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The Interdisciplinary Work of Lyss England

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I am a big believer that if you create time and space and you set an intention, powerful things can happen. What does it mean to create time and space? To me, it simply means scheduling in time dedicated to a specific thing intentionally.

Here’s an example: A few years ago, my friend and I attended a Take Back the Night rally where we didn’t feel the style of the rally represented our fight against rape culture. The next year, we decided to start our own Take Back the Night rally that resonated with us more and to see if just maybe it might resonate with other people too. We reached out to some other friends who we knew were invested in fighting against rape culture, set a time and date, and booked a space in town where anyone who wanted to could sit in a room and talk about what a really effective and empowering Take Back the Night rally looked like to us. Time, space, intention.

We got pretty specific about the time, space, and intention around the event itself. We asked questions such as “what time of evening will the most people be able to attend? “What time is dark enough to stay true to the message of the event without causing unnecessary accessibility concerns?” and “what is our take-away message?”. We wanted it to feel empowering and we definitely didn’t want people going home feeling like their insides had been ripped out of their bodies. We wanted people to feel safe no matter who they were- and especially if they had experience feeling unsafe or uncomfortable in town. This event was for them (us). This influenced the decisions we made about where the event was held, the style of performances, the people performing, the route of the walk, the food and beverages we had available, and a million other details. It sounds like a lot of work, and in a way it was, but through collectively coming together, a group of random people in this small town created a brilliantly successful event. If I didn’t have a skill to move the event forward, someone else at the table did. If someone else at the table had money and no time, they bought something for the event and stopped coming to meetings. If someone said something that showed they were missing a perspective, someone else could say “hey, what about considering this…”. Time, space, intention.

A short five months ago, someone who has since become a close friend reached out to me and suggested I start a radio show. He’d heard me talking about something on the radio and thought I sounded pretty good. He also recognized the need for more young, female voices on air. A good man, this guy. To be honest, I’d been thinking about it for a while. The few times I’d been on air promoting something or discussing something with a regular host I liked, I’d found that I enjoyed broadcast media. It was a transferable skill from theatre in a lot of ways and it also meant that I had an excuse to do one of my favourite things- create time and space. The intention was to find out what people in my community were excited about and how it contributes positively to their lives.

So, I pitched my show, The Nothing Exists Radio Hour. “Nothing Exists” refers to the idea that nothing is what it is in and of itself. Each individual’s perception is shaped by their unique experiences, informed by their subject positions in a social world. What we each choose to do with those experiences is what makes us who we are. When we intentionally give time and space to peoples’ stories, we learn a lot from each other.” I wrote a super comprehensive proposal and had two meetings with the guys at the helm and it all got started. The conversations were so cool. It was rad. People were listening.

I had to field a few situations where I feel I was being given an unnecessary run-around, but I figured maybe it was just a case of people working differently than me. I did get the sense that the perception of me was that I was a crazy bitch, but I wasn’t sure why they would think that, other than the fact that the simple idea of creating time and space was overwhelming to them. And I guess I look kinda weird and I call myself a feminist and some people have a different understanding of what that means than the way I mean it. Then, rules I didn’t know existed started gradually popping up. And the accusations of things I had not said or done. Things came to a head recently, and it became impossible to deny that there was some predisposed (and inaccurate) ideas about who I am and how I operate going on in this very male-dominant space.  

It had been communicated to me that it was my responsibility to book my own guests and that if there was someone I could interview for the station or the station thought I’d be good at interviewing, they’d send along relevant information. So when the municipal candidates were all officially announced, I posted in the local politics groups I’m active in that if any of the candidates wanted to come on my show, I’d love to chat with them.

Something that is important to know about me is that I love municipal politics. I think they’re fascinating. I love picking apart policy and I love being active in building the community I live in. When I reached out with that post, I didn’t see it as a straight up political interview as much as a conversation between two people about something the guest is excited about.  I received a very positive response and almost instantly booked the entire amount of time I had left on my once-a-week show. The candidates who reached out to me were reaching out to me because they were either people who knew me or people who specifically wanted to reach out to the demographic of people who listen to my show.

Then, I received a call from the station informing me of a policy they had introduced that conflicted with the many interview I’d already booked. I explained that the interviews were booked already, but was told that each candidate was limited to one 15 minute spot. I asked for the reasoning behind this policy, I was told that it was so that all candidates were treated fairly. I asked why only 15 minutes and didn’t receive a real answer. The response to me questioning the policy was very much ‘we don’t have to explain this to you, you just have to do it’. After a second phone call from yet another man involved with the station where my questions about the policy weren’t clarified, I explained my position as follows:

1. I do not feel as though limiting candidate interviews to 15 minutes unless they can afford to pay for for an ad (that doesn’t actually give insight to a candidate’s position on relevant topics) is ethical. This does not create a fair opportunity; in fact, it’s essentially extortion. This is, as I understand it, not within the station’s mission and mandate.

I understand that the station is in desperate need of money. However, this is not an appropriate fundraising opportunity. This is an excellent opportunity to sit with a person who may be interested in purchasing ad space face to face to answer questions and close the sale. Limiting an interview to 15 minutes restricts the amount if information accessible through the station to the community.

When CBC covers elections, they state that all candidates are given equal opportunity to airtime, but that this does not necessarily equate to equal airtime. Everyone has equal opportunity to reach out to the station to be guests on the shows whose listeners they want to target.

2. I do not feel as though altering the format to fit the station’s new policy is in integrity to my show at this time. If this policy had been introduced and communicated to all show hosts earlier (specifically, before I’d booked guests), I would have been more inclined to find a creative way to maintain the integrity of my show while honouring the stations policy, even if I didn’t agree with it fully from an ethical point of view.

So I proposed that I take my show off the air during the time I do interviews with candidates and simply promote them through the other various channels where I distribute it. I let all the candidates I had booked know that after running into some conflict, my interview would no longer be airing on the radio, but it would be distributed through other channels and that I was happy to continue with the interview we had booked if that was agreeable to them. I also explicitly said that this meant that the candidates would still be free to do an interview with the radio station and that I would be happy to hook that up if they needed a hand with that. I exhaled a dramatic sigh of relief- thank goodness this bullshit is dealt with.

Until my partner came home to let me know that yet another man from the station had approached him while he was working to let him know that I was spreading misinformation. I was telling candidates that they had to pay for their interviews and that’s illegal and what I was saying needed to be nipped in the bud. My partner had read all of the communication around this subject (when I was pulling out my hair going “what am I missing here?!”) and knew this wasn’t the case. He also knew this had nothing to do with him and that it was completely inappropriate for this man to approach him about something to do with his partner. So he told him that this had nothing to do with him and he should probably talk to me directly about it.  

Upon hearing about this, I emailed the man who had approached my partner and clearly and bluntly informed him, “do not ever approach my partner at a work event again to discuss things that have nothing to do with him. That is incredibly unprofessional, sexist, and straight up insulting.” I asserted my boundaries, and not surprisingly, this was uncomfortable for the person on the receiving end of my email. He informed me that he was not sexist.

And then, I was reprimanded by the station manager. I was told that it’s unprofessional for volunteers to speak to volunteers that way.

At no point did any of these people ask for any clarification from me about where I was coming from. All I wanted to do was create time and space for these candidates to talk about what they were excited about in the community and about their platform. If they wanted to have that conversation with me, I wanted to have that conversation with them. So I opened up the space, and people wanted to occupy it. And then I was told about a policy that just didn’t make sense to me. And when I tried to understand the reasoning behind the policy, I was basically told that it didn’t matter if the policy made sense or if I was cool with it or if it conflicted with commitments I had already made.

So I clarified my position calmly and moved forward.

Then, today, I become informed by the station manager that two men from the station (who I saw last night and who said nothing to me then about this) have complained that my interviews were still posted on the website. I was told that that went against the resolution agreement (not true, the agreement was not to air the interviews on the station and not to promote it through the station). I was again accused of spreading misinformation to candidates, which I never did. Again, it was a case of people making assumptions and not asking directly for clarification.

I’m probably missing a million things here and am totally wrong about others. The problem is the way I was treated simply not for doing what I was told without question.

