what surprised me even more, if that was even possible. The woman said, “Sorry, was that okay?” I was completely shocked that she would even ask such a thing.

I told the girl that it was absolutely not okay, and she then said, “Well, you wear jeans and boots like that, you’re asking for it to happen.” Another female was saying this to me. The thing is, the jeans and boots I was wearing were not at all provocative in any way. No different than any other student here, that’s for sure. And, even if they were, I think there has been enough discussion around this particular issue that it should be known that it is not okay to touch someone without their permission, especially based on what they are wearing. The scary part is I was alone in a hallway with them and they were blocking the way out. I had no idea if they were going to pursue anything further and immediately feared for my safety, since I couldn’t see anyone and they couldn’t see me.

This is the first time anything like this has happened to me, and I have to admit that it is extremely disturbing. It left me pretty shaken up. I felt so violated. And, for a split second, I considered what I was wearing and whether or not I was sending out the wrong message. I recovered my senses just as quickly and realized that nothing I did and nothing I was wearing provoked that attack.

When is this stigma going to end? Why is it that women have to take into account what they are wearing to ensure their own personal safety? And, considering I was wearing jeans, a t-shirt, a jacket, and boots, there is no reason why that should say to someone that it is okay to touch me without my permission. Why is the onus put on us, and not on the perpetrators? It’s one thing to read articles about this in newspapers or online, but when it happens to you, it all of a sudden turns into a very scary reality. I realized at that moment how easily I became a victim and how anyone could become a victim. I honestly had no idea what was going to happen with this confrontation. When you are faced with a situation like that, I know now that your mind goes blank and you forget anything you’ve ever learned when it comes to self-defense. I don’t know what I would have done if it became violent. Luckily, it didn’t, but it can easily happen.

So, to the people responsible for this attack – and that’s exactly what it was, whether you were serious about it or not – if you are reading this, I hope you realize what you have done. You violated me and tried to make it my fault based on my clothing choice. I no longer feel safe walking around this campus alone in the evenings because of you.

About Michelle Jones

Faculty: Graduate Studies/English Major: English Year: M.A. Student About me: I’m an English M.A. student, former president of the English Students’ Association, and the Carillon Grammar Nazi. I love fine wine and anything pink, and hate intolerance and closed-mindedness.

25 comments

  1. You deserve to be safe and respected no matter where you are, what time it is, or what you’re wearing.

  2. That is not okay. Period. You are free to wear what you choose to at any given time. Sorry this happened to you.

  3. I’m just so very sorry to read such a thing. I hope you feel better and never such things happen to you, or anyone, again.

  4. Only police can stop this, you should have called police immediately!

  5. They shouldn’t have slapped your backend. But, calling it a sexual assault is a bit much.

  6. Sexual assault is classified as any kind of unwanted sexual contact. It could have just been words and still be a sexual assault. You can’t downplay how a victim feels Jill… maybe you dont mind so much if strangers touch your bum but this victim does. Personally, I would have been offended even if they run up amd started holding my hand!

  7. When I was in highschool, we had a seating arrangement in one class that was a grade 10/11 split. An 11th grade boy sat next to me and for the entire term, he grabbed at me, touched my leg and other body parts, like slapping my ass, verbally harassed me and refused to listen to me when I repeatedly told him to leave me alone. His friends and my friends were all aware of what was happening. My specifically confided in my friends.

    No one ever spoke up for me.

    I know why the author didn’t report it. Its not that easy. Stop blaming people for not going to the authorities.

    And, stop telling people that “calling it sexual assault is a bit much”. Seriously, four years later and I am still fearful of what happened to me then to happen again.

  8. You really had to make an article about this? C’mon. I’m sorry you feel so traumatized by this episode. I’m NOT saying this is acceptable behavior. Obviously that female had some confusion or sadistic perspective of social boundaries. Perhaps she was not sober, or she is from a culture where women can touch other females more openly that she has never outgrown from or has been conditioned otherwise (I have gone to schools for years where some women from Eastern countries do this all the time with girls they admire). Who knows – everyone has issues. It is not the clothing that encourages people to do this, that’s what they tell you. It’s a personal preference, or altered reality of the pursuer. Know this.

