Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) is underway in Antigonish.
The month-long focus on information and awareness began March 31 with a launch gathering, hosted by the Antigonish Women’s Resource Centre (AWRC) at the People’s Place Library.
Heather Blackburn, Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) program co-ordinator, who emceed the event, opened with an overview of sexual assault, which she described as a “broad term.”
“It is so pervasive that it has become normalized,” she said, noting that aids the invisibility of the perpetrators and lack of accountability.
Blackburn offered a grocery list of startling statistics, including one in three women, one in six men and one in two transgender persons will be sexually assaulted.
She noted the increased prevalence of drug and alcohol use, along with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); not to mention four-times the rate of suicide for those who have been sexually assaulted.
“If that wasn’t enough,” Blackburn continued, adding 40,000 Canadians, annually, are sexually assaulted.
“We are all impacted by sexual violence,” Blackburn said.
She added the importance of “engaging new voices” in the fight against sexual violence.
“It is preventable,” Blackburn noted.
She said it “starts with believing survivors,” adding the need to end public shaming, while calling people out on rape and other sexualized jokes.
“They are seemingly small acts, but they make a critical impact,” Blackburn said.
She added “everyone can make a difference.”
Sending a message
Faye Fraser, AWRC youth violence prevention educator, took the podium with a couple swatches – one denim and one red. She outlined an initiative taking place during SAAM, which will utilize the fabrics.
People are encouraged to pen messages on the fabric, speaking out against sexual assault. Those pieces will, eventually, be fashioned into a quilt.
In outlining the use of denim, Fraser talked about an Italian Supreme Court decision, from the late 1990s, where a rape conviction was overturned because the jeans the young woman was wearing were so tight that she had to help remove them, which made the sex consensual.
That decision ignited outrage around the world, which led to the creation of Denim Day, where people are encouraged to wear jeans to work. It takes place each April 22, when the decision was handed down.
Another SAAM event will feature a film screening, April 28, one which chronicles two young women, who were sexually assaulted, and the “ripple effect” that affected not only them, but also their families, friends and community.
Fraser noted the movie also addresses the “harm” of social media, which will be one of the focuses for a panel discussion following the screening, including cyber misogyny.
This month, she and her colleagues will be visiting some local schools to deliver a lesson regarding consent to Grade 9 to 12 students.
There will also be a girls’ luncheon and “myth-busting” session.
“There are a lot of great things going on,” Fraser said.
‘Top of our list’
Cst. Deepak Prasad of the Antigonish RCMP called SAAM “one of our most important in policing.”
“It is at the top of our list,” he said.
During his 18 months in Antigonish, Prasad noted he has “learned so much,” adding he has been part of building and creating wonderful new relationships.
“We are not perfect, but we are always improving and looking at new thing,” he said about the efforts in dealing with sexual assault.
Prasad noted the work he, Blackburn and others are doing on a new training program for first responders in dealing with sexual assault.
“To support our victims at all levels,” he said of its purpose.
Prasad noted they are “never done,” as far as prevention and providing support.
Highlighting the hour-long celebration was the signing of the SAAM proclamation by representatives of St. F.X., Town of Antigonish and Municipality of the County of Antigonish, along with the provincial and federal governments.
Bob Hale, St. F.X. Student Services interim head, said it was “a pleasure to be here.”
“It is great that we are now part of this,” he added of the university’s involvement in the continuing work in dealing with sexual violence and related issues.
Although St. F.X. has made great progress, with help from partners, such as AWRC, Hale said “we still have a lot to do.”
“We are taking it seriously,” he added, while outlining recent milestones, such as the official launch of St. F.X.’s sexual violence policy last fall.
Hale said “it starts with education,” noting, each fall, new university students participate in a two-hour session dealing with sexual violence.
Blackburn noted St. F.X. is the only university in the province that offers SANE services on campus.
Deputy Warden Owen McCarron praised AWRC for its “fantastic work.”
“It is about sending a strong message,” he said.
Mayor Laurie Boucher noted the year-round work required in an effort to change a culture, one that is hyper-sexualized.
Central Nova MP Sean Fraser described the issue as “one that impacts all of us.”
He stressed the need to expand on who is hearing the message; noting, in years gone by, such events “were preaching to choir.”
Although that continues to change, Fraser said more boys and men need to be involved.
“It is every bit our conversation as it is yours,” he added.
Because of a weather delay at another event, Antigonish MLA Randy Delorey was unable to attend the ceremony.
While those representatives signed the proclamation, singer-songwriter Kim Wempe sang her piece Believe Me.
Her stirring performance was one of two during the celebration, the other coming from poet Abena Green, who recited her piece Ice Cream.
For more information about SAAM events in the Antigonish area, visit the AWRC website – awrcsasa.ca