Walking around uptown in the rain isn’t an uncommon activity on a Friday night in Saint John, but the experience of several Saint John women last Friday night wasn’t the typical stumble from the Boardwalk to O’Leary’s.
These women chose to spend part of Friday night at “Take Back the Night,” a march to raise awareness on sexual assault and to empower survivors of sexual assault. Over 50 women gathered for a presentation in King’s Square, followed by a walk through the streets of Saint John.
The presentation included a short movie made by the Human Development Council describing the experiences of four survivors from the Saint John area, one of whom was present at the march. Another survivor was brave enough to share her story publicly She had been sexually assaulted at a university party and suffered physically and emotionally as a result. She is not alone; two out of five women over the age of 16 will be sexually assaulted in their lifetimes.
Take Back the Night marches are held in communities across Canada and the United States in April and October each year, and have been held annually for over 30 years. Although this was Saint John’s second year participating in the awareness campaign, Canadian communities have been participating since the first Canadian march was held in Vancouver in 1978.
The Take Back the Night Foundation aims to “end sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, sexual abuse and all other forms of sexual violence.” The premise of the organization’s title highlights the fundamental right of women and girls to non-violent communities; a woman of any age should be able to walk alone at night without looking over her shoulder or being afraid for her safety. Sexual assault is most commonly committed against women; Statistics Canada (2001) found that 86% of sexual assault survivors were female. Survivors vary in age, sexual orientation, profession, ethnicity, religion and socioeconomic background.
Know the facts about Sexual Assault
Sexual assault is not well understood, leading to rates of this crime that are too high. Yes, it is a crime. Sexual assault is any form of sexual contact without a person’s consent, ranging from unwanted touching to forced sexual intercourse. This is not a black-and-white issue; sexual assault takes many forms, and may include threats, force, pressure or coercion. In the end, it doesn’t matter if two people are dating, married, or having an intoxicated one night stand; no one has the right to force or coerce another person into a sexual act against their will. Contrary to popular belief, more than 75 per cent of all sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the survivor, not by a stranger.
There are many occasions where consent (permission to proceed with a sexual act) is not given. You have not given your consent if you say no, don’t answer, say yes initially but change your mind, or are too drunk or stoned to know what is happening. You have also not consented if the other person uses pressure to get your consent, lies about what they want to do with you, or goes ahead because you have consented in the past. It doesn’t matter how you act before you are sexually assaulted, even if you show skin, flirt, or go home with someone. If you have not consented, you are not at fault.
For more information on sexual assault in Canada and New Brunswick’s strategy on sexual assault, please visit www.lets-talk-about-it.ca. If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, free counselling services are available through UNBSJ Student Services.