PARIS, Oct 15 — A French study, published this week, sheds light on the sexist and sexual violence committed in the country’s academic world. It reveals that one female university student in 20 has been a victim of rape — a phenomenon that the students surveyed principally attribute to group mentality and the pressure to “fit in.”
The study was carried out by France’s Student Observatory of Sexual and Sexist Violence in Higher Education (Observatoire étudiant des violences sexuelles et sexistes dans l’Enseignement supérieur). Of the 9,624 responses received, 76 per cent came from people identifying as “women” and 24 per cent from people identifying as “men.”
Data from the study is sobering: 1 in 20 female students said they had been a victim of rape, while one female student in 10 had suffered a sexual assault. These acts of violence most often happen off-campus, during weekend events or student parties.
When asked what could be the main causes of the sexual violence observed at their institution, respondents cited group mentality and the pressure to fit in (20 per cent), the impunity of those committing such acts (18 per cent), alcohol (18 per cent), and a lack of education among students (18 per cent).
Chantal Michard, a Paris-based psychologist who specialises in working with victims of sexual violence, helps interpret the findings.
Do you think that the ‘group mentality’ the respondents refer to can explain the scale and frequency of sexist and sexual violence highlighted by the report?
I don’t really like that expression because I find that putting it that way is favourable to attackers, a bit like as if it gives them a pretext, an extenuating circumstance. On the other hand, group mentality certainly has an impact on acts of sexist violence: the more you get into “traditional sectors” the more you find gender stereotypes are present. Group mentality will encourage that. Preventative action therefore needs to be taken very early on.
So is the scale of these acts of violence more likely to come from the ‘impunity’ also highlighted in the study?
In my view, it’s the permissiveness at an institutional level that poses more of a problem. As soon as you get student parties with the word “whore” in their name, and that school or university management don’t intervene to put a stop to that, then it goes along with what victims might think: That it is “normal” to be treated that way if you want to “fit in.” In this environment, we tend to consider sexist language as mere jokes, whereas we’re already dealing with psychological violence.
And that can pave the way towards other, more serious acts of violence, since, so long as no boundaries are established, there are no limits.
Not to mention the fact that the “first person” to speak out can soon see themselves excluded, becoming the “scapegoat” of the class. I’m not saying that these acts of violence would no longer happen, but I think that establishing boundaries could, in any case, help to reduce them.
And what about alcohol?
Many rapes are committed under the influence of alcohol or drugs. I see that among the patients in my practice: I see lots of people — men and women — who are wondering if they were drugged at the time of their sexual assault or rape.
There are some extremely sexist and violent attitudes in the student world. For example, inviting girls to a party way too early to get them to drink as much as possible before bringing in the boys, who, for their part, haven’t drank anything.
These kinds of things are known about, but we only started talking about them recently.
The problem also resides in the treatment of people who experience sexual assault or rape in this context. I recently heard about the case of a complaint being refused because the victim was drunk at the time of the events.
They were made to understand that they were partly responsible because they were drunk. But, sexually assaulting or raping a person who is in no fit state to give their consent is considered an aggravating factor in the eyes of the law.
It is therefore high time to get the message across that a drunk girl is not an “open bar.” — AFP-Relaxnews