So this leads me to wonder- what is so threatening about a young woman who is clear about her intention to simply create time and space and who doesn’t just do things because she’s told to?

I love following politics, but I’m an anarchist. I believe in people using their individual skills to come together to make things work. I believe in people finding strategies that work and taking the steps forward to make things happen. I also believe in doing things because they make sense, not just because someone tells me to. I want people in my circles to give me reasons to believe I’m wrong or I’m missing something because I believe it’s worth the work and temporary discomfort to expand my understanding of this world and the people in it.

I also believe, to my fucking core, that I am worthy of respect. And apparently that is exceptionally threatening when it upsets the power dynamics in the male-dominated space that is broadcast journalism in small-town Ontario. The good news is that I believe making time and space for people to talk about what you’re into and how it keeps them well is worth the work and temporary discomfort it’s taking to expand and build this space I’m occupying with my show and the station. It still, ultimately, is a thing that feels good.

I recently began “Integral Coaching” sessions with an absolutely delightful woman named Rae Kess. This process started with a conversation about where I’m at personally and with my creative work. It then moved to world-building and goal-setting. Then, Rae created a rad outline for our work (it’s very based on metaphors, super cool stuff) that provided a one-sentence focus for my work over the next 5 months. The topic she identified after our conversation was:

“To be more able to set clear boundaries so I can focus my energy on structuring and monetizing the creative work that I care about.”

To get there, one thing we discussed a current way of being and a new way of being. For me, the current way of being involves attending to other people’s needs and pushing aside my own creative projects because my energy has been spent elsewhere. Moving in to the new way of being will, theoretically, involve setting up structures that support my work so that I can be more intentional with where I spend my energy.

The thing that I’m intentionally maintaining is keeping a lot on my plate. I love to be busy, it keeps me well. The key is where I am prioritizing and focusing my energy. In order to re-set my energy throughout the day, Rae suggested a 5-minute-a-day exercise she calls “Tiny Explosions” (LOVE IT). The idea is that our bodies need to be engaged in the transition towards a new way of being. If I am emotionally/mentally/spiritually in a state of transition, it makes sense that my body ought to be as well- even if it’s just in a small way.

As a disabled person, I recognize the importance of connecting with my body and tuning in to it. This makes a lot of sense to me. So, I reached out on social media to crowd source strategies people in my community that people use to refocus their energy during their workday.
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Not surprisingly, people came up with a ton of great strategies. Here they are all in one place (with links to what they’re talking about):

Jasmine-June Cabanaw – Sun salutations

Ron Hyatt – Short walks, meditation

Amy Anderson-Macarthur – Exercise ball vs chair, Resistance bands

Jenni Burke – Spinal Flex: inhale forward and exhale back.

Heather Harrison – Kundalini

Cailey McCormack a cuddle with my pupper – no joke. She sits on my lap and stares at me and I stare back and it makes me laugh, and then I put her down on the ground and take a few deep breaths. I also drink an entire glass of water. It’s one of my strategies for helping me get out of a panic attack. Something about it that works.

Amber Dawn Vibert Eating food and drinking water is the only thing that makes me feel okay

Paul Devlin – I just take a moment to be happy I’m at work and not in the hospital or jail. Positive thinking for a min to keep me moving

Ariel Patricia – Jumping jacks

Craig Martin I leave work early. Takes 5ish minutes. When I get home and jump into the pool it totally re-energizes me.

Richard D. Quodomine – Feng Shui health and exercise balls

Danielle Hobbs – I run my hands under really cold water, like ice cold.

Dayna Lepofsky – Go for a short walk, cold water on the wrists or face, a quick stretch in the sun if possible, stretch out my limbs in the chair if I can’t leave my desk, crack my back, blink really really hard a few times but this one kind of just makes me dizzy sometimes lol

Sarah Jean Kennedy – I wash my hands and splash my face with cold water a few times. Fix my makeup and hair then back at it!

Tom Keefer – My fitness program consists only of doing one set of as many push-ups I can do once a day. It works pretty good and is real quick.

Andrew Charles Weed – pen

Monique Melanson  – Do a breathing exercise

Kim Doolittle – Sleep and naps

Jesse Watts – I do a couple 5 minute meditations a day. Helps me with my anxiety and helps me get “grounded”/relax. Not really physical but helps with body connections.

Jeff Wheeldon – Pushups. Start small, but do it many times per day. Amazing how fast your strength can improve from incremental gains, and it wakes me up like nothing else.

Anne-Marie Bouthillette – 5minute meditation/deep breathing/body scan

Effie Dice – Wim Hof breathing

To summarize, the most common suggestions were:

  • Push ups or jumping jacks
  • Meditation
  • Washing hands or face with cold water
  • Drinking a glass of water
  • Stretching

 

It’s powerful what happens when we ask for what we need. Try some of these strategies if you’re looking for a “tiny explosion” to refocus during your work day. Or, better yet, ask your community what strategies they use!

(Thanks for the inspiration, Rae!)

 

aka. “Acknowledging autonomy as a means of building healthier communities”

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(image shows myself and my best friend, Luna the shepherd dog, in an open field surrounded by trees, representing simultaneous autonomy and interconnection).

Can you think of a time in your life where you wanted to be part of a community of people who you grew close with, even loved? Where you put a lot of time and energy into creating that community with some sort of shared goal or intention? Me too.

I’ve been a part of theatre communities where we worked on shows together, activist communities where the shared goal is dismantling rape culture or working towards environmental sustainability, and casual communities where the goal is simply to be friends. Sometimes this more casual community building looks like a group who gets together to share meals or to work together in a garden. Sometimes, like many people in my generation, this means online group chats.

Can you think of a time where you felt let down by your community? Maybe you were going through something really tough and craved the support of the community you’ve worked hard to build. Maybe you felt ignored or under appreciated. I can relate. It’s really easy when we feel this way in our communities to chalk it up to “toxic communities” and honestly, that’s the script that is growing to dominate a lot of modern thought around social justice. But I think that this is an oversimplification at best, and, more honestly, actively detrimental to the overall goal of community care and individual wellness that social justice aims to work towards.

Community building as a concept is complicated and I see a lot of discussion around some of the key pieces these days. Things like self-care, balancing emotional labour, and accountability. While it’s exciting that these discussions are happening at all, and it’s to be expected that thinkers will stumble their ways through these complex and imperfect topics, I, a white, queer, disabled woman who lives with CPTSD, am increasingly finding that the shallow way we discuss this stuff is more harmful than helpful.

Basically, what I’m asserting here is that the problem isn’t that we are building toxic communities, it’s that we are empowering individuals to engage in behaviours that are toxic to themselves, and thus, toxic when it comes to building healthier communities. We mistake enabling self-harming behaviours for care in attempt to acknowledge that the violence perpetrated against marginalized people is real and unfair. However, by encouraging a victim mindset, we effectively marginalize people who have been affected by systemic violence even further.

I don’t believe that it is my job (or my business) to dictate how anyone else chooses to cope with or react to their experiences in the world. I believe that is up to each individual, and that building healthier communities relies on each individual to do their own work. It’s easier, when we have experienced trauma and/or violence to follow scripts where we validate one another’s pain (effectively playing in to the same power dynamics we claim to be working to dismantle) rather than addressing and taking ownership for our own experiences and subsequent (re)actions.

What it comes down to for me, as an individual, is this: do I want to commit to my trauma and live in it, or do I want to live my best life where I acknowledge my trauma without allowing it to control my life?

In the context of a society where there are unequal distributions of power, I would agree that it’s true that one cannot fully control what happens to them or every event of their lives, but what one can control is how they choose to respond to what happens. When it comes to community building, when we are all so committed to living in our own emotional shit, we tend to project that on to other people in our community.

For me, my dissatisfaction in communities I’ve experienced as toxic has a lot less to do with anyone else’s actions but my own dissatisfaction with myself. This results in me being so wrapped up in how worthless I feel (because trauma stuff) and feeling so bad about how I’m not feeling cared for by my community that I’m not being a good community member either. I’m not actually taking care of myself in a deep way either. I’m just wallowing in my own shit. Living there. Committing to it. It’s a lot easier to chalk my feelings up to other peoples’ actions rather than taking ownership for my own and doing something to actively work with whatever it is I’m going through. It keeps me trapped in my own shit.

