December 6 is Canada’s National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women and Children. It’s the anniversary of the murder of 14 women students at Montreal’s l’École Polytechnique in 1989. It’s also a call to action to fight violence against women and girls.
Statistics Canada reports that one in two Canadian women will experience physical or sexual violence in her lifetime. Such a big problem might make you think, “what difference can I make?” But it is possible to make a difference – here’s one story.
This fall, it seemed like sexual assaults were happening everywhere in Toronto: twelve around Kensington Market and Christie Pits park; two in an Avenue and Lawrence home; a sixteen-year-old girl attacked outside Broadview and Danforth subway station; and older women assaulted at home. There were more than a thousand reported sexual attacks in the city this year, and only about 10% of all sexual assaults are reported to police.
In one neighborhood, the Christie and Bloor area, a remarkable thing happened. Community members came together and took action. “Stop Rape Now” posters went up and rallies were held. Probably due to all this grassroots mobilization, at least in part, there were many news updates about the problem. METRAC was even invited by a City Councillor to help residents lead a Safety Audit to make the neighbourhood safer.
There were still concerns about what was and wasn’t done by officials and authorities. But this example of community action is pretty inspiring. It sent a clear message: we will be vigilant and we will take back our neighbourhood.
It also stands out because it’s so different than the typical personal safety tips women and girls are told to follow to “protect themselves from rape” after a public sexual assault happens. The problem is that those tips often become a source of blame and unfairly place the responsibility to stop attacks on those who are hurt.
Inspired by this, METRAC organized a session to learn more about what people can do to prevent and respond to sexual assault. Anna Willats, a college instructor and advocate, told us that community members have to push politicians to do something to end violence against women. White Ribbon Campaign’s Todd Minerson told us that men and boys have to educate other men and boys to be allies to stop rape. Other community organizers told us that efforts to build safety have to be taken in schools, neighbourhoods and public meeting places.
This December 6, let’s remember the example of community mobilization that happened in a local neighbourhood this fall. And let’s build the same kind of action against violence across our whole city.