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I’m one of the them

By Charlotte Prong Parkhill

One out of every three Canadian women will experience sexual assault in their adult life. Less than one in 10 report the assault to police. About 15 per cent of female university students experience sexual assault.

Those are the ugly numbers from the Ontario Women’s Directorate.

November is Woman Abuse Awareness month, and we’ve got a feature written by Mary Zilney, chief executive officer of Women’s Crisis Services of Waterloo Region, on the signs of abuse in dating relationships.

The sheer number of physical and sexual assaults that occur against women every day, either inside relationships or in the world at large, is staggering.

What’s even more staggering is how quiet everyone is about it.

When I was in Grade 9, I came home from school one day, very upset.

I told my mother that boys at school had been making comments about my breasts. I was mortified, and embarrassed, but I don’t remember being particularly angry at those boys.

As a young woman, I was groped by a stranger in a hotel elevator. Another man touched me after I fell asleep on a bus. Walking down the street, a man shoved me up against the wall and kissed me.

In all of these instances, I did nothing beyond tell a friend or two. I didn’t call the police.

I just became more afraid, more cautious, more worried that somehow I was inviting this behaviour upon myself. Because those boys in high school believed they had the right to stare and make comments about my body without repercussions, I’d have to change my behaviour. They would never change theirs.

I’m not sharing these things because I think my experience is unusual. I’m sharing them because they’re not.

If you’re a woman, something similar has probably happened to you. If you’re a man, this has happened to more than one woman you know — your wife, your sister, your mom or your co-workers.

But people don’t want to talk about it, which helps to perpetuate the shame attached to being abused or assaulted.

When I told my mother about the boys in high school, she felt powerless to do anything about it. At the time, in the boys-will-be-boys 1980s, she was probably right.

But we can all do something about it now. It’s important to educate girls and young women about the danger signs of abuse, and how to take safety measures in public.

But if you have teenagers, please don’t show this to your daughters. Show it to your sons.

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