Several years ago, I covered an event at which local women were working to raise awareness about domestic violence and sexual assault.
After the story ran, an email arrived (from a Sarnia businessman who shall remain nameless) accusing me, and the other women, of “spreading lies and propaganda” calling us “man-hating, lesbian fascists.”
His words stung in a way that I’ve never forgotten -- not only because it left me feeling shocked, degraded and defeated -- but because it represented everything that’s wrong with the way we talk about violence against women.
Victim blaming and ‘rape culture’ -- how society blames victims of sexual assault and normalizes male sexual violence -- are alive and well, and we needn’t look any further than last week’s revelations about Federal Court Justice Robin Camp. In a 2014 sexual assault case, the then provincial court judge asked the 19-year-old alleged victim why she didn’t “just keep your knees together” to fend off her attacker, noting that “if you were frightened, you should have screamed.”
When it comes to sexual assault, women are frequently not believed, blamed, or ‘subject to callous or insensitive treatment’ according to the Canadian Women’s Foundation, which notes that only about 10% of incidents are actually reported to police.
Meanwhile, a Canadian woman is killed by her intimate partner on average every six days, and on any given day, 3,300 women (along with their 3,000 children) are forced to sleep in an emergency shelter to escape domestic violence. Every night, about 200 women are turned away because the shelters are full.
There’s no better time than now, to talk about how we can change this.
“With the holidays coming up, there’s a lot of stressors, expectations, alcohol, etc. and things tend to get very much out of hand,” said Georgette Parsons, board president at the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Centre and vice president with the Women’s Interval Home. “That’s when we start busting at the seams.”
The local shelter, she noted, is at capacity, while SASC staff have been kept “extremely busy.”
This month, purple lights have been strung on the large blue spruce tree at Sarnia City Hall, to symbolize the fight to end woman abuse. If you happen to drive by, I encourage you to start a conversation. It’s never too early to talk to our sons and daughters about consent, boundaries, respecting our bodies and each other’s; and recognizing that men can be victims too.
“We need to recognize inequality and encourage change,” Parsons said.
“And the more men that stand up against oppression of women, the healthier society is going to be.”
For more information, visit:
The Ontario Women's Directorate - http://www.women.gov.on.ca/
Sexual Assault Survivors Centre
Sexual Assault Survivors Centre Crisis Line
Women’s Interval Home
519-336-5200 or 1-800-265-1412