A student union leader at the University of Ottawa is no longer facing legal threats after going public about an online conversation in which she was the target of sexually graphic banter.
But Anne-Marie Roy said she’s had to grapple with backlash from some who suggest she may be magnifying what she has called a clear example of “rape culture.”
“I’m not surprised this is the reaction they’re having because rape culture has been so normalized that it’s very subtle, it’s hard to point out because it’s something that we see on a regular basis,” the 24-year-old said in an interview on Monday.
“I don’t think I’m blowing this out of proportion.”
Roy’s story spread over the weekend, just a day before the University of Ottawa suspended its men’s varsity hockey program over allegations several players were involved in a sexual assault in Thunder Bay.
In Roy’s case, she received an anonymous e-mail on Feb. 10 with screenshots of a private Facebook chat between five male students.
The conversation included references to sexual activities some of the five individuals wrote they would like to engage in with Roy, including oral and anal sex, as well as suggestions that she suffered from sexually transmitted diseases.
“Someone punish her with their shaft,” wrote one of the individuals at one point. “I do believe that with my reputation I would destroy her,” wrote another.
After initially feeling “torn up” by the incident, Roy decided she wanted to openly share the Facebook conversation. She was warned by four of the five participants that doing so would be a violation of their privacy rights and would lead to legal action, but she spoke out nonetheless.
After her story spread, Roy says she got a phone call Sunday night from one of the group’s members saying the men were backing down from their legal threats.
“I’m happy to see that the men understand that taking legal action and threatening to sue me is actually not them taking responsibility,” she said, adding that the legal threat was the toughest part of her entire experience.
“I felt like it was very important for me to speak out against this, to denounce it … Feeling like my hands were tied when I wanted to take action was definitely incredibly difficult.”
An apology e-mail sent by all five men on the same day Roy received a copy of the Facebook chat identifies the participants as Pat Marquis, Alexandre Larochelle, Alexandre Giroux, Michel Fournier-Simard and Robert-Marc Tremblay.
Marquis, Larochelle, Giroux and Fournier-Simard were all elected student representatives who resigned from their posts over the weekend after a mounting outcry from their peers. Tremblay volunteered on occasion with the university’s Faculty of Arts student association but was not an elected member.
Marquis, the only one who didn’t threaten legal action, said the entire experience had been a learning experience for him, and Roy said he was eager to work with her to combat rape culture on campus.
Larochelle had a similar comment on Monday, saying he met with Roy to “defuse the situation and to discuss steps to be taken to address issues with campus culture.”
Meanwhile, Giroux told The Canadian Press the group had “made a mistake in private” and apologized to Roy twice.
The University of Ottawa said it was “appalled” at the conversation and is working with Roy on “an appropriate response.”
After a brief conversation with the university’s president on Monday, Roy said the institution was considering a campus audit on issues related to student safety.
“It’s to look into student safety, what different forms of violence are taking place on campus and not only addressing sexual violence but all forms of discrimination on campus,” Roy said of the idea.
“I think there needs to be a bigger conversation happening around our campus around rape culture.”