How selecting Marie Henein as a guest lecturer serves to silence victims and perpetuate rape culture
St. Francis Xavier University does not tolerate sexual violence, or so reads the first line of the university’s glowing new policy. After some extensive googling, I finally came across the StFX Sexual Violence Policy that was released on November 8. Make no mistake; this policy is important – extremely important. The only issues I found were the lack of mention of methods of prevention, specific resources for LGBTQ+ students, or any examples of consequence for perpetrators of sexual assault within the university. What one can only hope is that this policy is enforced and that it is effective.
Not long after hearing about the Sexual Violence Policy was I also told about the university’s newest endeavour to rebrand its U-4 league with Acadia, Bishops, and Mount Allison as the “Maple League” universities. Sounds interesting enough, does this mean I can say I went to “Canada’s Cornell”? Cue an Andy Bernard a cappella song… If you do a quick search for Maple League Universities you’ll find an advertisement depicting the four schools as close knit, with small class sizes and beautiful campuses; places you would never expect to be sexually assaulted.
The Maple League hosts a series of lectures where the video of a speaker at one university is live-streamed to the other three schools in the league. So far, the Maple League lectures have featured Joseph Boyden, a renowned Canadian author, Senator Murray Sinclair, former Prime Minister Paul Martin, and will feature notable lawyer Marie Henein (the only woman included in the series) in February. You might remember Henein from last Winter’s Jian Ghomeshi trial, a trial in which Henein tore apart Ghomeshi’s victims/accusers using victim blaming and manipulative tactics in order to allow Ghomeshi to walk free.
Don’t get me wrong, Henein by all means has every right to be a defense attorney and defense attorneys must defend. Just for fun, I’ll compare and contrast StFX’s sexual violence policy with Henein and Ghomeshi’s sexual violence policy. Where the university’s policy says, “ensuring individuals’ right to be believed when they disclose that they have experienced sexual violence,” Marie Henein would likely explore the individual’s past sexual history before making any rash decisions by believing them, just like she had joked about using a victim’s past history against her to put her at a disadvantage at a law seminar in 1998.
StFX’s policy states, “Recognizing the self-determination of individuals who disclose and/or report sexual violence; they are final decision-makers about their own best interests, including choices about physical and emotional support and reporting.” Henein would likely be fairly skeptical about your choices if you were to wait before being entirely sure you’d like to report your assault. Of course this is all hypothetical, since who’s to say how Henein would react to a sexual assault case that wasn’t benefitting her financially.
The point I’m really trying to make here is that for a university with such a bad track record for the amount of sexual violence on campus, as well as how these acts of violence are handled, why was Marie Henein a top choice as an influential speaker within this lecture series? To me, this is a great disservice to every other woman who is just as, if not more, qualified than Henein who does not have a history of victim blaming and scrutinizing survivors of sexual assault.
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Not to mention, this selection leads me to believe that not much about this policy will be enforced. Perhaps my failure to believe in this school’s ability to take action towards sexual assault on campus is not so important, but for anyone who has been assaulted, they know that whether or not they report will be the most difficult decision of their lives. Why are we, as a university, a community, a “Maple League,” allowing victims/survivors to feel even more pressure to not report?
Universities are an important place to have conversations. In order to further improve the lives and education of students and everyone else at StFX, difficult conversations about sexual violence need to be had. Marie Henein is entitled to her freedom of speech, and she is entitled to do her job. However, in all fairness to everyone at this university, the safety of students at this school comes first and foremost, and is more important than hosting a woman who has spent her career contesting women who are possible victims of sexual assault. Regardless of if a victim’s story is blurry and inconsistent, we owe it to them to at least allow them the opportunity to come forward without fear of being further victimized by those he or she wishes to seek help from.
Lastly, to all victims/survivors of sexual assault on this campus, I am truly sorry that your university has disrespected you in this way. What happened to you was not your fault, and what you decide to do about what happened to you is completely your decision. Do not let my criticism of this policy further discriminate you from seeking help and/or justice, as there are many wonderful resources in Antigonish that are available to help you. Always remember that your body is your own, and that no one can take that away from you. I believe you.
Need help? Contact:
Antigonish Women’s Resource Centre
204 Kirk Place, 219 Main Street, Antigonish, Nova Scotia B2G 2C1
* The photo credit's name was changed as it was initially published incorrectly.