Escaping and preventing toxic communities comes down to changing our perspectives from “they did this to me and this feels awful” to “this happened and it feels awful because I’m perceiving it as something that was done TO me that I have no control over.”. The reality is that you do have control over what you do with your hurt. Sure, communicating to the person you felt hurt by may be helpful, but what will be really helpful is you changing your perception (and thus, your reality) of the hurtful thing. It’s not about ignoring the hurt or “choosing not to feel it”. I mean, that sounds nice, but we all know it’s not that simple. It’s about feeling it and acknowledging that it probably had nothing to do with you and everything to do with the other person/people. What is yours is your reaction. When we accept people for where they are at, it makes for far healthier and happier interpersonal relationships. And when we can’t reconcile where someone’s at with the reality we’re choosing to actively build for ourselves, we get to choose the context in which you relate to that person.

This isn’t to say that we should stick around people who contribute to us feeling bad or who we don’t ultimately feel are conducive to our journey in wellness. It’s also not about anyone being “at fault”. It’s never so simple as a simple perpetrator/victim dynamic. We are all hurt beings in some way, we are all trying to stumble our way to happiness and fulfillment. But what I think we, as social justice oriented thinkers and carers, would benefit from is actually acknowledging the role of autonomy in community building.

(Big thanks to Sabrina Scott and Susan Kesper for taking the time to provide feedback on this piece and supporting me in making it better!)

 

 

 

 

 

First, some background…

I am a person who lives with several chronic illnesses and who manages these illnesses through diet, lifestyle, and using cannabis.You can read, in detail, about me discovering the benefits of cannabis here.  I’m a person who initially became a medical cannabis patient under the the MMAR  and then the MMPR. I’m also a person who works full time in the cannabis industry.

I am a person who has, at one point, received a letter from Health Canada telling me I’d no longer have the option to grow for myself.

I never received a letter when some of this legislation was found unconstitutional .Then came the ACMPR. That’s where medical patients sit now. Confused? Here’s a timeline.

The current legislation (assuming you’re not going to actually go through to read all of those links) relies heavily on cannabis production through Licensed Producers (LPs) to supply patients with their medicine. The mass scale of these grows inevitably results in lower quality medicine, due to the complexity of the nature of the plant. There are several reasons for this, one of them being that LPs, by design, are simply not meant to operate in integrity to the plant (or to the benefit of the patient). The object of an LP is to make money in this booming industry, effectively pushing aside “grey” industry experts and patients. In fact, unless you have some investors with major money and influence, and can’t even start an LP. You can really see how this plays out practically when you consider the number of LP owners or investors who are either former cops or politicians.

It’s not uncommon for patients who rely on LPs to have their medicine recalled or unavailable. With the introduction of the recreational legislation, there will be even more pressure on these publicly owned monopolies that already struggle to keep up in a rapidly growing medical market, let alone a recreational one.


Now, some context:

Here are the party’s platforms regarding cannabis legislation:

Liberals:

  • Plan to regulate the sale of cannabis through the Ontario Cannabis Retail Corporation (basically the LCBO)
  • The start up cost is projected to be $48 million and it’s projected to generate a net income of $100 million during the 2020-21 fiscal year

Progressive Conservatives:

  • Although the PCs haven’t released a formal platform, Doug Ford has stated the following:
    • “We’re going down a path that no one really knows.I have been open to a fair market and letting the markets dictate. I don’t like the government controlling anything no matter what it is…. I’m open to a free market and I’m going to consult with our caucus…. I don’t believe in the government sticking their hands in our lives all the time. I believe in letting the market dictate.”
    • “we got to be super, super, super careful” in regulating the cannabis market.

NDP:

  • Andrea Horwath has said:
    • “We don’t want valuable farmland paved over,” said Horwath. “Neither do we want to see it go to massive marijuana crops. We need to see regulation and quality control. People need to know what it is they are selling; people need to know what it is they are buying.”
    • “I don’t know if 40 dispensaries will achieve their goals of taking it off the black market”

Green Party:

  • Regulating and licensing small businesses and dispensaries to sell cannabis in a safe and controlled way
  • Ensuring tax revenues from cannabis sales are used to fund education, mental health and addiction programs
  • Conducting a pilot project to test the private retailing of cannabis by small businesses alongside the LCBO’s new stores during the first two years of legalization

And my critique…

Only 2/4 parties have a clearly defined plan around cannabis legislation, which leads me to believe that the Liberals and Greens are the only parties that understand

a) the vast potential of the cannabis industry

b) the importance of managing medical and recreational access to cannabis for medicinal reasons and also to reduce the black market, and thus, various forms of violence that include criminalizing individuals.

The problem with the Liberals’ approach is that there is opportunity and increased access in the privatized cannabis industry- especially when regulated in addition to publicly owned grows and dispensaries. Relying solely on publicly owned production facilities will put more pressure on Canada’s already flawed LPs. This is bad news for patients who rely on LPs. It also doesn’t leave appropriate space for Indigenous communities, who have exceptionally valuable knowledge about what works in the cannabis industry in a way that centers patients and the plant itself to participate in an industry they’ve had a significant role in building and a cultural right to engage in. 

Similarly, activists (many of whom are patients!) are being persecuted and excluded from the industry they have built through Liberal “legalization”. It’s no secret that people of colour and people with disabilities are disproportionately criminalized for their participation in a grey or black cannabis industry they’re forced to participate in because of the structuring of the Liberal conception of cannabis legislation. In fact, “black people with no history of criminal convictions have been three times more likely to be arrested by Toronto police for possession of small amounts of marijuana than white people with similar backgrounds, according to a Toronto Star analysis.”.

It should be noted, that none of the parties’ platforms include anything regarding pardoning peoples’ prior criminal convictions related to cannabis upon legalization.

The Green’s approach makes the most sense. That being said, I’d like to take the opportunity to briefly elaborate on and provide feedback on the Green’s platform related to cannabis legislation:

“The Green Party believes that the distribution of Cannabis in Ontario is an opportunity to create jobs and boost local business. Allowing for a mix of public and private vendors will allow us to serve many more locations and eradicate black market sales.”

I agree with this. I think it comes down to mixing private and public vendors, so as to increase points of access as much as possible. These multiple points of access are very important-

a) Private businesses with appropriate regulations. Why not create a group of diverse industry experts to brainstorm around what regulations are reasonable to go from there?These regulations ought to specifically provide reasonable space for Indigenous participation in the industry. It also ought to include legislation around smaller-scale craft grows (with multiple tiers containing appropriate regulations according to the size of the grow).

b) Publicly owned businesses (ie. LPs) with a MAJORLY revamped set of regulations that would allow for the plant to be managed in a way that maintains its integrity. This means no pesticides and the use of sustainable practices. 

 

c) The ability for people to grow for themselves with an open genetics market/regulations around restricting genetics. Look no further than California to see what happens when you allow monopolization and restriction of cannabis genetics. Cannabis is a genetically complex and diverse plant that varies greatly in cannabinoid content and creates vastly different effects depends n the strain. What helps one person with some symptoms may be totally different than what helps another, and people ought to be able to access the medicine that works for them.

“Revenue capture in sales must be dedicated to health and education programs that help consumers make informed decisions that protect them, their families and the general public”

Cool. Keep in mind: a key priority should be on preventing stigma against people with disabilities and education ought to be informed by the wisdom of Indigenous people who have used this medicine traditionally for far longer than any of our governments have been involved in regulating it.

“When cannabis is legalized, it should accessible, safe and help local businesses to create employment in both the public and the private sector.”
Again, it comes down to those multiple points of access I discussed earlier.
There’s a lot of world building to do here, but I think that the green Party’s platform is a good place to start. Let’s get to work.

This is a guest piece written by Nikki EatKS. You can listen to Nikki’s podcast, Everything and the Kitchen Sink here.

“An opinion piece from a sexual assault survivor, a mother, a wife, an educator, an independent podcaster — depending on the day, the order of importance changes.”

