Talking About Sexual Violence
Blogger- Emma McGeachy
Engaging in open dialogue about sexual assault is a challenging undertaking, which requires a heightened level of sensitivity and a nuanced understanding of the types of information we are exposed to on a daily basis. The media serve as convenient and accessible sources of information, which may shape what we learn about sexual abuse, and subsequently, how we talk about it. Additionally, we are influenced by others’ attitudes and beliefs about sexual abuse. One of our colleagues at CCASA sent along this pithy piece entitled: “Who hears you, when you speak about rape?” You can follow the link and read it here:
The article has raised some dynamic discussion in relation to what one says about sexual assault, calling for caution and greater awareness of the message that you may be spreading. In essence, the author emphasizes that we must acknowledge and understand that everything that we say about sexual assault is heard by someone and matters. Seemingly “harmless” jokes about sexual assault downplay the gravity of the situation and will likely result in hurting someone – even if we are not immediately aware of it. Ask yourself the question: what am I telling people about sexual assault, and about me, when I say this?
It is impossible to tell, simply by looking at someone, whether they have been affected by sexual violence. Indeed, we may pass by numerous people daily who have been personally affected – whether they are victims or someone who knows a victim. How many victims do you know? This does not mean to suggest that we had better watch our mouths solely because a victim may be in earshot of conversations; it is bigger than that. How we communicate about sexual violence signals to others how we feel about sexual violence. If we joke around or promote the idea that victims are somehow responsible, we are telling people that we tolerate sexual violence. By doing so do we convey to people that it is acceptable to treat people this way? Are we making it more difficult for victim-survivors to come forward, to speak about their experiences, and, perhaps, to seek out the support that they need? What we say about sexual violence conveys something about how we believe others should be treated. Of course, sexual abuse/assault is a criminal offence; it is also a human rights issue, and relates to rights that are enshrined within the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This document states that individuals maintain the right to “life, liberty, and security”, as well as “…the right not to be subjected to any cruel or unusual treatment” (1982: Sections 7 and 12). Furthermore, the Charter stipulates that “[e]very individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination” (1982: Section 15(1)). Sexual violence is wrong in any instance, and no one deserves to be treated that way. We need to incite social change in how we deal with the problem of sexual violence. Talking about sexual violence is one way of transmitting our cultural knowledge of the issue. Speaking about the issue in a misinformed and joking manner may result in the promotion and maintenance of attitudes of tolerance surrounding it. We should be more aware of what exactly we are saying (or not saying), and to treat sexual violence seriously when we talk about it. This is one way we can take a stand against sexual violence, in order to foster a culture that upholds the rights of others and promotes a fuller understanding of the significance of this social problem.