    What I am saying is that if you have ever LIVED, without being harshly sheltered and isolated from the real world, you wouldn’t be making a big thing about this little encounter. Wasn’t there anything else to write about for this issue? If every female student had to write an article about being touched by a stranger, you would have an ongoing blog of a newspaper, forever. I thought this was reporting something more serious…where are the backbones these days? Seems like the younger generations feel much too self-entitled and self-absorbed. Too much liberation lol Everyone has the human right to personal space, but really – didn’t seem like things got out of hand. Sounds more awkward than anything. She asked permission, afterwards? Clearly she is odd or has done this before. She probably needs help. But no one ever thinks to resolve or prevent these events from happening by addressing someone’s mental health (which includes behavior). No no no, let’s hug the victim and let the pursuer think its okay to act like this! Or better yet, get them arrested/punished so they can resort to internal guidance and resentment, because that always works! Saskatchewan still remains to this day the worst province for a mental health system in Canada, in terms of success, therapy availability and quality service. I encourage everyone to look this up. Mental health needs to stop being ignored. That is a stigma that really needs help.

    Students need to get out more, get a real job and realize that not everyone is stable or your friend. I suggest serving in the food industry – then you will get a real taste of how the public actually behaves. What will you do when there is no public educational institute to protect you?

    I think it’s insulting and selfish to publish something like this when girls who are getting raped, kidnapped, molested and violently abused (by both sexes by the way!) have their cases silenced out of fear, self-doubt, shame or self-blame. Nobody bothers to ask – its taboo. Nobody investigates the strong, instead we promote the weak. There is always a back story to why these people endure so well…perhaps they don’t need attention as they can handle it. I have worked with, been friends with and helped strangers in these situations for years. I take pride in building a strong core community. What I can tell you is that they do not appreciate these kinds of articles. It is the women that survive these, warriors, who do not have support groups or a safe place to turn to available to them, who still end up healthy and okay – overcoming situations where most people would crumble to deal with – who deserve to have their survival stories published. Why give into fear when that’s usually what the pursuer wants you to do? That is what gives them power of authority. And nobody should ever have authority over your body above yourself. Ever.

    Every person is different with different boundaries. Sounds like yours have been shattered. It’s okay to be scared, we are humans with real emotions that matter. It is okay to express that. But do not give in. See this as an experience to grow from.

  9. Congratulations Jill, you’re officially part of the problem.

  10. i wonder why these occurrences happen more frequently to females? the number of complaints does not appear to be anywhere near balanced… you’d think that a problem like this would happen to everyone, but it seems to be nearly completely one sided.

  11. Can’t tell if Matt is joking…. Or.. Serious…

  12. Six years of university. Seems like it’s time to move on and graduate

  13. Steff– how utterly appalling you are. I can’t even address your whole screed.

    Blaming this behaviour on mental health issues? Ableist, and almost definitely wrong. Statistics show that people with mental illnesses are far more likely to be victims of assault and sexual assault than they are to commit them. As you’ve just shown, they’re also stereotyped as violent or socially unstable criminals. Stop contributing to harmful stereotypes.

    “If every female student had to write an article about being touched by a stranger, you would have an ongoing blog of a newspaper, forever.” And your point is… what, that it’s common so we need to do NOTHING about it? We as a society HAVE done nothing about it, for CENTURIES. THAT’S WHY IT’S COMMON. If we don’t speak out to say that this kind of behaviour is wrong, then people like you and this woman will carry on thinking it’s fine. Speaking out, as Michelle has, is the only way to educate and end it.

    “girls who are getting raped, kidnapped, molested and violently abused (by both sexes by the way!) have their cases silenced out of fear, self-doubt, shame or self-blame.” And here you are, trying to make this woman be silent out of fear, self-doubt, shame and self-blame.

    Saying that other people have it worse, so the victim should shut up and accept it? NO. Sexual assault and victim blaming and other sexist microaggressions are not a fact of life, any more than violent rape is. We do not have to just accept it and suffer in silence. Speaking out is NOT giving in to fear, or giving authority over your body to the person who assaulted you. What the hell?

    Saying that only some victims deserve recognition and help? NO. Stop. Get out. This isn’t the oppression Olympics. You claim that victims of violent rape are the only ones who’ve been ignored and silenced– “Nobody investigates the strong, instead we promote the weak”– but that just makes me wonder what fairy tale land you’ve been living in, where victims of sexual assaults are listened to and protected and “promoted.” You claim you know an entire community of women who hate it when people who are sexually assaulted report their experiences. Okay, I believe you. But I also personally know women who have been victim to so many “minor” sexual assault in their lifetimes– one woman since she was twelve years old– that even catcalling on the street is enough to trigger panic attacks. Catcalling and “minor” sexual assaults are degrading, terrifying, and damaging. They are real trauma. The people who experience them are real victims.

