Post-Secondary Puritanism: Sexual Violence in Wynne’s World
by Dimitrios Otis
When the Lindsay Shepherd and Wilfred Laurier University “free speech” controversy blew up last fall, one curious aspect of the secretly-recorded meeting between the teaching assistant and her supervisor and Department head was the added presence of a person from Gendered and Sexual Violence Prevention and Support. Why would someone from a Laurier University student resource having to do with “sexual violence” be at a meeting about gender-neutral pronouns? It turns out there was no official reason, but the rationale was real to some people, and it can be traced back to the formal Gendered and Sexual Violence Policy in place at the University.
We might disdain the identity-politics and special rights culture that has been fomenting on university campuses, but the above-mentioned policy came directly from the Provincial Government. Indeed, every post-secondary learning institution and “private career college” in Ontario has been required to adopt a “sexual violence policy” under legislation passed by the Wynne government in 2016. The legislation is part of a major socio-sexual re-engineering project begun by the governing Liberals in 2010.
Under Premier Dalton McGuinty, Kathleen Wynne’s predecessor, a Sexual Violence Action Plan—“Changing attitudes, changing lives”—was developed by the Ontario Women’s Directorate (now The Ministry of the Status of Women) and presented by Laurel Broten, Minister Responsible for Women’s Issues, in March 2011. It stated that, “Young women in colleges and universities are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence.” The Liberals evidently believed that being “exposed to new social situations” at educational institutions renders young women into victims.
In January, 2013, a Resource Guide for Ontario’s Colleges and Universities was produced under the title “Developing a Response to Sexual Violence”. It was fuzzily mandated to counter “the complex and evolving nature of sexual violence.” (You may be wondering by now what “sexual violence” is—don’t worry, we’ll get to that.)
In February, 2013, Kathleen Wynne won the Liberal leadership, then led the party to a majority in the Provincial election of June 14, 2014. The Wynne government produced its own Action Plan in March, 2015, with a commanding new title; “It’s Never Okay: An Action Plan To Stop Sexual Violence And Harassment.” Amidst the comprehensive 40-page document is a call for “legislation to require colleges and universities to work with students to adopt campus-wide sexual violence and harassment policies that include training, prevention, complaint procedures and response protocols.”
That sounds reasonable. Unfortunately, Wynne’s $41 million plan fed on Moral Panic, fear of heterosexual sex, and male bashing through the casual labelling of our campuses—and all of society—as hotbeds of “rape culture” and “misogyny.”
Misogyny of course means men hating women. How did the Leader of our Province get away with denigrating one half of its people with such a damning label? Doesn’t it seem odd that while claiming there is “gender inequality” against women, a woman in the top power position of Ontario labels all men as unequal to women—for what quality does one who hates have but being lesser as a human?
In March, 2106, the Wynne government passed the promised legislation; Bill 132, Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act.
While one might reasonably presume “sexual violence” to mean “violence associated with sex” or “sex obtained by violence,” this non-legal term has evolved both subtly and radically over a number of years, and expanded far beyond basic meanings of both “sex” and “violence.” Here is Ontario’s legislated definition:
“sexual violence” means any sexual act or act targeting a person’s sexuality, gender identity or gender expression, whether the act is physical or psychological in nature, that is committed, threatened or attempted against a person without the person’s consent, and includes sexual assault, sexual harassment, stalking, indecent exposure, voyeurism and sexual exploitation.
This confusing jumble of terms hides some very slippery claims. For example, it can be derived that an “attempted psychological act” could be “sexual violence.” But what exactly is a “psychological act”? How would you know if someone was making one? Could it perhaps be…an act someone claims has a psychological effect? In other words, is it entirely subjective? And “attempted” makes it even more elusive. Then there’s “gender identity or expression”; while these have also become legislated terms at the Federal level, do they actually mean anything? Isn’t gender identity or expression just who you are, or how you appear? Regardless what one’s view of “gender” is, everyone has some gender status. That would mean if I “target” (a loaded term) anyone in any way—it can be called “sexual violence.” But this is so universal as to be meaningless. Not to mention not explaining how a non-sexual act is sexual, and how a non-violent act is violent.
