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-by Anne Finlay-Stewart

"Have you ever been sexually assaulted?"
Not a second of hesitation...."Yes".
"Me too."

My sister-in-law. 55 years old, widowed, retired from twenty-five years teaching elementary school.
Me. 62 years old, married for more than half of that to her brother.

It's Thanksgiving, and we are having a conversation neither of us have ever thought we would have.

"Do you think that every woman we know has been sexually assaulted?" We hold each other's eyes. A few heartbeats go by. "Likely. Yes".

My 27 year old son was in the room. He grew up here in Owen Sound and went to university in Toronto. He has female relatives, friends and colleagues there and in several countries. I asked if he thought they would answer the same way. A short pause, then a nod. "Probably - Yes.".

I have known my sister-in-law since she was twelve. Only later that night, in bed in the dark, did I start to wonder when it might have happened to her. Did I know her then?

For me, the first time was before I started school. Kindergarten. Don't ask me what I was wearing at the time.

Then again when I was a teenager. My doctor. I didn't tell anyone, but someone must have - he was later suspended from practising medicine for sexual misconduct.

Then university. "Friends". In one instence I did fight back – terrified of being accidentally dropped over the back of the bleachers as I was grabbed and passed over people's laps and heads through the spectators at a football game.

If it really is every woman, or every other woman, or every tenth woman – we know them. They are our neighbours, nieces, grandmothers and the young women our sons adore. How have we as women let this happen to succeeding generations?

And if it really is every woman, or every other woman, or every tenth woman, we must know the men too. It cannot be just a few very busy bad apples. What should the honourable men in our lives be doing differently?

I am grateful  that consent is part of the new sex ed curriculum, and that local theatre company Sheatre has been raising these issues for ten years with students with their interactive production Far from the Heart. I am thankful for the safe spaces and programs of the Women's Centre , Women's House serving Bruce and Grey, and the Men's Program.

But this Thanksgiving I was also oddly grateful for a hot mic on a celebrity's bus that opened a conversation and a train of thought that, painful as it may be, must not stop.

 

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