The journey towards ending sexual violence requires going against norms that have been ingrained in us unconsciously and, in some cases, consciously. It is important to remember that we cannot apply technical or routine solutions to a problem that has proven to be outside our current strategy. The eradication of sexual harassment and assault is an adaptive challenge that needs to be tackled with an adaptive solution. Sexual harassment has been woven into our social and cultural fabric by its normalization and even its legalization, resulting in generations of individuals who have had no knowledge of consent as a right or a responsibility. Simply put, we need to move beyond the premise of educating society on sexual and reproductive health and rights, to the point where society understands the need for active allies.
Women on average have had moments when survival instincts kick in, due to the feeling of being threatened by men. These could include being in confined spaces with men or walking down a street at night and having a male figure coming up behind. Women are often victims of sexual abuse hence the the constant prediction of threat when faced with the often perpetrators.
In Canada alone,
- 51% of Canadian women have suffered at least one act of physical or sexual violence by the age of 16 (Yes, that is 1 in 2 women being harassed or assaulted by 16 years old).
- Almost 70% of Domestic Violence goes unreported in Edmonton
- In 99% of sexual assaults, the accused perpetrator is male
- Women and girls are five times more likely to experience sexual violence than males
In order to become better allies, men need to understand their social history that makes them threatening and sometimes terrifying. Many women live in fear of being assaulted and this is a societal crisis. It is important to deviate from constantly teaching women to have sharp objects in their purses and pepper sprays, to teaching men ways in which they can alleviate these fears by becoming better allies. Better still we need justice for survivors and a stronger deterrent for sexual crimes. Being able to recognize these behaviours for what they are, and actively speaking out against them is also a crucial path to the eradication of sexual harassment and assault.
To give concrete examples, men can take responsibility of the role they play in sexual violence simply by decrying sexism and rape culture. This is where the bystander approach comes in. The goal here would be to encourage men to move from being passive bystanders to active ones, who take ownership of being part of the collective problem and seek solutions or ways to alleviate the issue. This also includes not waiting for a woman to educate you on an issue before you acknowledge that it occurs.
So, when you are in that gathering with your Alpha male friends who are fueled by beers and sports, it is important to understand that there is never an acceptable space/context to demean and sexualize women, even if it’s all bants. The whole basis of being an ally is to use a privileged position to amplify the voices of the oppressed (in this case women), even in their absence.
We all need to understand the basic concept of consent. We all need to be better allies. It is not enough to identify certain behaviours as wrong and in most cases a crime, we need to actively speak out against it. This is how we become better allies and active bystanders. We should not be waiting until a certain issue happens to us or a family member before we decide to take action. There is a plethora of information readily available (especially if you are privileged enough to have access to online resources or formal education). Many universities have sexual assault centres that hold regular workshops. Cities on average are also invested in the education of the general public on consent.
We should not place the responsibility of education on women (who are in most cases the victims).