1 in 4 people in North America will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. More often than not, our society responds with victim blaming or indifference. Many of us think we don’t know anyone who has been sexually assaulted.
We do. You do. I am 1 in 4. As one of the unlucky ones, my eyes and ears are peeled to the news when allegations of sexual violence are brought to the public consciousness. And as a society, we all collectively, sub/consciously ingest and perpetuate the message that sexual violence doesn’t matter and rape happens when people dress, act, talk, and walk in ways and places that will induce rape. Whether we agree or not, most of us are silent and some of us actively silence others.
I have been waiting, hoping, looking for signs of a society that takes sexual assault seriously and critically examines the social structures that not only make the sexual assault of 25% of the population possible, but make only 6 out of 100 of those people feel comfortable reporting.
Instead, almost always, I am reassured that my own difficult decision not to report was the right decision. For me, in this society, that was the right decision. But as a society, it is imperative that we start to talk about how pervasive sexual assault is and why, despite this, most of us can’t put a face to these statistics.
Maybe we’re at a turning point. Today, Reva Seth wrote publicly about her sexual assault by Jian Ghomeshi. More importantly, she asked us all to have this conversation. She wrote, “I feel that while it is exceedingly difficult to publicly put your name forward and open yourself up to all of the accompanying criticism, if you are in the position that you can do so without fearing the ramifications in terms of your family, marriage, personal or professional trauma, then you should do it. Having this conversation can help build a public understanding of the complexity around these issues.”
I think that she is right, and I think that silence — all of our silence — needs to end. Critically, this needs to start with a society that is aware, supportive, and passionately working toward ending this. It’s imperative that we build and live in a society where reporting any kind of violence is not terrifying and damning for the victim. This absence of victims that we have created through silencing helps perpetrators to perpetrate, and it helps us to justify our societal complacency.
We can end this. Our societal reactions to allegations of sexual assault, and even — perhaps especially — our indifference, sends a strong message to all members of our society. We all have the power to reshape that message. Start talking. You know people who have been assaulted. Create the kind of society where we can talk openly about this and any kind of violence is simply not tolerated.
Seven years ago to the day, it happened to me. I didn’t report because I couldn’t find my voice, and my society taught me that even with the strongest voice, I was unlikely to be heard.
Hear me now.