In light of the recent media regarding sexual assault and rape in India as well as the information presented via social media in the past month, I would like to remind everyone that sexual assault is not only a problem in developing nations. In fact, sexual assault occurs in every country in the world and globally between 15-71% of women ages 15-49 have experience sexual assault (the statistic shows the range of national averages). Yet despite the remarkably high number of women affected by sexual assault there is still a stigma associated with it, a stigma that exists in every culture and society I have ever been, seen, experienced, read of or heard of.
Women around the world are raised and told to protect themselves; don’t show too much skin, don’t walk around alone at night, don’t walk around alone, cover your drink at a bar, and the list goes on and on. Women are taught these things from childhood and it seems normal; I remember being thirteen years old going to my first school dance and reminded to cover my water or pop, never put my drink down, and to be careful. It may seem insignificant because actions like that were probably normalized for you as well. Like many people I grew up in a society where I had to constantly be on guard, there exists a fear of being drugged, or raped, or beaten; women receive information every single day about how to avoid a sexual assault, how to escape a dangerous situation, and what life changes should be made to be safer. Does it still seem normal? Does it seem normal to have to change aspects of every single day of your life to be safe, to be able to life out the same rights and freedoms as the male half of the population?
Canada, like all but six countries, (United States, Sudan, Somalia, Iran, Palau, and Tonga) has signed and ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women yet, like most countries, these policies have failed to result in significant societal change at this point in time. In Canada only 0.33% of sexual assaults result in convictions and many factors play into this; only 9% of sexual assaults are reported, only 33% of reported sexual assaults result in charges, and only 11% of charges result in convictions. Why is this? Canada, like many nations, places the responsibility and blame for a woman’s protection on the woman herself; why else would we be telling women to cover up and dress more ‘appropriately’? Women are regularly questioned regarding their conduct prior to the sexual assault and encouraged to not press charges, in many cases by the authorities tasked with upholding justice and the rule of law. Sound familiar? It should be, as this is the case in almost every country in the world.
When you read about sexual assault and rape do not ignore it, do not pass the information by, instead take it to heart and know that statistically a minimum of one in seven of your female friends have experienced sexual assault, although that number is likely much higher. So do not let this become a statistic, do not wave it off as something that will affect you because likely it already affects you and at least one person who is close to you. Make it personal and do something about it: you can be an advocate for women and victims of sexual assault, you can denormalize victim blaming, and you can do something.