Eight women will be sexually assaulted in Ottawa today.
It could be another librarian, attacked by a boy who pounces when the branch is nearly empty this evening.
Perhaps he’ll jump on her desk, tying her up and threatening to crush her face if she fights back.
She’ll be forced to crawl to the children’s section where he’ll violate her.
Once isn’t quite enough.
Twice, he’ll terrorize her before taking off.
It could be another woman taking the bus home.
A man will find a way to fondle her through her clothing or slip his hand underneath. He could be her father’s age. Maybe he goes to school with her. It’s possible she sees him every day on the same route.
He might get off at the same stop and follow her, or grope her while others watch and do nothing.
Or she could be another underage teen sitting in a food court at the mall while a man in his twenties fondles her breasts and genitals.
It could be another woman with her clothes already off, getting a therapeutic massage from a licensed practitioner who chooses to cross the proverbial line.
She could be your daughter. Wife. Girlfriend. Mother.
Doctor. Sister. Boss. Best friend. Cousin. Colleague. Neigbour.
Eight women will be sexually assaulted in Ottawa today.
But just one will turn to police.
What you’re reading isn’t new.
Yet over and over, women continue to be targeted.
“When we talk about sexual assault, usually, we think about the stranger in the bushes who’s jumping out and attacks a woman,” said Bailey Reid with the Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women.
“Most often, women are assaulted by someone they know.”
More women turn to community support groups instead of going to cops, due to the prevalence of “rape culture” and blaming the victim, said Reid.
“It becomes kind of this he-said, she-said, and all of a sudden, the onus is on her to prove that she was assaulted,” said Reid.
“When survivors do disclose, we have to be supportive in not blaming.”
Perpetuating “rape culture” isn’t part of Jeff Perera’s strategy.
“I think it’s important for men to recognize the role that we have in the issue and our responsibility around violence against women and girls,” said Perera.
The Toronto-based educator is a manager with the White Ribbon Campaign.
Represented in more than 60 countries, it’s billed as the world’s largest effort to engage men in ending violence against women.
Perera strives to generate discussion about masculinity and the role men play as perpetrators – and sometimes victims – of crime.
Perera was recently in Ottawa speaking to high school students about preventing dating violence.
“A lot of guys will say, ‘well I’m not a violent guy, so why are you talking to me?’ Like, if you’re not part of the problem, what are you doing to be part of a solution to the issue?,” asked Perera.
The way men are conditioned to ‘man up’ and present a stoic demeanour further exacerbates the problem, he said.
“It’s really recognizing that this conversation is about us. It’s not just about what men are doing to women, it’s about what men are doing to each other, and what we’re kind of subject to as men. Women are oppressed in society, but men feel pressures and have impacts from this stuff as well,” Perera said.
Perera penned a post on his website, higherunlearning.com, titled Why Dudes Need to Be Pissed Off About Sexual Assault and Harassment (and Saveface), noting conversations surrounding sexual violence shouldn’t be left solely to women.
“‘The here’s what you need to do… don’t wear headphones, and be alert late at night.’ We need to talk to men and boys, too, about here’s what we can do to support and help out,” he said.
Speaking of which, bystander intervention is an integral part of the solution, said Perera.
“It speaks to the silence we have around this issue. There’s other things that we won’t stand for in society. When it comes to these issues, it’s really alarming when you think about just how hard it is to get people to engage, even when it’s right in front of their faces, never mind just like, the general issue,” he said.
Whether they’re committed in front of witnesses or in the privacy of a home, sex assaults are generally underreported, said Ottawa police spokesman Marc Soucy, who once worked in the sexual assault/child abuse unit.
Discussing intimate details of an assault with strangers often deters women from coming forward, said Soucy.
“Sometimes victims will feel that police won’t believe them, or others won’t believe them,” Soucy said.
“We’ve seen in cases where a suspect may be well known to society or very popular in society, and they’ll say ‘oh well, he or she is just going for the attention or for money or whatever,’”
Repetition presents another difficulty.
For example, a person who is sexually assaulted may call 911.
“So she has to tell the dispatcher, she has to tell the first officer on scene, then paramedics that show up, the doctors when she goes to the hospital, the nurses that do the sexual assault kit, the detectives that interview her on camera and all that. Then you have the lawyers: defence and Crown, the judges, the jury, and all that,” said Soucy.
“So you’re laying out your personal life in front of the whole world, so that causes some reluctance there.”
Then there are cultural hurdles.
“They come from areas where police may be corrupt or not trustful,” Soucy said.
“And the biggest challenge in all of this…is to overcome those obstacles and making the victim feel like she’s doing the right thing, ’cause she is doing the right thing.”
Anyone who has been sexually assaulted needs to remember it’s not their fault, said Tara Leach, a nurse practitioner in the Ottawa hospital’s sexual assault and partner abuse care program.
“They didn’t choose to be assaulted,” said Leach.
In that sense, “it’s important not to keep it a secret.”
Survivors of sexual assault commonly fall into the 17 to 45 age range. Younger children and elderly patients are also treated.
“I really think that that’s a big misnomer with regards to sexual assault is that they sort of think it only happens to the young, when that actually isn’t true,” said Leach.
“Like, it really is a diverse offence.”
From April 2012 to February 2013, 152 patients were seen at TOH for acute care within 72 hours of being assaulted, said Leach.
Acute patients are treated within one week of the assault, while other clients receive follow-up care lasting six months.
Anyone can walk into the hospital and be treated in the unit, she said, adding police or community groups are involved only if the client consents.
“It’s not anonymous, but it is confidential,” Leach said.
Evidence can be stored for up to three months, should a client decide to press charges.
FACTS ABOUT SEXUAL ASSAULT:
Assault can occur anytime, anyplace, and can happen to any female; child, grandmother, student, working woman, mother, wife, rich or poor.
Strangers, neighbours, spouses, partners, co-workers, classmates, family members and even friends can assault you. In fact, a victim will know her attacker in the majority of cases.
In Ontario, one in four women has been a victim of rape or attempted rape.
The majority of assaults occur in an environment familiar to the victim — home, office, school, dormitory, etc.
No one asks to be a victim of sexual violence. Rape is an aggressive act of violence where sex is used as a weapon in an attempt to hurt and humiliate.
Any type of unwanted sexual contact — from touching to intercourse — is sexual assault, and it’s against the law.
Source: Ottawa Police
6 THINGS MEN CAN DO TO TAKE A STAND AGAINST SEXUAL ASSAULT & HARASSMENT
BELIEVE: This issue is real. Believe survivors’ experiences. Your support will make a difference. Tell them ‘it’s not your fault.’No one asks for or deserves to be sexually assaulted or harassed.
TRUST YOUR GUT: Don’t walk on by if you witness harassment or an assault on the street or anywhere: assess the risk, then intervene and confront or defuse the situation. If you need to, ask for help. Call 911.
OFFER SUPPORT: Ask if you can help people who have experienced violence and connect them to support services. Help the organizations that support survivors of violence. Contact Assaulted Women’s Helpline for resources and support at 1.866.863.0511 or visit http://www.awhl.org.
IT STARTS WITH YOU: Lead by example. Question your own attitudes and behaviours and how they may disrespect or harm women. Sexist language and street harassment all contribute to a culture of violence.
IT STAYS WITH HIM: Be a role model. Talk to your family, friends and co-workers about the roles they can play in ending violence against women. Challenge men and young men in your life to make a difference.
LEARN MORE. GET INVOLVED: We have all the resources you need to get involved and make a difference.