Changing Norms

In one of the many Rhianna songs to get major radio play, the pop star sings: “[you’re] just gonna stand there and watch me burn, but that’s all right because I like the way it hurts, [you’re] just gonna stand there and hear me cry, but that’s all right….”

The song reminds us of how sexualized assault is easily normalized. Sexual assault or violence is not glamorous, despite the impressions given by Rhianna’s song. Violence is a reality in Yukon communities, and must be taken seriously.

May was sexualized assault prevention month. It’s important to recognize a time of the year when everyone can take steps to eradicate sexualized assault, and speak out against it, in all its forms. But its also important to the remember the struggle doesn’t end when June begins.

Gender-based crimes have made top stories in recent news. More than 230 schoolgirls — no older than 18 and as young as 12 — were rounded-up by gunpoint and kidnapped by militants in northern Nigeria. As is often the case, women and girls are being used as pawns in war and destruction.

In this case, the violence unfolded as unwarranted, extremist ideological opposition to western education systems, particularly when it comes to educating women. According to reports, the alternative plan for these kidnapped children is to sell them into slavery and the sex trade as their families mourn.

It is a scary eye-opener that an extreme case of violence in Africa is required to turn our collective attention to the issue of gender-based violence at home.

Statistics Canada says that one in three women in this country will experience some form of violence in her life—often sexual assault. There are many forms of gender-based violence: sexual assault, domestic violence, harassment, stalking — any unwanted sexual contact. Spousal violence has consistently been one of the most common forms of violence against women in Canada.

Ninety-nine percent of the time a women is assaulted, a male is committing the violence. However, only around 22 percent of abused women report the person who is committing violence against her; the rates of sexual assault and violence are therefore much higher than statistics show.

The same data suggests that half of all women in Canada have experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence since the age of sixteen; 67 percent of all Canadians say they personally know at least one woman who has been sexually or physically assaulted. One woman is killed by her intimate partner every six days, on average. 

On any given day in Canada, more than 3,300 women, along with their children, sleep in emergency shelters in order to escape domestic violence. Each night, about 200 women are turned away because the shelters are full.

Aboriginal women are at greater risk. Those 15 and older are at least three-and-a-half times more likely to experience violence than non-aboriginal women. Rates of spousal assault are three times higher among aboriginal women. Statistics Canada also reported that aboriginal women are more likely to experience more severe and potentially life-threatening forms of family violence than non-aboriginal women.

The violence needs to stop. There is important work being done to acknowledge and mitigate the violence, but it’s not enough. Boys and men need to help change the statistics.

We need to empathize with our neighbours’ lived experience, and we need to learn about and respect the inter-generational trauma that is a reality for most aboriginal people in this country.

Engrained culture teaches us that certain groups of people don’t matter, or somehow matter less. Cultural norms are tricky because they are too big to see; yet we need to acknowledge how they are affecting society, and we need to change them.

Entitled senses of racial or class privilege creates big problems — families and communities fall apart because of belief systems that should be obsolete. If we talk about how our communities, and maybe even our neighbours, are affected, we can slowly change what is normal.

We can also change norms by changing how we have sex. It’s almost a cliché now, but it’s still an important truth, that sex should only happen if both partners say ‘yes’ to it.

We can find strength in each other, and in each other’s stories. They can heal us.

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