 

Please note the fine print before reading the article:

 

  • The hyperlinks are put there so that you will click on and read more. Sometimes all I can find is a wiki link; yes, I know that is not ideal, but more power to you and your badass research skills.
  • Reading more helps you keep informed. Stay informed.
  • This “ * ”  indicates that there is more info at the end of the article but I don’t want to disrupt a flow of a piece to point out every possible retort on this opinion piece. Always, always refer to the second bullet point if you have to.
  • Please also be aware that I go into some detail of my assaults.
  • Get yourself a tea/coffee/blanket and find comfort when you can.
  • I always struggle when reading about someone’s assault story so please, please  remember self care.

  • If you feel that you can write a better piece, please, by all means, do so.
  • I use explicit words sometimes and you might not like my approach in some things I describe.
  • If you are male and you feel offended by this article, I recommend that you do some self-reflection rather than taking it as a personal attack.
  • If you feel that this is biased or intended as an attack on men, it’s not.
  • I appreciate, understand and am aware that the violence also happens to men, POC, trans and other minorities. You can choose to, and you have the right to, pick apart my opinion piece for the lack of inclusiveness; or you can realize that the point of me writing this, opening up and sharing my personal story, sharing my ideas to you, the reader, is about coming together, not to divide us.
  • This article should empower you: to show you that you can help stop this so that your mother, grandmother, sister, aunt, cousin,wife, partner, colleague, friend, or child never, ever, have to experience violence, sexual assault, or sexual harassment.
  • Remember, we can be part of the solution, but by doing nothing, we are part of the problem.

 

 

 

With over 636,000 self-reported incidents of sexual assault in 2014, in Canada alone, I can safely say that you probably know one, two, or more women/individuals  that have been sexually assaulted. The difference is that you might not be privy to that information. In many cases, women feel that they will be judged or looked at differently if they share their experiences with their friends, partners, co-workers, family.

Sexual assault/harassment/violence doesn’t necessarily happen only once to a woman in her lifetime either.  A woman could have been raped and then a few months or years down the road,  groped at a concert or nightclub. In fact, concert and nightclub groping are more common than you might think.

If this continues to repeatedly happen to an individual, then surely it is the individual’s sole responsibility for not protecting themselves or being more vigilant about their safety, right?  Note that the victim’s safety is frequently perceived as solely the responsibility of the victim. Jackson Katz, a well-known American educator points out the inequality in perception of responsibility in gender violence. This makes the statistic about incident counts a little too surreal, because while many of the cases are reported, not even half of reported cases are tried in a court of law, and even fewer get a conviction. SACHA statistics report that there are 460,000 sexual assaults that happen per year in Canada. Out of every 1,000 assaults, only 3 lead to conviction.

While cases like Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and just recently Albert Schultz and the suspension of VICE EXECS have invigorated  the already established  movement (METOO) of women feeling that they have a voice to speak up and out about the violence/harassment and in 2018, a new movement to support women is emerging called Time’s UP, where 300 women are fighting sexual harassment in industry in the USA. This is all great, and I hope that we never stop bringing movements together.

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Photo taken from twitter from a #TIMESUP twitter hashtag.

In the past there have been both celebrity cases and regular cases where the outcome shocked the world. I am talking about Jian Ghomeshi,* Bill Cosby, Brock Turner: cases where the victims were not given justice to the fullest extent of the law. And this is very important for us to remember. For every success in a conviction, there are still many that could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, or where the sentence given did not fit the extremity of the crime.

 

 

A glimpse into the Criminal Court “Beyond Reasonable Doubt” Implications, and The Civil Court Claim verdicts and What It Means

Currently in the United States, the Obama policy on campus sexual assault investigations are being scrapped by the Trump administration and Betsy DeVos, who maintain that the Obama-mandated standard is lower than the criminal courts’ standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt.” “Reasonable doubt” is why many women cannot get justice in a criminal court. The sad reality is that because the courts won’t proceed with a case that cannot be proved beyond a reasonable doubt, the victims in such cases are consequently considered liars. If one has the money, the emotional strength and it is also allowed by the courts in that state or province, then one can file a civil suit.

A prime example of this is the Andrea Constand v William H. Cosby Jr. civil lawsuit where Costand was ready with 13 women as potential witnesses if the case went to court. The case was resolved with an undisclosed settlement of cash and a non-disclosure agreement. However, in 2015 a judge had ordered that Cosby’s deposition was to be unsealed, because the information mattered to the present cases. A settlement out of court is not an admission of criminal guilt, despite public opinion. Settlements are a cost-effective way for both parties to avoid enduring the high legal fees that are associated with a court trial.  However, it is possible that information obtained in the course of reaching a civil settlement would later be used as evidence in a criminal case — but, as demonstrated with the the Cosby civil case, that is at the discretion of the judge.

 

       Celebrities are taking up arms in the newspapers and social media platforms to get their voices heard.

I appreciate that celebrities are coming out now to share their assault stories. I appreciate women coming forward about celebrities and their workplace sexual harassment.  And this serves the media well, not only to keep us informed but also for clicks and website traffic. As well, after reading further on you will see that now, sexual assault survivors are taking this course of action because the court system is constantly failing to bring justice.  

I don’t want to downplay any victim coming forward to media because that takes a lot of courage. When a victim comes forward, they will be likely attacked on social media platforms with death threats/harassment/bullying. An aside:  I also think death threats and name-calling of attackers in no way assists the victims. If you are being factual in your posts, then post away.   

However, an accomplished woman, whether financially, socially, or academically, has a lot less to lose in life by coming forward with her story years after the fact.  Women recognize the stigma of being an assault survivor, and tend not to tell anyone because of the anticipated dramatic effect on how they are perceived in their workplace, academically, and socially. When you are just 20 years old and coming out with stories that happened recently, this can have an effect on your ability to further advance in your career, family life, social life etc.  When you are in your 30’s or 40’s and you come out with what happened to you, people begin to weigh and balance your accomplishments and failures against your story. Because to the world, that matters. The concept is a backwards, yet subtle societally-accepted approach to victim blaming. If we peer into the Cosby case, that spans over decades with more than 15 women coming forward, and  apply a  fine-toothed comb for details, one can see that what a woman did before and after the assault is still something that is discussed — however, never at an advantage to the victim.  

This brings me to the whole point of this opinion piece. Women’s voices are not being heard early enough. We are not finding resolution, solutions, intervention, and most importantly prevention of sexual assault/harassment early enough. It is not enough to tell men not to rape. We have to start thinking how we provide this important information and these strategies and when we do it.

 

Changing how we use the phrase “violence against women” to give society a good shock to the system

As a sexual assault survivor twice, and having been sexually harassed countless times, I feel that this age-old dilemma is not being confronted with the right scope of solutions. After the #METOO movement began, I discovered Jackson Katz and his profound statement hit me like a ton of bricks.

“We talk about how many women were raped last year, not how many men raped women. We talk about how many girls in a school district were harassed last year, not about how many boys harassed girls. We talk about how many teenage girls in the state of Vermont got pregnant last year, rather than how many boys and men impregnated teenage girls.”

Now, Jackson Katz has been saying this for years, in fact in an interview he stated that this statement was part of a bigger presentation he did at a college 5 years prior to the #METOO movement. He continues to say that we absolve men from the responsibility. “Even the term, ‘violence against women’ is problematic…. It’s a bad thing that happens to women, but when you look at that term, ‘violence against women’ nobody is doing it to them. It just happens to them… Men aren’t even a part of it.” *

And this, this is the crux of everything we’re discussing here. Reword every statistic about violence against women and you will see that we have a bigger problem than you first realized. For example in the beginning of this piece I talked about the Canadian statistics…..Let’s reword that now, just for fun:

636,000 men sexually assaulted women in 2014.  Over half of those men will not be officially charged by police or be tried in a criminal court for assaulting women. Less than ⅓ of the 636,000 men that have sexually assaulted women will serve jail time.

When it’s written like that, it hits home, doesn’t it? We have a bigger problem that we thought and it’s been going on for decades without any let-up. So where do we go from here? We have to start these conversations young, and we have to really instill the importance of respect at a very early age. How early? Earlier than 15 years old.

