Take a stand against sexual violence

During the past few weeks, the hashtag #MeToo has been circulating as a symbol of solidarity with survivors of sexual violence.

Danielle Jacklin, a Calgarian who shared her story of experiencing sexual violence, said she empathises with others who have as well.

“As someone who has said ‘me too,’ I know the feeling of shame, of self-doubt, of fear about stepping forward and speaking up,” Jacklin said.

“Victims can isolate themselves, and feel alone, but this movement is a fantastic way to combat that isolation.”

Emily Ophus, with the Calgary Sexual Health Clinic, defined sexual harassment by saying, “There is a key difference between flirting and sexual harassment. The key feature of sexual harassment is that it is unwanted.”

She also explained that sexual assault is any unwanted touching in a sexual way such as forced mouth-to-mouth contact, forced touching of sexual body parts and forced penetration.

“It is always the person who is experiencing the sexual harassment or assault who gets to define it as such,” Ophus said.

Shania Podperyhora, another Calgarian who shared a #MeToo post, explained the purpose of the posts.

“They are about bringing awareness to sexual harassment and sexual assault by having those who have been either sexually assaulted or harassed make a status saying ‘me too’,” Podperyhora said.

“I feel it’s important because there is still a large portion of the population that has to deal with the repercussions of our society normalizing harassment as signs of affection or love,” she said.

Podperyhora said she’s seen posts with added explanations, talking about how women are taking part. She said she believes for the movement to be effective, it shouldn’t be gender oriented, because sexual harassment and assault happen to all kinds of people.

“I definitely think some people see things like cat-calling as a positive thing. I’ve had people say things like, ‘oh they just like you,’ or, ‘they’re just complimenting you.’

“Then there’s the more extreme side of people being coerced into sex because they’ve been told that’s how you prove to someone you love them or that you’re serious about your relationship.”

Pat Weir-Reynolds is a Lethbridge woman who is a survivor of sexual violence.

She said, “I have been assaulted on several occasions and had to reach out to others for help to cope. By having this campaign, I feel it may give others a chance if they do not have someone to help them.”

While many people who took part in the #MeToo movement are women, there are plenty of people who say sexual violence is a universal problem.

“Sexual assault or harassment is a problem across all genders,” said Calgarian, Beth Hrdlicka.

“Men tend to get looked down on or are made fun of for saying they’ve been sexually harassed,” Hrdlicka said.

“I see sexual assault and harassment as a feminist issue because not only do a lot of women experience it, but men are seen as ‘lesser men’ if they get assaulted or harassed because they should ‘enjoy it.’”

She continued, “it’s like a social norm that women get sexually assaulted or harassed, which is a problem and if a man admits to being a victim of assault or harassment they aren’t seen as valid.”

Sexual violence, (an umbrella term that includes both sexual harassment and assault) is widely prevalent in our society.

According to Ophus, 25 per cent of all North American women, 50 per cent of transgender individuals, 83 per cent of women with disabilities and 57 per cent of Indigenous women have experienced sexual violence.

Ophus said that by looking at data, it can be observed that some groups experience more violence than others.

“It is not that these groups by default are more at risk than others to experience sexual assault, but that we are embedded in a society where multiple interlocking forms of oppression exist that dehumanize certain groups more than others within the eyes of the perpetrator,” Ophus said.

She also said that there are things we can do to help reduce this huge problem in our culture.

“An important thing that people can do to prevent sexual harassment and violence is to start noticing it, because it is so prevalent. A huge role that community members can take is, as bystanders, noticing behaviour and doing something about it, if they can.”

Ophus continued, “Whether you could change the outcome of the situation, by stepping in, you are helping change the way people think about their roles in creating safer spaces and building a safer community.”

Ophus also mentioned that in these situations, safety should always be at the front of your mind when you try to take a stand against sexual violence.

“Whenever possible, it is important to check in with the person being targeted to make sure they are comfortable with an intervention, and that a bystander acting, will not put the targeted person in more danger.”

The Calgary Sexual Health Centre offers free three-hour Community Bystander Interventions workshops to help educate the public on sexual violence as a problem, and what we can do about it. The next one is on Sunday, Nov. 26 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

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