November 25 marked the beginning of the ‘16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence’ Campaign. This year’s theme is “Leave No One Behind: End Violence Against Women and Girls.” The 16 days began on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and ends on International Human Rights Day, including the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women on December 6. The Antigonish Women’s Resource Centre and Sexual Assault Services Association (AWRCSASA) invited 16 leaders in the Antigonish community to write a statement pledging to work to empower the over 12 million women who shared #MeToo stories, and those unable to share the violations they have experienced. Each leader states #NoMore to gender-based violence and pledges concrete steps they will take within their roles in the community to help stop the violence and end the stigma surrounding it.
These national days of awareness shed light on the glaringly obvious defect in society. Sexual assault is a violating, horrific and indescribable attack on one’s very own autonomy. As a survivor myself, even years after the assault sometimes I cannot get what happened out of my head. All survivors have the right to be believed and trusted wholeheartedly. How many women have to come forward under #MeToo until it becomes clear that we, as a society, will no longer tolerate abuses of power, unwanted sexual advances and sexual assault as a whole?
Though Antigonish is a small, close-knit community, we cannot kid ourselves that sexual assault and harassment does not have a place here. With the sexual assault that occurred the weekend of November 18, it was a glaringly real example that sexual assault does happen at StFX. To recognize that assault occurs at an institution does not take away any of the merit of the establishment, it is only when nothing is done in response to such reports that the reputation begins to tarnish.
The question arises whether StFX would have handled the sexual assault in the same way had the story not been picked up by national press. Most universities, StFX not being an expectation, have been found to sweep reported assaults under the rug so as to maintain their image. However, the school must find the right balance between public safety and supporting the survivor. The student body does not need personal details; they need to know if there is a threat on campus or in town.
Last year, StFX implemented their Sexualized Violence Policy (SVP) and it has a survivor-centric focus. Though no policy is ever perfect, the SVP does put the responsibility and decisions in the hands of the survivor, which is crucial to ensuring that the power is given back to them. They get to decide whether or not to report to the RCMP, they get to decide how far the investigation goes, and they get to determine how to best begin their healing process.
Here I would like to make an important distinction. Many people, newspapers, and media outlets have been publishing the names of the accused. However, The Xaverian Weekly will not and never will publish their names as we feel that giving them any more fame and attention than they have already acquired is inherently wrong. Publishing names when the accused have already had charges laid against them does not increase public safety nor does it benefit the survivors in any way. The story is no longer about the perpetrators. Allow the RCMP and Crown prosecutor to do their jobs and sentence these rapists and we as a community can focus on providing better support for survivors. As of publication date, one of the accused is allowed to be on campus to go to classes. This is abhorrently unacceptable. The minute charges were laid, the two men should both have been banned from the StFX campus. Be it one charge or three, survivors should never have to worry about crossing paths with their attacker.
With all the events held and days commemorated this month, now is the time to act. #NoMore feeling unsafe on campus or walking home late at night. #NoMore victim-blaming. #NoMore teaching defense tactics instead of basic respect for all. #NoMore. Use this month and its events to have your voice heard and stand up against gender-based violence.