This weekend I picked up an old copy of Solace, a local magazine for and by young mothers published by Literature for Life. We kept copies of their publications at a youth drop-in centre where I once worked. This volume, which I hadn’t previously read, is entitled “Sexual Violence 101.” It includes courageous first-person accounts of sexual abuse and victimization, all of them by young women from Toronto and the GTA. These women came together to speak out against sexual violence, and to support each other as survivors of abuse.
One piece included a list of tips for women to protect themselves from violence. Women readers are likely familiar with these safety warnings, which are nearly always directed at them and not at the men who hurt them. Although women are overwhelmingly the victims of sexual violence in Canada, they are also burdened with the responsibility for preventing that violence. Men need to have real conversations about the impact of endemic sexual violence against women. Given our current cultural denial, any conversations are a step forward.
Since most women are already well-versed in the safety narrative, the following are some tips for men to help bring an end to sexual violence. Guys, this isn’t just about you or the upstanding men you hang out with. It’s about a nice place called Canada where our mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, nieces, friends, wives, and lovers are targeted by men every minute of every day. In 2007, 61% of Canadians surveyed by Decima said they personally knew a woman who had been physically or sexually assaulted. Here’s what you can do about it, guys:
- Be aware of your surroundings at all times. Misogyny (hatred of/towards women) is all around us and if we remain as silent as we’ve been, it will never stop.
- Don’t let drugs or alcohol cloud your judgement. A woman’s choice to drink or use drugs does not relieve you of the responsibility of getting her consent before you get down.
- Don’t let money or status cloud your judgement. A woman who accepts your kindness, a meal, a date, a ride in your car, or your conversation does not owe you access to her body in return.
- Don’t be afraid to scream and draw attention to situations that threaten a woman’s safety. If you’re concerned about drawing unwanted attention from an aggressive man, you and that woman have something in common.
- Give a new partner the opportunity to say “yes” to intimacy instead of waiting for her to say “no.” This means you have to ask her. And don’t forget that your wife/partner/lover/friend-with-benefits has the right to consent or not as she pleases.
- Forget the conventional wisdom that you should never start something you can’t finish. If a woman says “no,” respect her choice immediately, even if the answer has been “yes” all the way along. I would say, “don’t start something you cannot stop,” but you can always stop, and sometimes you have to.
- Petition your city government to install transparent bus shelters and proper public lighting so that women do not have to travel in fear.
- Challenge people in your life who perpetuate misogynistic ideas, jokes, comments, and attitudes, even those who don’t realize they are doing it. This is not easy but it is essential. Men need to hold each other responsible, not just for heinous acts of violence, but for the attitudes that have made that violence so common.
- Support women when they speak out against sexual violence. We need to be marching with women to demand safety and security instead of just walking them home.
- Send this list to your guy friends and see if you can start a conversation about a problem that affects us all.
Love and respect to my partner Mackenzie, and to all the incredible women in my life who know we can do better.