May is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and the Regional Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Treatment Program at St. Joseph’s wants you to start a conversation about consent and the importance of ending the stigma attached to sexual assault.
Confronting the reality of sexual assault can feel frightening, unnerving and at times overwhelming, says Leah Marshall, who is completing her master of social work practicum at St. Joseph’s. “The culture that surrounds sexual assault and harassment is not only widespread but also deeply ingrained in our Canadian society. We live in a culture where dominant ideas, social practices, media images and societal institutions implicitly or explicitly condone sexual assault by normalizing or trivializing sexual violence and by blaming survivors for their own abuse.”
The normalcy of this culture can make it difficult to recognize the messages that condone sexual violence that permeate our everyday lives, adds Leah. “It can be difficult to understand what can be done to change the status quo or to support those we know that have experienced a sexual assault.”
Continuing with a culture that normalizes or trivializes sexual assault is counterproductive to eliminating sexual assault and harassment. The Ontario Government says it’s time to challenge and change the myths and misogynistic attitudes – myths that make it difficult for individuals to report the crime of sexual assault or to seek support for fear of the stigma and persecution they themselves may face. Earlier this year it released It’s Never Okay: An Action Plan To Stop Sexual Violence and Harassment, which aims to challenge and change deep-rooted attitudes and behaviours that contribute to sexual violence and harassment. The action plan outlines a series of commitments and a roadmap for ongoing work to end sexual violence and harassment in Ontario. Most importantly, says Leah, it’s a call to action for all Ontarians to achieve important social change and progress together.
What can you do?
Start by having a conversation about consent and the importance of a paradigm shift from the current culture to one where consent is understood, recognized, respected and ultimately becomes the new status quo,” says Leah.
The action plan supports this public education of understanding healthy relationships, consent and that all people deserve to be treated with dignity, equality and respect. A culture of consent is: voluntary, sober, enthusiastic, non-coerced, continual, active and honest.
“Have conversations with your children, family and friends and educate yourself about what constitutes consent,” says Leah. “The conversation matters because all one has to do is open a newspaper, turn on the television or listen to the radio to hear stories of individuals who have experienced a sexual assault in our community. To hear stories where consent was not given or not respected. With this knowledge and understanding together we can create a new culture, a culture of consent.”
Did you know…
The Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women identified that the physical abuse of girls and women costs the Canadian economy $4.2 billion dollars each year – the cost of social services, criminal justice, lost employment days, and health care.
Read more about the sexual violence in Ontario: