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A Quarter of Canadian Female Military Students Have Been Sexually Assaulted

Canadian Military College students graduating

Graduation cadets on the parade square at the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston, Ontario on Friday, May 17, 2019. Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Lars Hagberg

More than six times as many women as men reported last year that they were sexually assaulted at a Canadian military college, says  a new report by Statistics Canada.

According to the report published Thursday, 28 percent of female students surveyed said they were sexually assaulted during their time on campus—compared to about 4 percent of male students. Unwanted sexual touching was the most common form of assault. 

The report outlines the prevalence of sexualized and gendered discriminatory behaviours in Canadian military colleges. Military colleges provide students with subsidized postsecondary education while also preparing them for service with the Canadian Armed Forces.

Canada has two military colleges: the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston, Ontario, and the Royal Military College Saint-Jean in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec.

“Unlike typical postsecondary institutions, Canadian military colleges are largely male-dominated,” the report says. “Studies have shown that women in traditionally male-dominated institutions and occupations are at a greater risk of experiencing sexual harassment and unwanted behaviours in these environments.”

The new 38-page document highlights several takeaways after 512 students who attended either of the two military colleges in the fall of 2018 were surveyed. Notably, more than two-third of all students—male and female—said they witnessed or experienced sexualized behaviours at school without consent last year. More than half of all women attending the colleges reported experiencing unwanted sexual behaviour, compared to one-third of men. Women were also more likely to deem the behaviours offensive. 

Sexualized behaviours include jokes, unsolicited conversations about sex life, catcalls and whistles, and inappropriate comments about appearances and bodies, according to the report.

Reports of gender- and sexuality-based discrimination were also included, with 33 percent of women and 13 percent of men reporting some form of it. The most commonly reported form of discrimination in Canadian miltiary colleges, according to students, was “the suggestions that a man does not act like a man is supposed to act.” 

The report found that an overwhelming majority of perpetrators were students, and men were most likely to commit unwanted behaviours. Most unwanted sexual advances and discriminatory behaviours take place either on campus or at an off-campus restaurant or bar. Settings for the assaults are usually crowded, the report says.

Students with disabilities and LGBTQ students also reported higher levels of unwanted sexual behaviours and discrimination. Nearly half of all students with a disability and more than 60 percent of LGBTQ students reported some form of unwanted sexual advances in a 12-month period, compared to one-third of students without a disability or those who identify as straight. 

Despite the findings, students said they generally feel safe on campus and are aware of the resources available to help survivors of assault. And yet most people said they opt not to intervene when they see unwanted behaviours taking place. 

“Many CMC students who witnessed unwanted sexualized or discriminatory behaviours in the postsecondary setting did not intervene to assist those who experienced them, often because they did not view the situation as serious enough,” the report concludes.

Thirty-one percent of women said they don’t intervene when witnessing sexual behaviours “because they felt uncomfortable.”

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