Sexual assault awareness is the first step to change

While it is difficult to measure how successful change occurs by raising awareness alone, surely it remains our best strategy against the atrocity of sexual assault that still plagues the globe.

According to a 2008 study by Statistics Canada, only eight per cent of sexual assaults are reported to the police, with females accounting for 92 per cent of victims. In a world where the rate of assault is higher than the six degrees of separation from our favourite celebrity, I would consider even the smallest gain in raising awareness to be a step forward.

Awareness alone, however, is not enough to provoke the necessary change needed. Last month has seen some of the worst open displays of sexual inequality that I have known — ranging from the scandalous celebrity nude leak to Sam Pepper’s YouTube video, “Fake Hand Ass Pinch” and numerous examples of sexism and racism in police forces.

I was 18 years old the first time I learned that a friend had been sexually assaulted but it still took me three years before I became a feminist. I can’t blame myself for simply being unaware, but it is for that reason why I believe raising awareness is a key factor in eliminating violence and prejudice.

Thanks to people like popular YouTuber Laci Green — who started a successful petition that resulted in Pepper’s video being removed from YouTube — and others who voiced their disagreement with Pepper’s actions, we have taken large steps forward in creating a society of equality, but there is much left to do and we cannot do it alone. We will need everyone to understand not only what the problem is but how they can be a part of the solution. This all starts with awareness.

It pains me to recall times I have behaved inappropriately towards women. I now benefit from hindsight, but how close did I come to crossing the line? Where would I be now if I had not encountered the people in my life who shaped my perspective for the better? If I can be that person for someone else and do my part to contribute, then I will be satisfied that we can accomplish something. If we don’t know when we are behaving wrongly, how can we even begin to behave correctly?

Events like Sexual Assault Awareness Week are of paramount importance in making the first step in a series towards a greater good that will benefit not only women in the world, but men as well. Everyone needs equal treatment; everyone will benefit from a society that doesn’t punish women for being women, men for standing up for women or for behaving in “traditionally feminine” ways, women for behaving in “traditionally masculine” ways or anyone for defying any gender convention made up long ago and held up only by tradition and ignorance, willful or otherwise.

Ignorance is no longer an acceptable excuse, not in the world of the Internet, political activism and radical social change that we are living through. We have come very far in creating a society of equality — and yet we still have very far to go. No step forward has come without drawbacks and for each time that it appears we have succeeded, another scandal, another headline comes around to remind us how unjust our world still is.

Yet isn’t that the entire point of going to university? To learn things — not just that you didn’t know before — but that you didn’t know you didn’t know? Socrates must have been the most frustrating person on the planet — but he’s right —  it’s really difficult to learn something you don’t know exists. I would wager that the majority of sexual assaults begin simply with ignorance and a lack of understanding, not with overt malicious intent — although exceptions are bound to occur.

It starts small, with a gap in knowledge, empathy or understanding. Walking through the Arts Tunnel last week I was so happy to see how enthusiastic everyone who volunteered at the sexual assault table was to get the word out and do their part. After Sexual Assault Awareness Week, I think that the students of the University of Saskatchewan have come together in a bold way to promote better treatment of all individuals.

This weekend out with new faces at student events, I saw a generation of young men and women learning to cooperate and to see one another as equal thinkers and of equal worth  — and that is the most encouraging aspect of the campaign: that our efforts would not stop on campus but continue to spread to every facet of our lives is the fruition of what raising awareness is all about.


by Samuel Rafuse via The Sheaf –