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Editorial: Stopping sexual violence

We Stand Together
We Stand Together

“I wonder if the halt of her breath ever made you wonder if you should halt as well. I wonder if the strength that you used to hold down her arms made you feel strong. I wonder if her complete inability to respond made you pause at all.”

Those words are part of a spoken-word poem by St. Francis Xavier student and soccer player Emma Kuzmyk used in a two-minute video in response to sexual assault charges against two members of the university’s football team.

 

 

The video and poetry are a powerful response to the culture among some students at St. FX, once named the nation’s top party school in a Maclean’s magazine survey.

Yet, we know all too well that Antigonish, N.S., is not the only pocket of the world where sexual violence persists, and St. FX is far from the only educational institution where it exists — where women have to tread in fear across campuses at night, keep a watchful eye on their friends and their drinks at parties, or have sexual assaults shrugged off because a brotherhood of athletes thinks it’s normal behaviour and shames anyone who dares to speak out.

It can and has been happening, from Antigonish, Sydney and Halifax, to St. John’s, Moncton and Charlottetown.

At home, parents and caregivers ought to be setting an example for the university students of tomorrow, and in turn discussing sexual violence with fellow adults who may still harbour antiquated beliefs about what is and is not acceptable.

Movements like St. FX’s “We Stand Together” campaign have erupted around the world and are spurred by the recent spate of news about sexual violence and harassment pervasive in virtually all aspects of society — at home and in workplaces, in Hollywood, in sports and in schools.

We all must continually work together as a community to enlighten ourselves and our youth about these issues.

While policies have evolved, and should continue to do so at universities and colleges, there is a limit to the awareness that can be achieved by the time a student reaches this point in their lives. As Heather Blackburn of the Antigonish Women’s Resource Centre said, “If the first conversation they have about consent is at university, it may be too late. Evidence suggests that one-off conversations tend to not change attitudes and behaviour.”

Rather, these discussions must take place in high schools and junior highs, long before our children reach the post-secondary level.

At home, parents and caregivers ought to be setting an example for the university students of tomorrow, and in turn discussing sexual violence with fellow adults who may still harbour antiquated beliefs about what is and is not acceptable.

Standing together means silence is no longer an option for us, and it’s no longer a luxury that will be afforded to perpetrators.

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