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Violence Against Women

Updated: Jun 25, 2021

CW // Violence, sexual assault

Hey everyone, long time no see :)

The few couple weeks have been a lot, to say the least. I began writing to you all over a week ago; during the week that marked one year since lockdown began in Ontario, the week that marked one year since the murder of Breonna Taylor, the week that news of Sarah Everard’s murder was confirmed and released, and the week of the horrific Atlanta Spa Shooting… I began writing and I needed to pause, take some deep breaths, get some sunshine, digest reality and reflect.

Although far away from each of these tragic events in distance, as a young woman I felt sad, angry, exhausted, scared, and closer than ever to women everywhere. My social media pages were flooded with stories and experiences of walking with keys between knuckles, calling friends during walks home, of “can you watch my drink while I go to the bathroom?”, of car horns honking, and “hey sweetheart, how about a smile?”s. Each example a scenario I’ve been in myself, too many times to count.

I’ve been trying to think of when I was first told to check the backseat of my car before getting in it, the first time someone told me to tuck my hair inside my jacket if I’m walking alone, or to always trust my gut if I get a bad feeling about the man walking behind me on the street - and I can’t remember. I can’t remember when it started, it feels as ingrained in my mind as my left and right or my multiplication tables. I’ve been trying also to determine the first time I had an experience that turned my stomach; was it the time I was seventeen, stopped at a stop sign driving home from school when a construction worker leaned his head into my car and told me he liked my dress? Even then, not even in my final year of high school, I remember being scared but not surprised.

We know by now, we all have similar stories. Through a recent survey by UN Women UK, it’s been determined 97% of women have experienced sexual harassment, 80% in public spaces, and Stats Canada confirms 1 out of 4 North American Women will experience sexual assault firsthand in their lifetime. And if the numbers aren’t convincing enough, the events throughout recent weeks make it glaringly obvious, women are in danger.

97%. 97% of half the adult population have been harassed

Evidently, just as all summer long we heard “All Lives Matter” ringing in our ears as a response to the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement, the hashtag #NotAllMen has begun circulating on social media. Truthfully, this “countermovement” is something I’d rather not give any time of day, BUT, I”ll give it a few moments. The problem with the need to clarify “not all men” is: it is a refusal to take accountability. Not all men are sexual predators, not all men intend to harm women, but all men do benefit from the patriarchal system that allows the bad ones to carry out violence, too often with no repercussions. And for all women to be safe, all men need to take accountability.

For me, what I struggle with just as much as the 97%, is that 80% of sexual harassment is carried out in public spaces. This means that the men who do harass women feel comfortable and confident enough to do so out in the open, in public eye - because they’ve never been held accountable. I also struggle with the phrase “violence against women”, because it too lacks accountability. Violence doesn’t just occur, it’s not something that just happens to someone; violence is committed by a person. Women don’t experience violence by some random happenstance, it is at the hands of men. And until we demand accountability from all men, no women are safe.

I’ve lost track of the catcalls, the hands grabbing my waist, the insults when I don’t reciprocate a man’s interest, but I can count on my fingers the times a man placed himself between me and a potential threat, stood up and did something to make me feel more comfortable and keep me safe. I remember their faces and I remember saying thank you when i could. Not all men are going to harm women, but are all men ready to sacrifice a smidge of their time, sacrifice their comfortable place within the patriarchy for a few minutes to ensure all women are safe? This is what we need to be asking. Stop asking “Was she drinking?”, “Was she walking alone?” and instead ask “Why can’t she be?” and allow the answer to be what it is: because a man may wish to hurt her.

I know it’s hard to admit privilege; I know it’s hard to understand a problem you’ve never experienced firsthand; I know it’s hard to take accountability for even the smallest role you’ve played in a bad situation. But it is doable and it is necessary and it is time for all men to actively seek to keep all women safe, at school, in the workplace, on the street, at a bar, in their home, everywhere.

If you or someone you know is in need of support regarding experiences with sexual violence, call 2-1-1 or 1-866-863-0511 (Ontario residents), reach out to someone you trust, or any members of the BoostHER community.

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