Talk about it
What do 35% of women around the world have in common? They are all victims of sexual assault. Personally, I think that’s about 1.3 billion too many. Sexual assault affects multitudes of women and it needs to change. Now.
When I was younger, I used to think that sexual assault was just rape. Something that happened when you walked home alone in the dark. Something that was kept a secret. I and so many other girls and women thought the same thing because that is what society led us to believe. Our mothers don’t talk about it because the last thing they want is for it to happen to us. Our teachers don’t bring it up about it because they say “we don’t need to worry about that”. Our bosses don’t see it as important because if we came forward, it would tear their company apart. We don’t talk about sexual assault enough and as a result, we have failed to educate so many young men and women about the dangers of it. Just because I walk alone at night or wear what you deem as “provocative clothing” doesn’t mean you have the right to omit my lack of consent. When I grow up, I don’t want my kids to think that sexual assault is just rape, because it is so much more than that. It is any type of sexual contact or behaviour that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient, and NONE of it is okay.
Now, I’m sure you’ve heard about Harvey Weinstein and Larry Nassar, but those stories may not really matter because they didn’t happen to you, right? Wrong. Just because it hasn’t happened to you doesn’t mean you can push it to the back of your mind and forget about it because it has happened to someone. With all the recent sexual misconduct allegations and all the victims coming forward, we sometimes get carried away, but do you remember Brock Turner? I do. In January 2015, Turner sexually assaulted an UNCONCIOUS woman behind a dumpster near a party before two nearby bikers saw that the victim was not moving and pulled Brock off her. He served three months in jail. Three months for a crime that holds a suggested sentence of 2 to 14 years. In an emotional statement to her rapist, the victim, who remains unnamed, said “This is not a story of another drunk college hook¬up with poor decision making. Assault is not an accident. Somehow, you still don’t get it.”
In the letter, Brock’s victim also said, “I can’t sleep alone at night without having a light on, like a five-year-old, because I have nightmares of being touched where I cannot wake up, I did this thing where I waited until the sun came up and I felt safe enough to sleep. For three months, I went to bed at six o’clock in the morning.” I know that this resonates very closely with many survivors of sexual assault because for them, its never really over. Just because they go home, and shower doesn’t mean its over. Just because their rapist is convicted doesn’t mean its over. Just because they don’t talk about it doesn’t mean it’s over. Because for them, it isn’t, and will never be over.
If it’s so important, why don’t people just come forward, you ask? Well in fact, there are many reasons. According to Psychology Today, survivors of sexual assault usually don’t come forward sooner because of shame, denial, minimization, low self-esteem, feelings of hopelessness, of helplessness, and many more. What if no one believes them? These women, along with many others, don’t feel safe. We need to change this. Teach young women that wearing short skirts isn’t what lands you on the receiving end of an unwanted situation. Tell young men that “no” means “no”. Remind them that “I don’t know” means “I don’t know”. Make sure they realize that the only thing that means “yes”, is “YES”. We need to educate our society because not only should you and I be allowed to feel safe, but every single woman should be able to feel safe from sexual assault. We need to talk about it, because if we don’t, not only will the problem not be resolved, but all these victims will continue to suffer. As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
Violetta Zeitlinger Fontana is a student in grade 11 at Bishop’s College School where she is an active member in several committees and advocacy groups. RESOURCES
Government of Quebec: Sexual Assault: http://www.scf.gouv.qc.ca/en/violences/sexual-assault
Canadian Women’s Foundation: The Facts About Sexual Assault and Harassment: https://www.canadianwomen.org/the-facts/sexual-assault-harassment/
Quebec Health Institute: Helping a victim of sexual assault: https://www.inspq.qc.ca/en/sexual-assault/resources/victims