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Male victims of sexual assault often ignored

On Feb. 8th, a 28-year-old woman in Vaughan was charged with sexually assaulting a male student. The allegations are being investigated by the York Regional Police after someone came forward with information about a supply teacher for the York Catholic District School Board who had a sexual relationship with a teen between October and December 2017.

The supply teacher was employed occasionally since 2014. She is being charged with three counts of sexual assault and three counts of sexual exploitation.

Stories like these are rarely reported. The idea of a woman sexually assaulting a man is something many can’t fathom, but it does exist. According to a 2012 UCLA study, 38 per cent of all rape and sexual assaults are committed against men. The Canadian Children’s Rights Council, a non-profit that advocates on behalf of Canadian children, estimates that 86 per cent of these victims are dismissed, which leads to an increasing amount of unreported incidents.

There is also evidence that the number of sexual violence that occurs to men and women in their teens is rather similar — a difference between one in five and one in four.

“While the majority of sexual abuse is by males on females, anyone can be a victim of sexual trauma,” the men’s trauma centre in Victoria, B.C. says on their website. “Research suggests that between 20 and 30 per cent of all male children are sexually abused before the age of eighteen.”

“Despite the media stories of male survivors of abuse that have come out over the past few years, many people remain unable or unwilling to respond to this problem and the long term damage it creates both individually and at a societal level.”

The stigma associated with male victims of sexual assault if much different than that of women. While people think a woman may have “deserved it” for leading a guy on or acting in a way that could be described as promiscuous, it is assumed a man is enjoying whatever experience he is thrust into. That complaining about being forced to have sex is something a man would never do, and therefore it is not possible for a man to be raped or sexually harassed.

While it may be more rare for an adult man to be sexually victimized, it does happen, and those cases should be treated with the same level of respect and consideration as other stories shared in the MeToo movement.

Is it ‘TIME’S UP’ for the 2017 feminist movement?

Women in the entertainment industry — including actresses America Ferrera and Eva Longoria; lawyer Nina L. Shaw; actress Reese Witherspoon; producer Shonda Rhimes; and lawyer Tina Tchen, to name a few — have come together to form an initiative that will fight systemic sexual harassment in Hollywood and in blue-collar workplaces.

You may be thinking: sure, a whole bunch of famous people have come together to do some fundraising, big deal?! This happens a few times a year. But, in reality, the initiative TIME’S UP is much more than a pet project spearhead by a select number of privileged people. Instead of focusing on the sensationalist media coverage of the #MeToo movement, the initiative provides real support for victims and calls for new legislation that will penalize companies that tolerate sexual harassment.

As the initiative’s website says, “TIME’S UP is a unified call for change from women in entertainment for women everywhere. From movie sets to farm fields to boardrooms alike, we envision nationwide leadership that reflects the world in which we live.”

After the social campaigns and the marches — this call for political and legal change is the next logical step. Ironically, it was a group of victims rather than those elected to lead our nations who stood up to call for this change.

TIME’S UP will provide a legal defence fund, based on $13 million in donations, to help less privileged men and women protect themselves from the fallout of reporting sexual misconduct. The fund will be administered by the National Women’s Law Centre, which has a network of lawyer and public relations professionals available to provide assistance.

The initiative is also calling for an increase of women (including members of the LGBTQ community and people of colour) in positions of power across all industries, as well as equal representation, benefits, and pay. Perhaps North America can follow Iceland, who made equal pay mandatory on Jan. 1. Every single company in Iceland now has to obtain a certification saying that men and women are being paid equally in similar positions.

Can you imagine every company in North America needing to obtain proof of pay equality? It’s the stuff of dreams.

TIME’S UP was formed after 700,000 female farmworkers sent messages and letters to celebrities throughout the entertainment industry following the allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein and the #MeToo social media campaign. “Even though we work in very different environments, we share a common experience of being preyed upon by individuals who have the power to hire, fire, blacklist and otherwise threaten our economic, physical and emotional security,” they wrote. “In these moments of despair, and as you cope with scrutiny and criticism because you have bravely chosen to speak out against the harrowing acts that were committed against you, please know that you’re not alone. We believe and stand with you.”

The TIME’S UP website leads with a letter written to show support for those farmworkers, in which over 300 people within the entertainment industry acknowledge their suffering and stand with them to try and help change the system.

The initiative is volunteer-led and doesn’t have a leadership team. It is comprised instead of smaller working groups, each one tackling a certain area. For example, one group is creating a framework to end sexual harassment in show business while another is reviewing legislation that will tackle abuse within businesses, including the use of nondisclosure agreements to silence victims.

About half of men think women are well-represented in leadership, despite the numbers that show otherwise. When the #MeToo campaign started to trend, most men couldn’t fathom how many women had been sexually assaulted.

2017 may have been labelled as the year for feminism and women’s rights, but nothing actually changed. Perhaps more people are aware of the situation than before, but there was no legislation promised by politicians and no guarantees made by industry management.

There is still a lot that needs to change in order to ensure gender equality — and our time is not up!

 Featured Image by Vini.

TTC to tackle safety using ‘gender-specific lens’

The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) discussed safety at Monday’s board meeting, with a special focus on women.

City Council requested that the TTC “apply a full safety audit using a gender-specific lens…to address safety concerns of women and women with disabilities.” Suggestions included adequate lighting, clear sightline design for stations, more security, and more women employed in the transit process.

The board, however, chose to focus on an app that would allow a TTC rider to take a photo of a person who is harassing or assaulting someone and report it. The hope is that it will draw less attention than pushing the yellow emergency strip and stopping traffic. The app should be ready to launch by the end of the year.

As a woman who takes public transportation at least twice a day — if not more — I understand the type harassment that can take place on an enclosed streetcar or subway car. But, I’m not sure this app is the solution.

As with a lot of Toronto’s safety plans, it puts the onus on bystanders to help out. Bystanders are notorious for…well…being bystanders. There is no guarantee that someone will capture the moment on film, and if that person did take time to take a photo of the harassment, I hope they would also step up and stop it.

The idea is that the app will automatically turn off flash and sound so that those making the report won’t have to worry about drawing attention to themselves. But, with the size of cell phones nowadays, it’s almost impossible to be conspicuous when taking a photograph in a small space. And has anyone thought about the many false accusations that will have to be filtered through to find the legitimate complaints?

I also don’t think that silent reporting is enough — anyone who assaults or harasses another person should be afraid to do it again. They should be worried they won’t get away with it. They should be made to seriously consider their actions. Pushing the yellow emergency strip and forcing them to wait for the authorities is exactly what people should be doing, and encouraging them to do otherwise is just another way to say “don’t worry about it, the authorities will deal with it the situation…maybe.”

If someone is harassing a woman (or a man for that matter), someone should speak up and tell them to get lost. People should rally around victims of assault and let it be known that it’s not okay. Women should also feel comfortable telling the driver of the bus or streetcar about the incident, which means that all drivers, toll operators, and TTC workers should be trained on how to deal with harassment and assault.

It is imperative that future designs of stations, streetcars, and subways take public safety into account — better lighting, a more secure waiting area, and a bigger authority presence after sunset are all integral to the safety of women and women with disabilities. But, let’s not diminish this importance by creating silly apps that allow us to spy and report people to authorities.

Let’s focus on what really matters: making people safe and training staff do handle numerous types of emergency scenarios, including harassment and assault. If you have to make an app, I would rather an app that allows me to reload my PRESTO card on my phone – thank you very much!