The St. Michael’s College scandal is a disgusting reminder that we need to challenge the idea that “boys will be boys” and instead take measures to protect young men.
A group of six students were arrested and charged with assault, gang assault and sexual assault with a weapon in relation to one of four incidents at the school currently being investigated. Alumnus Jean-Paul Bedard recently came forward to share his experience being targeted by sexual violence and hazing when he joined the St. Michael’s College football team during his time as a student 35 years ago.
Hazing, sexual violence and sexualized hazing have been going on for decades. At this point, it isn’t new information to anyone that these practices occur. So, with generations who’ve seen the ugly, heart-breaking effects hazing can have on young people now in authority roles, how is it that hazing still happens?
The idea that abuse is a rite of passage is ridiculous. Abuse is abuse, and painting it as a necessary part of high school years normalizes it, silencing survivors and empowering the perpetrators.
A particularly insidious part of this story is that the incidents occurred at an all-boys school. We dismiss violence between young men by saying that “boys will be boys.” We do not talk about how this mentality contributes to rape culture faced by male survivors of sexual violence, further robbing them of their ability to have a safe boyhood. Perpetrators are allowed to subject other humans to violence and cruel bullying in defence of boyhood with no acknowledgement for the damage done to the boys they harm.
The administrators of the school took a full day to report the incident to the police after becoming aware of the videos circulating of the violent incidents. The media became the first to notify officers of the situation. School officials say the delay was due to handling the situation internally, the principal busy with expulsion meetings.
That this was handled internally before police were contacted shows that allegations of sexual violence in which the survivor is a man are not taken seriously enough. One in six boys face sexual abuse before they turn 18 years old. This is a widespread issue and, while male survivors can go on to live healthy, happy lives, it does not mean we should not condemn the perpetration of sexual abuse in the strongest possible terms.
In 2018, male mental health is still highly stigmatized. Men who experience traumatic incidents often do not know how to ask for help, blame themselves, or ask for help and face external stigma. It should not need to be said that dismissing sexual abuse cases in which the survivor is a young man is particularly dangerous considering the lack of supports many boys have.
According to Statistics Canada, 99 per cent of perpetrators of sexual assault are men. Completely ignoring the interactions between boys ignores that they may be at heightened risk of victimization. It also reinforces to boys who target other boys that their actions go without consequences.
Perpetrators of sexual violence who do not face sufficient consequences from educational institutions when these institutions are made aware, possibly even after formal investigations, are receiving a strong message that they are allowed to harm others. This is a disgusting oversight at best and actively anti-survivor behaviour at worst.
People are responding with outrage online comment that the school’s reputation is being tarnished by these allegations, suggesting that the incidents were harmless rites of passage or horseplay. Others are saying that the school’s culture has been toxic for a long time, and these incidents could have been prevented by addressing the organizational culture.
In the epicentre of a social media frenzy, this story should serve as a call to action. When you see bullying, hazing and sexually abusive behaviour in boys, address it. When boys speak to you about experiencing these things, listen to them. Report allegations of illegal activity, such as sexual abuse and assault to the proper authorities. Support survivors and connect them with the necessary resources. “Boys will be boys” should mean that boys are not targeted by their peers for sexual abuse, and if they are, they should be properly supported and given resources and help to heal physically, mentally and emotionally.