Thus, this Liberal-legislated term is utterly paranoid; virtually anything can be interpreted as sexual violence now. One might be excused for reaching for their copy of George Orwell’s 1984, to review its totalitarian scenario of “sexcrime.” I mean, we could all literally start accusing each other all the time. Except, of course, in this Plan “gender” really denotes female or trans-gender, and man is the implicit perpetrator of the “acts”. There are certainly plenty of indicators in the 40-page Action Plan that men are entirely to blame for the apparent state of sexual emergency Ontario is in. Thus, the definition is actually very meaning-laden and specific once we fill in the missing or neutral subjects as Wynne has coded it to be read: Sexual violence means any sexual act or act by a man towards a woman or trans-gendered person… Make sense now?
Wynne introduced her Action Plan with a letter signed, “Kathleen.” But what is chummy Kathleen telling the female (and trans-gendered, of course) students and citizens of our province? Be terrified, be scared, feel unsafe, fear sexuality—male sexuality, that is—in every way. Based on the Action Plan’s descriptions, Wynne should have issued public warnings about rape on campus—just as the police are required to do if there is a predator at large in a neighbourhood. There is no mention of empowering young women or promoting their sense of responsibility, surely the cornerstones of growth and maturity that is part of the post-secondary years. No, it is all panic terms: “revictimized”, “damaging ideas about sex and gender,” “blaming survivors,” “navigating rape culture,” “surviving an experience of sexual violence,” and of course the all-caps, “HEIGHTENED RISK OF SEXUAL ASSAULT ON CAMPUSES.” The best that young women are told is that they will be “better supported when they reach out for the assistance they need.” We might consider that all of this is actually dis-empowering to women.
Despite Wynne’s militaristic promises to “eliminate” and “stop” and cause “immediate change” in “rape culture” (a term she evidently favours), everything else in her Plan signals an endless process we might call “moral bureaucracy”. Besides the complex infrastructure of the legislated Sexual Violence and Harassment policies, Wynne’s plans reveal permanency and expansion: “encourage a longer-term generational shift,” “Launch a creative engagement fund,” “Make sure all students have information…continuing throughout the year” and of course “a permanent roundtable on Violence Against Women that will provide advice to government on ongoing and emerging issues of gendered violence.”
Why was there no resistance to this draconian agenda? Well, Wynne is crafty; her view of sexual violence is derived from academic feminism so she knew that legislating at the post-secondary education level would be risk-free (it’s no coincidence that she has expanded Provincial post-secondary financial support for students at the same time.) But here’s the kicker: Wynne also knew that once she had mandated a radical feminist definition of sexual violence somewhere—that sets a precedent for its application everywhere.
The original Action Plan stated, “Sexual violence is about power and control.” Well, the Liberal solution is about power and control, too. Not distributing control more evenly, or channeling power more positively—no, it is about shifting all power in sexual matters to women. Yet, paradoxically, not through “women power”, but “victim power”.
From victimhood, then accusation naturally follows—being a victim is a form of feeling hurt, after all, and accusation is a form of blame. Thence proceeds the onerous protocols and procedures of formal complaint. On this point, we note that while the academic feminism which informs Wynne’s Action Plan is remarkably nuanced and esoteric about harms and “systemic” forms of male oppression and patriarchy—there is literally no discussion of or concern over the harm of being accused or harm from the administrative processes that ensue.
So, are we seeing a rampant phenomenon of accusations now? No doubt there has been an increase, but that is not the real purpose of the sexual violence policies: it is actually the threat of accusation that is the power here. This is what is hanging over the heads of the men of Ontario. It is a form of surveillance. With the wide-open sexual violence definition, you literally don’t know what may, now or at some future time (there are no limitation periods in Wynne’s vision of sexcrime), be made the basis of a complaint or criminal charge or civil suit.
(The curious subject of Consent, which is not addressed in Wynne’s legislation but has bloomed in amazing and fantastical ways in the actual Sexual Violence policies, will be examined in a future article.)