    “Every person is different with different boundaries. Sounds like yours have been shattered. It’s okay to be scared, we are humans with real emotions that matter. It is okay to express that. But do not give in. See this as an experience to grow from.” Oh my god. This isn’t a case of someone being overly fragile and sheltered, this is a case of somebody being hit by a stranger on a private body part. You are blaming the victim. And what the fuck do you think Michelle is doing in this article, if not “expressing” her emotions? Does it SOUND like she’s “giving in”?

    Everything you just did, Steff– making excuses for the perpetrator, blaming the victim, claiming that somebody would report an assault for attention, claiming that this kind of assault is completely not damaging, claiming that this kind of assault SHOULD NOT BE REPORTED AT ALL– it makes me physically sick, because I’ve just been reminded what kind of people will be waiting for me if I ever have to report a sexual assault.

    And if I decide not to report it, the way you clearly think I shouldn’t? It’ll be because of people like you, not the person who assaulted me. Because you’d just tell me that I should try to learn from the experience.

  14. Any non consensual touching is sexual assault. It doesn’t matter where on the body it occurs. If you don’t believe me, go ahead and google what the law is in Canada. Frankly, it’s deeply offensive what some people are commenting on this article. I’m sorry that this happened to you.

  15. Jasmin, if that is the definition of sexual assault then everyone I have ever known is a sexual assault victim.

  16. Jill, that’s not far off. Woman get sexually harassed all the time, as do men. Just some people put up with more.
    Suggesting that the author of this post is being over sensitive is just rude. Everyone has different morals and beliefs. Just because you are okay with someone slapping your ass doesn’t mean everyone else should be.
    As for matt, men also get sexually harassed but because of the stigma that men should be strong, they are less likely to report it.

    I highly suggest everyone show a little empathy, instead of being so quick to belittle a person who feels as though she is a victim.

  17. should of slapped you more, in the face !

  18. Ronald, she did graduate. She’s a grad student, working to complete her Master’s Degree. Nobody can complete a Master’s in under 6 years.

  19. Jill if you have ever taken any kind of HR class or law class, you would know Jasmin is right! This woman was slapped on the ass by someone she did NOT know…she can press charges if she so wished!

  20. Jasmin, sexual harassment is not the same thing as sexual assault. Sexual assault requires physical contact.

  21. Re the law on these things: in 1983, all of Canada’s federal laws against “forcible rape,” indecent assault,” etc. were replaced with a three-tiered law against “sexual assault,” which includes the old concept of “rape” (narrowly defined) PLUS various other violations. Anyone who doesn’t think that being slapped on the bum doesn’t qualify as first-degree sexual assault (third degree is the worst) needs to read the Criminal Code.

    There is currently a discussion about sexual harassment on Twitter called @NotJustHello. Dozens of people have told their stories or posted links to articles like Michelle’s. All this information shows that various kinds of sexual violation in public places happen a lot, and this is not okay — it’s never just a way to meet someone new, or a response to whatever the target or victim is wearing. There are two problems with a “harmless” approach by a stranger (a sexual comment, intrusive physical contact): 1) no sexual approach by a stranger is harmless, and 2) it often escalates.

    At the time, the victim doesn’t know what the harasser is planning to do next. If the harassment doesn’t get any worse, the victim is likely to be told later that she is making too much out of it, but if the harassment does get worse (and sometimes it escalates to a third-degree sexual assault, formerly known as gang rape or rape with a deadly weapon), the victim is likely to be told she “should have known” this would happen, and should have gone out of her way to avoid it. Putting anyone in this kind of a double-bind because of SOMEONE ELSE’S behaviour is crazy-making.

  22. To those commenting on the legal question, the aggrieved party can also pursue an action in tort for battery.

  23. “Another female was saying this to me.” Uh. . . no. The word you are looking for is “woman”.

  24. These people were complete assholes. I’m sorry this happened to you 2Ls and I’m really glad you wrote about it.

    Anyone who says “wtf are you whining about”: WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU WHINING ABOUT? Something shitty happens, you don’t say “well, shittier stuff happens all the time.” Help set the bar a little higher for basic human decency instead of minimising another human’s feelings.

    I get that this comes from years of other people telling you the stuff that you’ve been through isn’t a big deal, but invalidating someone’s experiences does 0% to make the world more liveable.

    Internalized misogyny is a helluva drug, but I believe in you. Kick that monkey off your back! Join the Feminist Illuminati: we have cake and a button maker.

  25. I’m sorry this happened to you, Michelle. It wasn’t your fault.