Communicating about substance use and abuse
Ensure educational materials and initiatives explore relationships between sexual violence and drugs/alcohol. These materials should be mindful of pressures to over-consume and the fact that some international students are unfamiliar with drinking culture. Ensure and/or highlight the fact that no student who discloses or reports sexual assault will be penalized for substance use related to the incident in question.
The topics of drugs and alcohol came up in various ways throughout the focus groups. Some students wondered if and when consent is possible when one, both (or all) individuals involved in a sexual encounter have been consuming drugs or alcohol. Others expressed that before arriving in Canada, they had no exposure to the drinking culture that is so prominent in our universities. They experienced culture shock in connection with this new reality. Experience in Canada taught these students that consumption of alcohol or drugs comes with a heightened risk of sexual violence. Because drugs or alcohol are often present when sexual assault occurs, and because alcohol and marijuana are illegal for underage students while other recreational drugs are illegal for all students, it is important for students to clearly understand that universities will not enforce penalties for substance use in conjunction with cases of SV/SA. Given that students have so many questions and concerns in this area, these topics should be addressed head-on in SV/SA educational materials and information sessions.