Speak Out

This past April, just six months ago, I took to social media – as I often do – to voice my displeasure about the implications of the outcome of a certain high profile sexual assault case. In doing so, I also shared some of my personal stories about street harassment and sexual assault.

Shortly afterwards, N reached out to me asking to discuss the issue further and, when we met for coffee, she immediately asked, “What can we do about this?”

Honestly, I was overwhelmed, and after a big, messy, beautiful conversation during which we discussed street harassment, victim blaming and shaming, consent, rape culture, and the impact that all of these things have on our lives, we were still left with N’s original question: What can we do about this?

So, we started to do something about it.

On Saturday, October 22, we took the question to the Niagara Leadership Summit for Women, where we ran a workshop about becoming an activist/advocate in the community, and asked: What can we all do about this?

In the workshops, we discussed everything from the environment to basic human rights to mental health, and so many more things, as you can see below.

The morning workshop discussion captured.
The morning workshop discussion captured.
The afternoon workshop discussion captured.
The afternoon workshop discussion captured.

Our real focus, though, was to gather information on what has a direct impact on the daily lives of women in the community. N and I did not want to begin work on an issue that is already being worked on by one or more groups. People who are passionate about those issues, like I am about the living wage, can join other groups, but we had no interest in creating overlap, duplication, or competition in this regard.

In both workshops, I asked, “Is there anyone in the room who has never been harassed in the street?” In both workshops, only one hand went up. In both workshops, that hand was a man’s. Every woman in the room, both in the morning and in the afternoon, had been harassed in the street at some point.

The common themes we found through the discussions we had were: personal safety, women and girls’ empowerment, and rape culture. By the end of the two workshops, we were able to determine that the top three areas of concern are: education about and examination of rape culture; campus sexual assault and safe/respectful nightlife, and street harassment. The ranking of these issues (or whether they make the top three at all) may change after we review the information we gathered from all of the Summit attendees at the end of the day.

From here (and after we review all of the information again that we gathered from participants), we start creating a working group and bring them together to develop clear goals and action plans to start to make meaningful change in our community.

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I really want to add to this entry how grateful I am to N for reaching out to me when she did. After doing what felt like screaming into an abyss for five years, I am on-track do start doing some work and I get to do that on a team.