 

Teenagers,  young adolescents, college and university students are statistically more prone to be victims of sexual assault/harassment than any other age demographic.

If you take a look at my first link about statistics you would see that in Canada, there was an specific age demographic in which these sexual assaults were taking place. I have included one of the many statistic photos that can be found in the StatsCan Link. The majority of the victims are between 15 to 24. And this is where I come in to share my experiences with assault with you. I am now 42 years old. I didn’t have social media platforms when I was a teenager/adolescent and I am very, very grateful for that. I am statistic that gets briefly talked about only when it’s a high-profile criminal case that the newspapers are covering. And this only if they can legally talk about it. But my experiences are not unusual. They are actually more common than you think.  

The first time I was sexually assaulted, it was at the age of 12 ( I was in grade eight) by a group of seven boys at the Catholic school I was attending in Mississauga, Ontario. We were coming back from a field trip and the school bus dropped us off at the school and it was already nighttime. I walked home with a friend. As my friend and I walked in the night, I suddenly heard someone shouting “Let’s get her!” I looked at my friend and suddenly I was crowded by boys from my school. Two of them managed to get me on the ground and three of them held me down while the other boys were lifting up my sweater to grab my breasts and attempting to put their hands down my pants. I believe that I was screaming because another classmate who happened to walk by (he was six feet tall) had shouted at them. I remember vividly getting up and walking on the road, with ongoing traffic coming at me. I was in shock, and had going through my head that the sidewalk wasn’t safe. The sidewalk wasn’t safe.

The classmate who shouted at the gang of boys somehow managed to get me back on the sidewalk, and he walked with my friend and me the rest of the way home. The attack literally happened not even a five-minute walk from my house. When I came home I told my parents what happened. The next day the boys were suspended from all sports teams and I was labelled a slut by both the boys and girls in the school. I stopped going out for recess and lunchtime and stayed in the office and did reception duty to stay away from the bullying as much as I could.  I remember one time after the incident, my mother was studying for an exam late and she wanted to go buy chocolate at the 24-hour Miracle Mart near our apartment building. It was about 1 in the morning, and I went with her because I was scared for her. We walked over and when we were walking back we were being followed by a man. I began to freak out, whispering and crying to her quietly. My mother, 5’2” and 90 pounds, looked at me and said, “Watch.”  I watched my mother in terror as she turned around and faced the man, who seemed drunk, and in a very stern voice said “Can I help you with something?” The man was frightened and I remember his stammering reply, “Ma’am, I am not trying to steal your purse.” My mother continued with, “You don’t need to walk this way, you can walk the other way,” and she stood there, waiting and watching him walk the other way. She didn’t turn back until he was several yards away.  She told me to never let them know you are scared, and to always be confident in knowing where you are going. That is all she said to me. At the end of the year, we moved to another city, as my dad was commuting from Mississauga to another city for work.

My parents never had conversations about my assault.  My parents are from a very different generation and trauma affects people differently. But that moment, walking to the grocery store, sunk into every fiber of my being. It became my mantra. I had a walk, an unmistakable walk that I was pretty much set out to kill someone. My walk was so specific that a friend could identify me from a distance. During my single years, this also made me less approachable in nightclubs. I never had a problem walking late at night from my teens to my late 20’s.

I am still self-conscious of how well-endowed my breasts are. I typically do not wear any top that reveals cleavage of any sort, and I always wear my trusty jean jacket if I look “too busty” in a top. There are times that people point out that I am being prudish or silly. I just tell them, “You know me, I’m quirky”, because really, I don’t need to explain my trauma every damn time to make a point. I couldn’t control what happened to me. Some days it’s hard for it not to affect me. But I am not weak because it affects me. I chalked this up to experience and promised myself that the next motherfucker that touched me would go down, My parents separated when I was 14, and it was an unhealthy relationship, so I am grateful that it ended. My teenage years were very messy, with living in shelters, panhandling, group homes and almost everything that went with that.

Now this might not seem important but if you have read anything about trauma, you will realize that I was suffering heavily from trauma from the assault, violence in my home, and my parents’ separation. But, on a positive note, I wasn’t sexually assaulted in this time period so yay me!

Fast-forward to my 20’s. At 22, I left my abusive, sexist partner. I tried to find a room to rent, as that was all I could afford at the time. I was working night shift as a cleaner at an office building and going to college during the day because I wanted a better life for the son that I had brought into this world:  instead of living on the social system.  I had to leave my son with his father (a decision that I will always regret and feel guilty for to this day) until I finished school because I did not have family support or the financial means to raise him. I didn’t have my parents, siblings , etc. to help me raise him, and my ex had a family network of support that I did not have.  

I don’t have an exceptionally trustful nature so I had asked friends for roommate recommendations. One friend recommended a man who lived between where my ex lived and where my work was, on a 24-hour streetcar line. So that man was who I ended up sharing a two-bedroom apartment with. One night my roommate planned a party and asked me to invite my friends. Only two of mine came because it was on short notice. All the rest were his friends, and there were no women. My friends felt uncomfortable and said that it was getting late and that they wanted to leave.

After they left there was a lot of sexual talk between my roommate and his friends. I said that I was tired and was going to go to bed. I went into my room, turned off the lights, shut my door and went to sleep in my dress shirt, dress pants and blazer. Yes, I didn’t feel comfortable enough to change into my nightclothes. I felt safer in my clothes. Clearly I knew something wasn’t right.

If you ask, why didn’t you leave? This was my home. I paid rent. I already ran away from one home because I didn’t feel safe; I wasn’t going to run from another. Because fuck that shit.

I heard the door open, and my roommate and two of his friends came into my tiny room and began running their hands up and down my body that was curled into a fetal position.  

I recall one of them said that they would love to run a Battery. (Battery is Jamaican slang for gang rape.) I did not know that at the time, but I knew I was in a serious situation and I was outnumbered. And I played possum and continued to pretend I was sleeping. The hands went up my shirt and they tried to move me to get into my pants from the front. At this point I shouted “Leave me the fuck alone! I am trying to sleep!” One of the men said, “We better leave her alone or she’ll will call 411.” I am sure that they were drunk and meant to say 911.

They left the room, and I waited until his friends left. I then called the police and filed a report and removed myself from the apartment and went back to my ex’s place, because I literally had nowhere else to go. An aside: Now I know what you’re thinking, I could have gone into a shelter. Well, clearly you’ve never lived in a shelter. You have to be there at a certain time to be admitted into the shelter. They don’t just let you walk in at one in the morning. They have curfews. I know, I lived in one when I was 16 and seeing drunks or people trying to come down off heroin at that age was enough for me to never want to see that again. This was also in 1997, and cell phones weren’t so accessible.

The detectives were very kind to me; they supported me, and gave me numbers to call if I needed counselling. It was almost a year after the fact when I received a phone call that my case was going to court. The detectives always reassured me that I was doing the right thing. That I did the right thing in calling and charging my roommate and his friends. The detectives did a better job than the crown of telling me the ins and outs of what was going to take place. They told me even that though I did the right thing, without being physically raped or having bruises, it would be a hard road for me to prove what happened.

In the courtroom, I was asked my version of what happened. I was asked what I wore. I told the the defence lawyer, the same thing that I am wearing right now. I purposely wore the exact same clothes I was assaulted in because I knew from reading that a victim’s clothing is always, always something the defence asks. I broke down many times answering the defence lawyers questions. I was asked, “Why didn’t I fight them off?” and “Why didn’t I scream loudly for help?” I explained that I was scared and that I feared for my life. I was then asked, “Why didn’t I get up and just run out the door?” I broke down so hard that the judge had asked me if we should adjourn. I didn’t want to go through this more than one day. I wanted to push through it.

After a couple of hours of recounting my story and defending myself from the defence lawyer the judge came back with his decision: there was not enough evidence to take my case to trial. He looked me right in the eye while I was on the stand and apologized to me, saying that it was my word against three others, and without evidence or witnesses…. He could not make a claim because there was no “beyond reasonable doubt.”

I was crushed. I can’t remember what happened next except that the detectives said that they believed me and that my claim would go into a database for sexual offenses, and maybe one day it will be cross- referenced to him with enough evidence to convict him, next time. Next time.

