Opinion: Understanding Consent During Frosh Week

It’s Frosh Week for thousands of Ontario students. That means summer drop offs, the excitement of new friends, new experiences and also the tug of trepidation that comes with letting go for both parents and students.

My daughter is among those students, and my son is a returning student. So I know first-hand just how exciting and challenging this time can be.

As Ontario’s Minister of the Status of Women, I work tirelessly every day to ensure the security and empowerment of women and girls. But I know that the reality is sexual assault rates are five times higher for women under the age of 35, and that one in three women will experience sexual assault in their lifetime. This must stop. That’s a message both young men and young women need to hear loudly and clearly.

As a government, we’re working hard to make sure that our students feel safe and supported in their new communities and campuses. This year, under Ontario’s Sexual Violence and Harassment Plan Act, all campuses must have a sexual assault policy in place for the general student population and for survivors of sexual violence. It’s an added protection that provides support for our young people.

For the third year, the messages #WhoWillYouHelp and #ItsNeverOkay are back on campus and on social media as part of our public education campaign “It’s Never Okay: An Action Plan to Stop Sexual Violence and Harassment in Ontario.” Last year we strengthened the message, with a campaign called #ConsentIsEverything.

This outreach is important and it continues to change behaviour on campus and teach bystanders to act when they witness sexual violence and harassment. These messages have been shared around the world.

Universities across the province are reaching out for posters and social media for the Frosh season. They want students to understand what it means to obtain consent. This year’s information campaign makes it clear: consent is an informed yes. It’s not silence. It can’t be guessed or implied, and it’s not coerced. If someone is incapacitated, there’s no consent. Consent is everything.

As a government, and as a province, we are challenging rape culture, supporting survivors of sexual violence and empowering students to raise awareness, educate and intervene when safe to do so. We are working hard to keep Ontarians safe.

In addition, high-quality public education resources are available from violence against women partners under Draw-the-Line /Traçons-les- limites – a campaign that challenges common myths about sexual violence and equips bystanders with the skills to intervene safely and effectively.

Finally, as parents, we have a role to play too. It’s important to have conversations with our sons and daughters – to encourage them to think about and understand consent, and to not stand by when they see sexual violence and harassment happening. It’s the right thing to do.

So this fall, as students head off to campuses around Ontario, take a moment to think about how we can all work together to keep our young people happy, safe and successful. I’d like to wish every student in Ontario a fun Frosh week and a great year!

-Hon. Indira Naidoo-Harris,
Minister for the Status of Women,
Queen’s Park

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