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Purple Logo with dateOur calendars are full of days and months to commemorate different causes. Some mark historic events, others raise awareness for issues that impact our neighbours and communities. May is Sexual Assault Prevention Month and Violence Prevention Grey Bruce is inviting everyone in our twin counties to start a conversation about it.

Sexual violence can take many forms, from online harassment to sexual assault and rape. We know that sexual violence happens in Grey and Bruce counties because it happens everywhere. One in three Canadian women and one in six Canadian men will experience sexual violence in their lifetimes. We know that people who are young, elderly, racialized, disabled, and living in poverty experience disproportionately higher rates violence and that most sexual violence is committed by men.

If we want to live in communities where sexual violence doesn’t happen then this month begs the question: how can we prevent it?

It turns out that there are many answers to that question already. In 2017, Violence Prevention Grey Bruce conducted a survey about sexual violence in our area and released ten priority suggestions. You can read them all on our website and many have common themes including raising awareness and supporting survivors.

Education is an especially powerful tool for sexual violence prevention. We need to teach people about sexual consent from a young age because everyone needs to know how to respect another person’s boundaries. For years, public campaigns taught us that “no means no” but everyone needs to understand that only ‘yes’ means yes.

Somehow, it’s not as simple as it sounds because ‘yes’ and ‘no’ can take different forms. In any form, yes looks like clear, active, and ongoing enthusiasm. The person is joining in, showing excitement, and asking for more.

‘No’ can take multiple forms. If a person isn’t actively participating or seems unsure about what is happening, then that is a ‘no’. If someone doesn’t respond, gets quiet, stops participating, or seems uninterested, then that is a ‘no’. If someone is intoxicated, then that is a ‘no’. A ‘maybe’ is also a ‘no’. In any of these cases it’s time to stop and listen to the other person.

Teaching about consent is difficult because there are many myths about sex and sexual consent. We can correct some of the myths about sexual assault right now. Clothing can not give consent. Being on a date, in a relationship, or even married does not mean you always have consent. No one is ever ‘asking for it’ and no one ever ‘owes’ another person sex.
All of these myths come from our culture. They are the products of our collective beliefs, stories, and influences. You may have heard the term ‘rape culture’ used to describe the beliefs and attitudes that minimize the severity of sexual violence, blames victims, and protects perpetrators.

Changing culture takes time and effort. We can’t just erase rape culture. We need to replace it and the natural alternative is consent culture. A consent culture promotes clear and respectful communication about sex and relationships. It teaches people that everyone deserves to feel safe and respected and that sex is supposed to be positive for everyone involved. Consent culture teaches people to look for, express, and respect personal boundaries. Everyone has a role to play in starting these conversations whether you’re teaching children how to socialize, exploring a new romantic relationship, or just spending time with friends and family. Starting a conversation could be as easy as wearing purple in solidarity on May 3rd and telling someone that May is Sexual Assault Prevention Month. We’re supposed to talk about it. That’s why it’s on the calendar.

By Jon Farmer
on behalf of Violence Prevention Grey Bruce

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