 

This changed me. Not only did I have my walk of “I will kill you” but I began to have an uncontrollable fear of men. If I saw a group of men walking on the street up ahead, I would cross the street and walk on the other side. When out shopping, or at the bank, I would wait for a female customer service rep. I would never deal with a male customer service rep. Clearly I suffered some heavy trauma, and I went into therapy to try and minimize my anxiety. When I saw men on the street I would sneer at them with my eyes as my way of saying “I will fuck you up if you breathe in my direction.”

I am one of many girls and women with these experiences.  In fact we tend to forget how horribly awkward and emotionally charged adolescents are, and the damage that can happen from experiencing assault at such a young age. I think one of the best examples is the case of Rehtaeh Parsons, where we can only use her name backwards, not the correct way because of the legality issues behind it. She committed suicide because of her ordeal. To take or to want to take your life means that you are swimming in such a depression that you just literally want it all to stop, no matter the cost.

Now depending on which news articles you read, some blame her, but in reality, there was simply not sufficient evidence to lay charges. Or the Torrington High School Rape Cases with FIVE students charged with various sexual offences. The Steubenville High School Rape case that had bullying and photos of the sexual assault circulated on social media. The Glen Ridge Rape where a girl with disabilities was raped with a boomstick and a baseball bat. Canadian Singer Kinley Dowling wrote a song about her rape that happened in high school 15 years ago.

Again, who is to say that the adults that are sexually assaulting women didn’t start when they were in their teens, and it became a “boys will be boys” mentality. We cannot necessarily look to upbringing as the problem, because teenagers and adults that come from “good family homes” are also the ones who are doing the assaulting. So what gives?

stats

Please note the fine print that data collection for 1 and 2 also include age demographics over 18 years old. Without including that, the majority of victims are between the age of 15 to 24, and also a high number are in the student demographic. Stats in the USA for sexual assault across college and university campus can be found as well.  

 

Teenagers and young adolescents should be our target age to provide factual information, provide guidance and support.

When I was 18 years old and in a co-op at my high school for a multi-media production course, we went and talked to grade eight girls and boys. Back then I had white-blonde hair in a Chelsea cut, so I looked pretty badass to them. I was talking with some of the girls as they brought up the topic or sex (or we did as a group for our filming, I can’t remember). The point is, back in 1994, these kids were talking about oral sex. They were 12 and 13.  It hit me that parents are terribly naive regarding what their children know about sex, and how they access information about sex. And this is before the Internet became widely accessible.

When my eldest son turned 12, I felt the urge to educate him because I didn’t think the world would.

Because of my experience not only as a survivor, but from what I knew of adolescents learning in grade eight, I took it upon myself to give him facts. Not the BS that parents sell their children that sex happens when two people love each other and only when they are married. I first told him at 12 that if he liked a girl or boy in a way that he wanted to kiss them, that if he got an erection it didn’t mean that he had to have sex. I told him that masturbation was completely normal, and that if he got an erection he could either masturbate, or deal with the discomfort that is called “blue balls,” but that he would not die from the pain.  

And then there was that bold random shock conversation at the dinner table when we was 12 that I still find hilarious, and so does he. He was sassing me at the table. I was pregnant with my second child, and I told him I deserved better respect because it took me 16 hours to push him out of my vagina. He spat out his water, with my comment and retorted, “but that is where you have sex!” And I replied cheekily, “Yes, if a penis goes in, something else nine months later might come out!”

When my friends found out that I was teaching my son about sex ed at 12, they were horrified. They said he was too young for the things I had shared with him. I told them the story about the kids I had talked with during my high-school co-op; they passed it off as an unusual circumstance. I didn’t tell my friends about my assaults because I was always of the belief that it was a stigma and that somehow I would be looked at negatively for experiencing what I did.

But I didn’t stop with teaching my son. I never told him what parts were required to have sex; already, at 12, he knew that. Instead of overwhelming him with information all at once, I did it in steps. It was set up just as random, casual conversations. I hated when I was lectured as a child, so I could only imagine how the important information would go in through one ear and out the other if I did it as a lecture.

When he was 14, we talked about consent. As a survivor, this was important to me. I told him that if that if a girl says yes to touching or sex and then changes her mind, that’s okay. And he should never be angry about that. I told him sometimes a girl may feel that the only way to keep a boyfriend is to allow kissing and touching to happen and to always make sure that’s what she wants, not what he thinks she wants.

At age 16, we had the BIG talk. I knew he had a girlfriend, so I just point-blank asked him if he was having sex. He struggled with giving me an answer. I talked to him about the importance of condoms, the different types, and to be very careful with latex and spermicide condoms because his girlfriend could have an allergy to them. I also told him birth control pills were insufficient because they don’t protect from STDs and of course, I listed them all.

I went on about pre-ejaculation, and explained that birth control pills lessen in effectiveness if antibiotics are used, or it not taken regularly. My favourite response from him on that: “Yeah, I know, (a big sigh) I was born even though condoms and birth control were used, I get it.”  I really do believe he got it. That was the end of our conversations on those topics for a while.

He came to me later on with a dilemma that he didn’t know how to solve. He had a female friend at school that was being called a slut. He asked me if he should still be friends with her. I like to think my weird casual conversations with him allowed him to feel free to come to me. This was important. He was coming to me for help to navigate the crappy parts of high school.

I asked him, how are people calling her a slut, was it everyone at school or ex-boyfriends? He replied that it was mostly boys that she had dated, but that she would date one guy, and then three months later she would be dating another guy. I told him that whether she dates a guy for years or for a month, that is her choice. Maybe that boyfriend was horrible to her. He nodded, and continued to listen. I asked him, “Does she treat you differently? Is she mean to you?” He replied, “No.” Then I said to him, “What does it matter how many people she dates, or kisses or sleeps with?” At that moment, I swear I saw a lightbulb in his eyes, a flicker of “Yeah, you’re right!” He did remain friends with her, even when she went off to university.

Did I help squash the ideology of slut shaming? I would like to think so.

At 17, he called me on the phone, a little panicked. He said mom, “I think my girlfriend is pregnant because she is a week late getting her period.” He continued to tell me that they used a condom, but it broke, and he knew that there was a small chance that pre-cum could get her pregnant. His words. I was so proud of him for that moment. Then I had to go back to problem-solving mode. First, I asked if she was always regular with her periods, and if she was going through any stress at the moment. I then told him typically, a woman could be one to two weeks late getting her period and that doesn’t mean that she is pregnant. His girlfriend was 16 but her parents didn’t know they were having sex and her parents were extremely Christian, and they were both scared. I told him that after two weeks she could go to a walk-in clinic and get a pregnancy blood test, as it was more accurate than the store-bought pregnancy urine test. He told me she wouldn’t go to the doctor because she was scared that her parents will be called. And here is the pivotal moment. I told him that in Ontario, at the age of 16, parents do not have the right to access medical information about their children.

I could tell that vital information did a lot to alleviate the stressful situation. I then discussed with him that I would support both her and him in whatever choice SHE makes. I made it very clear to him that it is solely her choice if she is pregnant, whether to have the baby or get an abortion.  He seemed to really understand that.

In the end she wasn’t pregnant. My son passed the information I gave him to his girlfriend, so she could finally see her family doctor without fear and was able to get birth control. The fact that his girlfriend wasn’t aware of her rights, wasn’t aware of her options, bothered me.

When he turned 18, I told him that I was a sexual assault survivor. I think many people would argue that I shouldn’t be telling my son that. But it was important for him to know that it can happen to anyone. That it does happen to anyone, and despite it being a horrible thing to have happen to someone, that they can still have productive lives: They aren’t broken.

I am happy that his girlfriend is with my son, because he feels safe and secure enough with someone to ask questions. Not everyone is lucky to be paired that way.

Recently, the Ontario government revamped its sexual education curriculum and it begins in grade one. When the news came out that “sex education” was going to start at grade one many parents readied their pitchforks as they felt that it was too early to teach them about sex. This is simply a knee-jerk response, because had the angry parents really looked into the curriculum, in grade one they learn:

Identify body parts, including genitalia, using correct terminology. Recognize caring behaviours and exploitative behaviours.

