May is sexualized assault prevention month when women’s organizations raise awareness and engage public discussions around sexualized assault and rape. One of the reasons we continue to do this is because of the extent of sexualized assaults in our communities.
Yukon has three times the rates of sexualized assault than the national average which estimates that one in four women in Canada will be a victim of sexualized assault in her lifetime. Male victims generally make up around 10 per cent of sexualized assault cases. However, regardless of the sex of the victim, in roughly 98 per cent of cases of sexualized violence the offender is male.
To be clear, this does not mean that all men are rapists – in fact the majority of men do not rape – but it does mean that almost all rapists are men.
Women’s groups have often stated that “men can stop rape,” and we believe that to be true not only because the majority of offenders are men, but also because men who commit to non-violence can change cultural norms that condone violence against women.
It is important for everyone to understand that rape is not a joke. Attitudes and behaviours that tolerate and excuse sexualized violence only serve to hide the reality of rape and fortify the oppressive systems that allow for the violent treatment and marginalization of women in our society.
A recent parliamentary report states that “victims may be seen as less credible in situations that do not reflect the stereotypical image of sexual assault as a violent act perpetrated by a stranger on a “virtuous” woman who vigorously resisted.”
This stereotype is rooted in racist, patriarchal systems that view marginalized women such as aboriginal women, women of colour, women with disabilities, women living in poverty and women with addictions as being less worthy of justice. Thus, sexualized assault is treated as a less serious crime because the victims – mostly women – are considered to be second-class citizens whose lives have less value. This has led to the onus of prevention continuously falling to women.
Undoubtedly there are things that women can and do do to protect themselves, but suggesting that a woman will get raped if she wears a short skirt or has too much to drink is slut-shaming; it is an excuse to restrict and control women’s bodies by dictating what women should wear and how to act. This line of thinking ignores the fact that no one ever asks to be raped regardless of their lifestyle and personal choices.
Sexualized assault is a deliberate act of violence perpetrated by one person on another. It is a crime for which the only one responsible is the person committing the act. Women resist violence in their lives every day, yet they continue to thrive and to embrace life. So instead of victim-blaming, let us support women and recognize and honour their resilience.
Sexualized assault prevention isn’t just about stopping rape; it is about building safe and healthy communities. It is about creating a culture where people can engage in positive, consensual relationships.
It is about women’s right to justice and a life free of violence.
Natasha Harvey, acting executive director, Les EssentiElles
Larisse McDonald, program coordinator, Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre