Farrah Khan, a nationally recognized advocate and educator regarding sexual assault, spoke on sexual violence, pleasure and sexting as part of her keynote talk for January’s sexual assault awareness month at UBC.
Khan works at Ryerson University as a sexual violence support system and education coordinator. She comes from a religious household where sex was never really spoken about. As a queer women of colour, she spoke about the intersectionality of race, religion, and gender in the context of sex and sexual violence.
In the wake of the Time’s Up movement, she said, “specifically women of colour, black women pave the way for a lot of work we’re doing now.”
Khan began her talk with humour — she spoke about sexting and brought up eggplant and peach emojis onscreen to demonstrate her point. Laughter filled the room and she grabbed the attention of the audience immediately.
“When talking about sexual violence we need to talk about sex, and too often we don’t know how to talk about sex,” she said. Khan believes our society creates scripts of how we should act and react towards sex and sexual violence, and that they need to change. She pointed out that these scripts harm even men, bringing up the point that many young men feel they can’t say no to sex because society portrays them as always eager for it.
So, she said, if men are having trouble saying no to sex, and women are having tons of unwanted sex, something needs to change in our attitudes and conversations regarding sex. Throughout her talk, Khan emphasized that these conversations need to happen on campus. It is, obviously, in these communities that there are extremely high rates of sexual assault, two-thirds of which happen in the first eight weeks of school, according to a 2003 report on dating violence by the Department of Justice Canada.
Khan shared her own experience of sexually assaulted by her grandfather, showing the audience an ordinary, seemingly innocent family photo of him holding her as a child.
“Why do we think some people are more apt to commit violence than others?” she asked the audience. Her grandfather was not someone who looked like a stereotypically sexually violent man — but he was sexually violent, Khan said, and her experience shows how dangerous it is to only see a violent person only through stereotypes.
The audience was almost entirely composed of women, and in an interview with The Ubyssey after her talk, Khan touched on this.
“We should be making spaces for men to feel safe talking about masculinity as well as making mandatory spaces for them in first-year university to talk about these things, as they feel not a part of the conversation,” she said. “This also needs to happen in grade school and high school so that the conversation doesn’t start in first-year university. The conversation in university should move beyond consent, to sex and pleasure and flirting.”
Khan believes in our rapidly changing world it’s time to shift the conversation around sexual violence to include sex and pleasure, and that these are important conversations for UBC to be having inside and outside of the classroom.