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The Connor Neurauter Situation: a way forward
I have a lot of thoughts about the Connor Neurauter situation and I think it’s time that I speak up about them. I am writing this for two reasons. The first is to dispel the idea that there has been a “near unanimous” response from students about what should be done. This has not been our experience in the slightest – many students spoke to the SU during the week that this all blew up and it’s clear to us that students are divided on this issue. However, many of those who disagreed with the loudest voices have been afraid to speak publicly. The second is because I was attacked personally several times during that week and I want to set the record straight on how I feel about the issue. The SU’s position, and quite frankly my position, on this matter is that we respect the university’s decision. As a survivor of sexual abuse and sexual assault and an advocate for survivors I will always have a trauma-informed, survivor-centred approach to sexual violence. In this situation, I believe that Connor should not be allowed on campus until he has completed his sentence, which it turns out he will not be. When it comes to calling for him to be expelled, though, I have mixed feelings. I personally don’t want to interact with him, but I believe that not allowing him to get an education doesn’t address the problem of sexual violence. He needs to learn to be better.
In a society that teaches men to disregard women’s voices, they should have the opportunity to learn about these issues and to listen and respect women when a situation like this happens. While to my knowledge Connor has not come out and said that he will work to learn about things like consent and healthy masculinity, my hope is that he will and I think we need to give him the chance to do so.
What he did was horrific, and I stand with the survivor. The court’s decision, in my opinion, was both too lenient and unacceptable. His rights should not have been put above hers, and he should have had to serve his sentence before being allowed to attend school. I also believe that a part of his sentence should have been mandatory masculinity and consent training.
We all have a right to be angry. I sure am. I’m angry that he grew up thinking that his words and actions were okay and did not have consequences. I’m angry that he clearly never learned about healthy relationships and consent. I’m angry at the justice system for allowing him to return to school without first serving his time. However, I’m also angry that people are not directing their anger towards finding solutions to the underlying problems that caused this situation in the first place. Let’s call for reform to the justice system and reform to consent education for all people, especially boys.
We cannot end gender-based violence without educating men, and that includes the men who commit this violence. I have committed my life to listening to survivors and ending sexual violence, so when blame and shame is pointed towards me – as it was during that week – I can’t help but feel upset and unsafe. I see this as yet another form of victim blaming and feel that people are looking for vengeance rather than actually addressing the root causes of this problem. I urge students to consider what the best ways to support survivors really are. As a survivor and an activist, I can confidently say that advocating for proper primary prevention programming and support services is the way to do it. We will not solve the problem by pointing blame at the people who have been working on this issue for years. I recognize that I am coming from a place of privilege because I have dealt with my trauma from the abuse and assault and many have not. So, know that your anger is valid, and let’s work together to use that anger for change.
I would encourage everyone to take action, such as volunteering with local women’s centres or at sexual assault agencies. On campus, we have amazing advocates like the Consent Awareness and Sexual Education Club and the Women’s Resource Centre and these spaces are always looking for passionate people to volunteer. And consider letting the university know, as I will be doing, that if Connor is allowed back on campus that it should be on the condition that he undergo consent and healthy masculinity training. As the Criminal Trial Lawyers Association stated in a letter to the university earlier this week, allowing Connor “to continue his education does not hurt society – it helps it.”
Hilary Jahelka is the VP Student Life at the SU. She received her B.A. in Women’s Studies from UCalgary in June 2017. During her first year at the University of Victoria, Hilary volunteered at the on campus Sexual Assault Centre. Upon moving to Calgary, she was an executive of the Consent Awareness and Sexual Education club for three years. In the Summer of 2016, Hilary worked as a summer student for the Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services.