By Mick Sweetman
The past several weeks have seen sexual assault attract an unusual amount of media attention for an issue that normally is very under-reported. This attention has happened not because there has been an increase in the priorities of the media about sexual assault in general, but because there has been suspected serial assaulters attacking multiple women in areas like Christie Pitts and Yonge and Wellsley. There have also been the detestable, but routine, daily reports of sexual assaults including one on Ryerson campus.
However, it would be a mistake to think that ‘stranger danger’ is the problem. No, the main danger isn’t the man in the bushes but rather the ones who are our friends, co-workers, dates, partners, and yes even our families. Over three quarters of women who are sexually assaulted know the person who assaults them. Many men who sexually assault don’t even recognize what they did as sexual assault.
This is why if we want to get serious about ending sexual assaults, we have to talk about ending sexism. As long as sexism, or patriarchy as I prefer to call it, is a fundamental part of our society’s culture sexual assaults aren’t going to stop. We can’t afford to treat this strictly as a law enforcement issue, because we live in a culture that teaches men, from a very young age, that patriarchal men are expected to dominate women and children and if they can’t do that with verbal or emotional abuse then they should use violence.
We all have to have this conversation, both men and women, because this patriarchal rape culture affects all of us. Obviously, it doesn’t affect us equally or in the same ways, women – particularly working-class women of colour and Aboriginal women – get the worst of it. But nobody escapes its reach, whether it’s the ways it affects us personally, or the people that we know and share our lives with— it’s a pervasive force.
Thankfully, there was a beacon of hope. People came together in Christie Pitts on Monday night in the dying light of the Labour Day weekend to show our opposition not only to these attacks but also to the sexist culture that produces them. Women and men, though not nearly enough men, rallied at the park then walked together through the streets of Toronto in a boisterous demonstration that was angry at the problem, but felt hopeful and welcoming for everyone at the same time.
Next weekend on Sat, Sept. 15 people will be taking to the streets again in the annual Take Back the Night march at the Masaryk-Cowan community centre in Parkdale starting at 4 p.m. Be there if you can, and take action against sexism wherever you are everyday.