…which basically means that they learn to call their body parts the anatomically correct name. A penis is a penis, not a “woo hoo” or other cute name. This is vital to help children to self-advocate at an early age against sexual exploitation. If a child tells a teacher that they were touched in their “woo hoo,” it’s not as direct as penis, plain and simple. Parents are urged to properly name body parts and teach children what is acceptable touching, and what is not, at an early age to protect them from sexual abuse.*

In grade six, seven and eight these are the curriculum parameters:

Grade 6: Identify factors that affect a person’s “self-concept;” for example stereotypes, gender identity and body image. Describe how to lay a foundation for healthy relationships by understanding changes that occur during adolescence. Assess the effects of stereotypes on social inclusion and relationships.

Grade 7: Explain the importance of understanding with a partner about delaying sexual activity and the concept of consent. Identify common sexually transmitted infections and describe their symptoms. Identify ways of preventing STIs and unintended pregnancy. Assess the impact of different types of bullying or harassment, including sexting.

Grade 8: Identify and explain factors that can affect decisions about sexual activity. Demonstrate an understanding of gender identity and sexual orientation. Demonstrate an understanding of contraception and the concept of consent. Analyze the benefits and risks of relationships involving different degrees of sexual intimacy.

With the amount of evidence and statistics to point out the ages of 15 to 24 is a demographic that is heavily plagued with sexual assault, it’s time that more is done for this demographic. Yes, college and universities have counsellors and organizations. In a survey in 2016, it was discovered that one in six parents are planning to pull their children out of the new sex education curriculum. That means that for every six (or more) children, there is one male that is not going to have access to this information about boundaries and consent.

Remember the rephrasing the concept of ‘violence against women.” Let me rephrase my experience based on that:

At age 5, one male raped me, I will never be okay to tell that story. At age 12, seven boys sexually assaulted me. At age 22, three men sexually assaulted me. In 2013 at a concert, one man rubbed his ass in my crotch. In 2013,  one man who was drunk followed me off the subway to continue to harass me. Not counting the nightclub rubbing against me, a total of thirteen men have sexually assaulted or harassed just one woman.

Now the tough question: will and are these men capable of doing it again? If one is not criminally convicted of a crime, then why on earth would they think they have done something wrong?

This is not some news clip, or sound bite, that will go away. There is no epic media circus to follow whilst eating your popcorn. This is the reality of what most survivors are going through. Most of us just move on without justice. Seeking justice in the courtrooms is why we are failing at changing this. And I am fucking tired of the mountain, and mountain of women coming out, because what that means: this is not the fucking “boys will be boys” stupid stage bullshit ideology that they try to shove down our throats.

It means there is a HUGE fracture in our society, where we think not educating and instead censoring our kids is of benefit. Where the “bros before hoes” mantra, and not standing up to someone and saying this is not okay, is the convention. No, you can’t walk away, because walking away means you are letting that shit happen.

In the last five years, I know three women who have teenage daughters that have been sexually assaulted.  

I can only imagine the pain and suffering that they are going through to say how could I have protected my daughter more.

It’s not about protecting our daughters.

It’s about educating our sons.

###

*Further reading for you:

*Before you point out that Jian was found not guilty, read the 25-page court finding where the judge clearly stated:

“She may have been afraid to disclose this information. She may have been embarrassed to disclose this information. These would not be unreasonable feelings; but to say that she decided not to disclose this information because she thought it was of no importance is just not credible. To make matters worse, when given this last-minute opportunity to make full disclosure, she still failed to do so.”

You can read the full court document here

* The full interview with Jackson Katz

*  The end of limitations period in Ontario for reporting

* Protecting your child from sexual abuse

 

When one of my best friends told me she had acquired a job, I was overjoyed. An art gallery. She had been through a lot over the last year, and this was a job where the hours were reasonable for her and the tasks at hand were not only doable, but something she was interested in and knew about. “Which art gallery?” I asked her. When she told me, I bit my tongue and continued to celebrate with her, hoping that if I didn’t voice my concerns out loud, that maybe they would be proven unfounded. After all, she knew I had had some significantly creepy experiences with her new boss in the past, and she made the decision to work there, even knowing that he had the capacity to be a creep. Now, I wish I had shared my concerns.

The Boss is a prominent member of our community: a business owner, a councilman. I voted for him a few years ago because I saw him around the downtown often, supporting local businesses, including businesses owned or managed by intelligent, entrepreneurial young women. I heard a few stories about his strong personality and his willingness to pick young, intelligent, pretty women to mentor…but these reports were always given in hushed voices, with a hint of reservation. I met him briefly a few times while visiting a friend who was working at one of the local downtown shops and I immediately noticed that he was the kind of man who undressed me with his eyes when he looked at me. But I had become a bit used to letting that kind of behaviour fly since moving to this Small Town.

When I became heavily involved with a local charity that had a history of inconsistent support from the Municipality, I made it my goal to help bridge the relationship between the organization and the Town. So, I reached out to The Boss and asked if he wanted to meet for coffee, hoping to gain some perspective from someone at the Municipality about what kind of information the Town would like from the organization. This happened a few times, and each time he treated the meeting as a date. He commented on my appearance, made sure he always got his hug, and made a point of touching me at any opportunity. He also made a point of telling me how beautiful and intelligent I am and joked about dating me, kissing me, even having sex with me. Although he was joking, the way he joked clearly communicated that if I were to accept any of these offers, he would jump at the opportunity. Regardless of the fact that I am younger than his children or that we are both married.

I am ashamed to say that, in hope of minimizing conflict and forging a better relationship between the organization and the Town, I laughed off The Boss’ behaviour and managed any major physical risk by only meeting with him in public places. I did not communicate to him that he was making me feel uncomfortable, because he held the power to fund an important charity program or not. He held the power to ruin my reputation among professionals in the community. He held the power to make me feel like I wanted to throw up when I saw him on the street. Eventually, after he got mad at me for meeting with a friend instead of carrying out plans he and I had, I stopped engaging with him unless it was necessary, at which time I was polite and distant.

When my friend started to tell me about some of the comments The Boss would make to her at work, I encouraged her to stand up for herself, which she did. She was clear and communicative. When she decided to leave this job, as it was affecting her emotionally, I told her I would support her in sharing what happened to her, and I would share my experience to support her voice. So that’s what I’m doing.

One evening, when I was especially upset after hearing this friend and several other friends talk about sexual harassment they were experiencing, I posted a status on Facebook that was something like “I’m hearing a lot of stories about old men in our community who are sexually harassing young women and if you want to talk about it or if you want to know which names I keep hearing so that you can keep yourself safe, send me a private message.”

Over and over, smart, pretty, young women messaged me with his name.

I’m not speaking out because I think this person is a bad person. On the contrary, I believe he can do better. Until more women speak out about the ways men treat us that make us feel unsafe, it’s not going to change. As my friend says so clearly in her blog post on the topic,

“I want so desperately for him to admit to his abuse, to take responsibility, and apologize for it. It destroys me to think he will go on to subject other women to the same abuse. I don’t want to be just another casualty in this systemic abuse of power.”

It’s important that this doesn’t keep happening. I would like to see the man who has behaved his way acknowledge what’s he has done and that it is wrong. I would like to see him do better, and to truly treat women with respect and authenticity rather than objectifying us for his own amusement and pleasure. I would like a real apology- not just for myself, but for all of the women he has treated this way and for our community, who he has committed responsibility to.

 

 

 

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CW: rape, sexual violence, gender-based violence, restorative justice, hollywood, violence against women, masculinity, emotional labour, men’s mental health, #MeToo campaign, gender

 

 

Nearly a decade ago, I read a book called “Cunt: A Declaration of Independence” by Inga Muscio and it kind of changed my life. It’s a book that’s far from perfect, but it was perfect for me to read at the time. I had been sexually assaulted and slut-shamed a few months prior, and was coping by self-harming, writing songs I’d never show anyone, and listening to a ton of Bikini Kill in my bedroom.  Although I was always told I was an emotional being, not a logical one by most people when I was growing up, I know now, looking back, that I’ve always been a very logical and analytic person. I wanted to understand what had happened to me, and I desperately wanted to be well. “Cunt” was just what I needed to begin to feel knowledgable about the dynamics behind why gender-based violence happens and empowered regarding what comes next.

So I did a lot more reading, went to university for Women’s Studies, focused my work on sexual violence prevention, and produced 6 plays about the stories of sexual violence survivors (directed 2 of them). Then I moved to a rural community where I situated myself firmly on the ground of anti-rape advocacy. This whole time, I was in and out of therapy, I was writing, I was learning to form positive relationships, and I was working hard on my own (continuous) healing process. For the better part of ten years, my life has largely revolved around gender-based violence. Why it happens, what to do about it, how to live through it. It’s complicated and layered and non-linear.

During my first week of university, in 2009, when I really started to dedicate myself to this subject, I remember introducing myself to people who asked what my major was only to have them scoff at me and tell me we don’t need to study gender and that I’d never go anywhere with that degree. During my final semester, in 2013, I remember trying to write a major research paper about the representation of non-binary gender and having a difficult time finding academic resources on the subject- to the point where I used blog posts and tweets as sources for my academic paper.

Four years later, that paper is now so outdated that you couldn’t pay me enough to let you read it. But at that time, it was pretty cutting edge and I was really proud of it. That much changed in only four years.

Over the time since I first read “Cunt”, there has been a MASSIVE shift regarding the topics of gender and, more specifically, gender-based violence. Especially recently, with the viral social media #MeToo movement and the trend in Hollywood where serial abusers are being called on their behaviour by the women they have assaulted, discussion around gender and gender-based violence is becoming mainstream. And I get it: it’s a lot to ask someone to radically reconsider who they are and the way they exist in the world, which is what happens when you ask people to critically reflect on the ways gender rolls are constructed.  But at the end of the day, I would like to believe that most people don’t want nearly every woman in their life to have experienced gender-based violence in some form, as evidenced by the massive success of the #MeToo movement. And I want to believe that anyone is capable of doing better.

I also want to take just a moment, before I continue, to be extremely clear that I am referring to women in this essay because women are disproportionately affected by gender-based violence. And even more disproportionately affected by gender-based violence is women of colour, indigenous women, immigrant women, queer women, women with disabilities, transgender women, and women living in poverty.

I’ve recently had some friends who know how obsessed I am with gender-based violence ask me to comment on the discourse rising in mainstream culture. And my over-all comment is that it’s amazing and important that light is being shed on gender-based violence in mainstream culture. With that being said, that discourse is overwhelmingly immature (which is to be expected!) and I urge people to listen to the survivors who have been speaking out about these topics and symptoms for longer than it’s been cool (even, arguably, safer) to do so.

Regarding discussion in mainstream culture on the topic of gender-based violence, there a few specific subjects I’d like to share my thoughts on. Here they are in a slightly more digestable format:

Yes, people who have been doing the work around these topics should have their voices magnified over the opinions of people who are just starting to think about this. And no, there’s nothing wrong with acknowledging you’re just starting to learn about a subject and listening to the people who have put in extensive time and energy around it.

Hopefully, by this point in the essay you already get my perspective here. But I’ll give you a metaphor to help communicate my point.

I drive a car pretty much every day. I own one, I know a little bit about how it works, I live in a world where there are lots of cars around. But I am far from a car expert. I haven’t really spent that much time thinking about how cars work, or the history of cars. I don’t know statistics about cars off the top of my head, and I haven’t spent years tinkering around under/inside a car, examining parts and trying to figure out what makes them work best (or at all). So when I take my car in the mechanic for maintenance and they tell me that I desperately need a part replaced or my car is gonna be seriously messed up, I’m not gonna go “well, I haven’t noticed anything wrong with my car, my car gets me to and from work every day and it’s fine”. If I have time, I might educate myself on the part of the car that’s apparently damaged, I might call a friend who has spent a lot of time and work learning about cars, I might consult a few other mechanics, but I’m not going to consider my limited knowledge on the subject equal to theirs. I’m going to listen and try to learn more.

To be clear, it’s not a matter of anyone being “better” than anyone else or attaching value judgements to knowledge that people do or don’t have, or recreating power dynamics. It’s about knowing when to share your perspective and when to sit down and listen.

I also want to be clear that the time and space I’m referring to need not include formal education, however, participating in formal education does take a lot of time and space. It’s not a reason either way to invalidate the type(s) of work a person has put in.
Don’t derail conversations about gender-based violence by centring the conversation around men as victims.

There are many cases where men experience rape and sexual assault. All sexual assault survivors deserve support and space and communities, and I do not, for a moment mean to diminish the importance of men’s mental health. I’d like to be clear that it’s not men who are the problem here. There isn’t even a one-stop answer regarding what the problem is. But a major part of it is the way that masculinity has been defined and then systemically privileged . A key component of the definition of masculinity is being more logical than emotional and being emotionally strong. This doesn’t leave much space for men to cope with their every-day feelings, mental illness, or trauma. As a result, there are many men who struggle because of this definition, as well as women and femmes who are, by negative definition, left to bare the brunt of the emotional labour.

Constructions of gender are not innate, they are something we can actively work to redefine- if you’re willing to do the work.

Although all gender-based violence statistics should be taken with a grain of salt, over 80% of sexual assault victims are women and something like 99% of rapes (against people of all genders) are perpetrated by men. When you derail conversations about gender-based violence to redirect the conversation to focus on men who are sexual assault survivors, you’re taking up a disproportionate amount of space.

Instead, I would encourage people to actively dismantle gender roles and to make appropriate space for men who have been victims of sexual assault to talk about it and heal. This isn’t going to happen through derailing women’s social media posts about gender-based violence.

Don’t derail conversations about gender-based violence to make disproportionate and inappropriate space for conversations about false allegations.

If you think being a man is scary right now because you’re worried about false allegations, maybe you should consider how scary it has been to be a woman or femme throughout history. Only between 2-4% of rape allegations are falsely made.
A study a few years ago found that 1/3 college men would rape a woman if they knew they could get away with it. According to a far larger study done by the UN, most men actually don’t believe that they are raping women.

What this shows is that a lot of the “false allegations” are made when a man didn’t understand that what he was doing wasn’t consensual. Again, this is related to the construction of masculinity- and not just that- the construction of femininity as the negative definer of masculinity. This is why learning about consent is REALLY important.

Exclusion isn’t restorative justice and it will usually result in more problems than it prevents.

There are cases where people are part of a community and they harm people in that community over and over again. There’s a clear pattern, and then when confronted with being called in (not out), they repeatedly get defensive, aggressive, and refuse to listen and (un)learn. In that case, I think it’s perfectly acceptable to ask someone not to be part of a space/venue/show/event/whatever. There are also situations where a survivor may not feel safe being around someone who has harmed them, and that’s valid and well worth working to navigate, based on the specifics of the situation.

There’s this thing that often happens now in popular culture (and in communities) where someone is exposed for something problematic they’ve done and then everyone either jumps on the “I’m so edgy” bandwagon (spoiler: condoning people hurting other people isn’t edgy, it’s just shitty) or boycotts their existence. The person accused of perpetrating harm immediately gets banned from community spaces, blacklisted from work opportunities, and abandoned by a good portion of their support system.

I get why this happens. It’s a reaction that many feel is justified, and I believe in providing space for that. But I also don’t think it’s particularly useful in a larger context. When we position people as inherently a perpetrator or inherently a victim, we do justice to no one. Reducing anyone to such a simple definition simply doesn’t allow for the root issues to be addressed or for working towards a place of healing, learning, or reconciliation.

That being said, restorative justice and accountability are complicated and fuelled concepts that don’t have any definite definition. I recommending reading up about it and talking about it a lot. It’s really complex.

There’s so much more to say, but I’m so tired. I’m excited for these conversations to be on the table in mainstream Canadian culture, not just in women’s studies classrooms or rape crisis centres or teenage girls’ bedroom floors. But there is a lot of work to do, and there will be growing pains. Please. Do the work, listen to survivors, and do better. Because we are all capable of doing better.