When I meet someone new, I am used to being asked what I do for a living. The answer to that question inevitably leads to deeper discussions about the issue of violence against women.
A few months ago I had conversation that sat with me for a long time. It started as a discussion about sexualized violence in the news and then focused more on the Yukon. However, this time it was different. This time it was a parent who was sharing with me their fear for their daughter. They were trying to figure out how to keep her protected from experiencing sexualized assault.
Safe partying and red flags for her to be aware of came up as options. Then the parent brought up their frustration that regardless of these measures put into place, the reality is who women who experience sexualized assault often know their assailant.
They seemed defeated for a moment and then spoke of their hope to raise their son to protect her. The social worker in me was scrambling to figure out a way to reframe what they was talking about. Clearly they felt disturbed by the idea that their daughter was potentially at risk and that as a parent they could feel powerless to protect her. So I started “flipping the script,” so to speak.
Rather than focussing on how their son could function as a protector, we talked about the potential to teach their son about respect for women, and everyone else along the gender spectrum, for that matter – especially if they develop a sexual relationship. In retrospect, I wish I had also addressed talking about consent. How does one know if the person they are having sexualized contact with is actually experiencing pleasure and still consenting?
From here I switched to the concern for their daughter. Why stop at talking to her about safety? Let her know that if she experiences sexualized assault that it’s not her fault. That you will believe her. That you will support her in whatever she decides to do in order to heal from experiencing this violation of her trust and her body.
There is no question that this also applies to their son if they experience sexualized violence.
We know that the majority of people who have experienced sexualized assault tend to disclose first to someone they trust. A positive social response of believing and supporting the individual in that moment of disclosure is critical to what they decide to do next.
For example whether the decide to pursue charges or deal with the experience by their own standards of seeking assistance, such as seeking medical attention or counselling.
May is Sexualized Assault Prevention month in Canada. Across the country educational campaigns are being organized in the efforts to end sexualized assault in Canada. In the Yukon – and particularly in Whitehorse – the theme this year is Flip the Script. Organizations involved in event planning this year include: the Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre, Les EssentiElles, Whitehorse Aboriginal Women’s Circle, Yukon Status of Women Council, Boys and Girls Club of Yukon, BYTE: Bringing Youth Towards Equality, Yukon Women’s Transition Home Society, and White Ribbon Yukon.
Let’s challenge our internalized ideas of sexualized assault and make sure that we are providing positive social responses.
For information about upcoming events in Whitehorse please refer to the website www.EndViolenceYukon.ca.