2010 November: It's not just about her

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Time to Educate our Young Males

By Valerie Sadler

Chair of WAWG

Director of Inasmuch House -Mission Services of Hamilton

The training starts early for women. Be careful walking in parking lots at night. Dark stairwells are a no-no. Be mindful when pumping gas or visiting an ATM after dark. Always walk with a buddy on campus after dusk.

We‘ve been shown how to hold our keys to form a pseudo-weapon in the event of a stranger attack. We've been taught to scream loudly and we know just where to kick. Our parents warned us that "you don't know who's out there." Great advice that can't be ignored, but it may create a false sense of security because women are so busy focusing on the places they have been warned about that they fail to protect themselves from people they know.

Women face the greatest risk of sexual assault from men they know, not strangers. Statistics Canada reports that seven out of ten women who are sexually assaulted are assaulted by men known to them. Most sexual assaults occur at home and half take place in broad daylight.

Sexual assault is any unwanted act of a sexual nature imposed by one person upon another. Rape is forced, unwanted sexual intercourse, and it is always about power, not sex. Date rape has the lowest reporting rate of all forms of sexual assault with only an estimated 1% of dates rapes reported to police. The concern is that women themselves may not recognize that they have been raped because they don't see date rape as a crime. Is forced intercourse okay if he spent a lot on dinner or drinks, if the couple has been dating a long time, or if he was drunk? No way. It is never all right. The message needs to be clear. Rape is a crime regardless of the relationship to the woman.

Young women need to be educated about sexual assault. In the past, programs took a "just say no" approach, which was problematic for a couple reasons. First, it ignored the power relations that are in place, and assumed a simple solution with no consequences if the woman did say no. Second, it hands the responsibility to the woman rather than focussing on the man changing his behaviour.

Although awareness of sexual assault is being raised in our community, work still needs to be done. Parents need to educate themselves before they can talk to their kids. While it's important to talk to your daughters, it's even more important to talk to your sons. We can educate women, but the reality is that change has to come from our males.

Our society sees sexual assault as a women's issue, but isn't it a men's issue? While it's true that both women and men are sexually assaulted, most sexual assault is committed by men against women. The systems of gender inequality and male privilege run deep and people often resist change. But it's change that needs to happen; even on a small scale.

So don't forward the email joking about sexual assault. Re-examine your views about machoism. Teach your sons about healthy, respectful relationships. Remind your daughters about stranger danger, but don't leave out dating danger.

Small changes still mean change and the ripple effect can often be powerful.