Dear Women of Ottawa,
In light of the recent sexual assaults in our city, you may be feeling afraid. Taking public transit, walking alone at night, and being out and about in your own community have suddenly become scarier than they already were.
It doesn’t help that you are receiving messages that doing all of these things are dangerous. Every single day, women are taught that we must be cautious, that we must check out cars for strangers, we mustn’t walk alone; we must manage our own safety, because if we don’t, we get what we deserve.
We’re here to add some more advice to the advice you are already getting- continue to live your life. Continue to do so with the secure knowledge that we, as advocates for sexual assault survivors, support you. Continue with the knowledge that you are just as entitled to a safe city as anyone else. Please know that no matter what you are doing, no matter where you are, no matter how you are dressed, you have a right to be safe.
As women, we are continually given tips on how to protect ourselves from dangerous men. We are offered self-defence classes in case we find ourselves confronted by a man who wants to hurt us; we are sent emails which detail various plots and schemes of men who assault women. The message always remains the same, “Women- watch out. Be vigilant. Be suspicious. If you don’t, you only have yourself to blame when you get attacked.” However, this misses the point entirely. It is wrong to hurt someone, and it is those who are doing the violence who need lectures, not us. Advice on how to keep ourselves safe addresses a very small part of the problem, and creates a much more menacing type of violence, problems like rape culture, the lack of conversation around consent, and the message that women are responsible for their own safety.
How do we, as advocates, tell young women to protect themselves from their lab partners, their boyfriends, their prom dates, their classmates and their friends? We don’t. We tell men that sexual assault is wrong. We educate young men about consent. We build a society and community that respects women and sees them as equals, not as objects.
We are deeply concerned for the women who have been hurt. We are deeply concerned about the messages coming from media, safety services and city officials about how to address the problem of sexual violence. We are deeply concerned that we live in a culture that silences those who speak out about sexual assault, shames women who have been assaulted; blames a woman for her assault; a justice system that consistently fails women.
We want to let you, the women of Ottawa, know that you can call us anytime. We have crisis lines, rape crisis centres, agencies through which you can have a voice in improving your community safety, and resources available for you all day, every day. Any time you need us, we are here. You can find a list of these resources available at www.octevaw-cocvff.ca.
Tonight, if you need to walk alone from the bus to your house, we want you to know that this doesn’t mean you deserve to be hurt. Nothing you can ever do will justify the actions of violent men. As individuals and organizations dedicated to ending sexual violence in Ottawa – We’ve got your back.
Sexual Assault Network (SAN)
Ottawa Coalition to End Violence against Women (OCTEVAW)
Women’s Initiatives for Safer Environments (WISE)
Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre (ORCC)
Sexual Assault Support Centre of Ottawa (SASC)
Western Ottawa Community Resource Centre
The Hurt Association
Pinecrest-Queensway Community Health Centre
For media inquiries:
Julie S. Lalonde
Sexual Assault Network (SAN)
Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre