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photo of people near wooden table 3184431 1By Jon Farmer
May is here; at last. The struggle and uncertainty of the last few months have drawn attention to the underlying challenges in our systems and society. While the immediate crisis has captivated our attention, other long standing challenges have continued. One of those challenges is the epidemic of sexual violence. May is Sexual Assault Prevention Month in Ontario. It is an opportunity to raise awareness about the issue of sexual assault, its roots, and the needs of survivors. Violence Prevention Grey Bruce will release an article each Monday in May to encourage these conversations.

Sexual assault is any unwanted contact or action for sexual purposes. It is part of the continuum of sexual violence that begins with beliefs about entitlement to another’s body and escalates through aggression, harassment, confinement, sexual exploitation, and even murder.

While sexual violence and sexual assault can happen to anyone, we know that certain people are at greater risk. In Canada 1/3 women will experience sexual violence in her lifetime. The same is true for 1/6 men. People between the ages of 15-24 experience the highest rates of sexual assault. Additionally, people who are marginalized by race, gender, sexuality, physical or mental ability, income, and language are also more likely to experience sexual violence. These trends are well reported in national statistics. The same reports indicate that in more than 50% of sexual assaults, the perpetrator was known to the victim. Sexual assault is not caused by monsters lurking in bushes or dark alleys, it is perpetrated by people we know in our own communities.

Despite so many people experiencing sexual violence and sexual assault, we rarely talk about the issue openly. Instead, silence wraps the topic in shame and stigma. That silence also tells survivors that they shouldn’t talk about their experiences or reach out for help and lets perpetrators know that they won’t be challenged for their actions.

May and Sexual Assault Prevention Month are an opportunity for us to flip this messaging. Supporting survivors requires that we believe and empower them. We can clarify that sexual assault is not about sex at all. It is about the perpetrator(s) seeking power over another person.

This month we can all learn more about sexual violence. We can dispel the myths that surround it and let survivors know that support is available. Locally there is medical care available for survivors of recent sexual assaults as well as counselling for survivors of historic sexual violence. Women’s House Serving Bruce Grey, the Men’s Program, and the Sexual Assault and Partner Abuse Care Centre at the Owen Sound hospital are just a few of the organizations supporting survivors in Grey Bruce. No one needs to suffer in silence; there is support available in our home communities. Visit www.vpgb.ca and the Violence Prevention Grey Bruce social media channels for weekly articles throughout May. This is our opportunity to amplify a conversation that deserves to be heard loud and clear.

Jon Farmer is the Coordinator of Violence Prevention Grey Bruce

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