TW: Throughout this article, there will be discussion of sexual assault/harassment, and the issues that come along with this. While it is important to educate yourself on these topics and remain aware, personal well-being is more important. If you feel that these topics could be triggering to you, do not hesitate to click away.
I first began to notice the problem when I was around 12. My younger brother could go for walks on his own, wherever and whenever he wanted. When I went to do the same, there was always some rule. Don’t go to the forest alone. It’s dark out, you should wait until the morning. Change up your walking route so there isn't a consistent pattern. Make sure your phone location is on. Don’t wear headphones, you need to be aware of your surroundings. At first I was just annoyed, I didn’t really get why it was that there was a different set of standards for each of us. As I grew older, newspaper articles and media headlines began to show me my parents’ reasoning. Women disappearing on their walks home, girls my age never making it home from school. Newspaper articles weren’t enough, however. Slowly these stories began to slip into my everyday life, not just as faces on a front page, but in the women around me that I had grown up with. It was being whistled at from cars as my friends and I walked down the street together. It was leaking of nudes, and unwanted touching at parties. It was “give me a hug” or “smile, you look prettier” from men I barely knew. It was every girl I knew having had some sort of negative experience with our male counterparts, but none of my guy friends knowing anyone who would do something like that.
From a young age, girls are ingrained with the implication that it is their responsibility to take proactive measures to prevent their own assault. While this is done with good intentions, it creates the impression that it is the job of women to stop themselves from being sexually assaulted/harassed, rather than the responsibility of men to not harass them. Time and time again excuses are made for boys exhibiting predatory behaviour, using their futures as a defense. In the infamous Brock Turner case, his Olympic swimming career was used to reduce his sentence. Despite the fact that he made the conscious decision to rape an unconscious woman he only served three months, with the judge saying that he feared a longer sentence would have a “severe impact” on Turner’s life. The question must be asked: Why do we continuously prioritize male opportunity over female trauma? In what world should someone who has proven he is willing to commit that kind of act be portrayed as an “upstanding young man”, while the victim is reduced to the alcohol that she had consumed that night and how it made her complacent in her own assault. In court cases, there are always questions that seem to blame the assault on the choices of the woman. What were you wearing? Did you have anything to drink? Were you leading him on? No matter what the answers to these questions are, the facts remain the same. Whether or not women drink, no matter what they wear, sexual assault still happens. Even when people take all of the correct precautions, bad things still happen. Rather than shifting the blame to the victims and basing the validity of their experiences off of whether or not they were careful enough, we need to begin the process of educating youth about the importance of consent.
When it really comes down to it, it should not be the responsibility of women to take preventative measures from being sexually assaulted. As a 17 year old girl, I should not have to be scared walking in my own neighbourhood at night. I shouldn’t have to regulate my clothing to those around me, and throw on a sweater before leaving the house so I don’t attract unwanted attention. I shouldn’t have to carry my keys in my hand, and be aware of my surroundings and potential escape routes at all times. And yet, these things have become like second nature to me, something I do instinctively without consciously noticing. Instead of teaching girls to be wary and on guard at all times, we need to teach boys not to rape.