One night, we were hanging out when we got into a bit of an argument about something. I don’t even remember what it was, but it made him really angry. In fact, he got so worked up that I didn’t feel particularly comfortable being in his presence, so I decided that it was time to go home. When I turned to leave, he reached over and grabbed a chunk of my hair, pulled me backwards by it, pushed me down on the ground and climbed on top of me. He started saying something to me, but I didn’t hear his words over the loud “GET OUT GET OUT GET OUT” echoing around in my brain. With some effort, I managed to push him off, bolted straight for the door and ran all the way home.
The next day when I was home by myself (my parents had gone to work), he called me. I had a feeling it was him, so I screened the call through the answering machine. At first, he started to apologize, but then he began defending himself saying he “was just kidding around” and “what was (my) problem if (I couldn’t) take a joke?” All I could think was that the force with which he had grabbed me by the hair and the expression on his face as he pushed the weight of his body down on mine had been anything but funny. I deleted the message and I never spoke to him again.
I also never told anyone. I was so young and I felt too embarassed and ashamed about what had happened so I kept it to myself and focused on other things. I changed my hair, I threw myself into school and my job and stayed away from boys. After a few months of this, one of my girl friends teased me about being anti-social. She said I needed to get out and date, so I agreed to be fixed up. The guy was fine. He brought me flowers and took me to dinner. Then, midway through the date, he reached behind me to slip his arm over my shoulder and I jerked violently away from him. We did not go out again.
When I got home from the date that night, I sat on the cold tiled floor of my bathroom and wondered if I would ever feel normal again. Truth be told, it did take a while, but over time, I came to trust people again . . . and one of those people later became my husband.
It’s weird to say I was “lucky”. The experience certainly didn’t make me feel “lucky” at the time, but I did manage to get away from the person who wished to do me harm before anything more serious happened which, unfortunately, is “luckier” than the experiences of other women who feel the full wrath of their attackers when they are violently sexually assaulted.
A little while ago, a Toronto Police Officer spoke at York University about sexual assault. Unfortunately, York has a bit of a reputation as being an unsafe place to be at night. There are certain areas of the campus that are consider “rape traps.” In fact, back in 2009, a student was even sexually assaulted in the school’s library. While speaking to students on January 24th at a campus safety information session, the officer told students that women could avoid being raped so long as they didn’t dress like sluts.
This comment was insulting, not only because of its sex-shaming “blame the victim” nature, but because it also implies that nonconsensual sex is sometimes justifiable or permissable. It is insulting to women and it is insulting to men because it also somewhat tacitly implies that men are sexual predators who can barely keep their libidos in check.
In response to this incident, a friend of ours, along with a group of other strong, like-minded women, decided to take action and created Slutwalk. The idea behind the event was to not only reappropriate the word “Slut” by making it something empowering instead of shameful, but to also re-enforce the idea that crimes of a sexual nature need to be taken seriously and not brushed under the rug with hateful words and attitudes. No one is asking to be assaulted, period. I know that when I had my brush with sexual violence, I certainly wasn’t inviting it, not with my words, my actions or my wardrobe (a pair of jeans, a t-shirt and Converse sneakers, if you were wondering).
So yesterday, we hit the streets – Boy with a headset as one of the Slutwalk marshals, and me with my camera to document the event. It was an impressive sight as about 3,000 people walked from Queens Park to Police Headquarters where they listened to not only people who spoke firsthand about sexual assault but those who educated others about it. And education is a big part of what needs to happen. The Toronto Police need to re-educate those on the force* and the public needs to be educated about not only sexual health, but about the issue of consent in a sexual situation.
The event was filled with many people. Sexual assault survivors were represented, as were their many allies. Women, men, children and even dogs banded together and the atmosphere was great. It was one of trust and healing and support and it felt good to be surrounded by so many people who believed in the message.
Here are some of the pictures I took .
There are satellite rallies popping up all over the globe, so if you support the cause, keep an eye out for events in your city. And if you live in Toronto and missed the walk but want to contribute somehow, Slutwalk’s website is still open for donations. The initial proceeds will help cover the costs of yesterday’s event and additional funds will be donated to the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre.
*To be totally fair, there are many on the force who are helpful and were respectful of the message that was being put out at yesterday’s rally. In fact, one officer even stopped my friend Jack and shook his hand for the good work he was doing for the event.