Amelia is a Graduate of Small Business & Entrepreneurship with experience as a community advocate in both voluntary and professional settings; she is a survivor of sexual violence with roots in both Oxford County and Hamilton. Amelia has been a service-user at SACHA, as well as a volunteer since 2011.
You can watch a video of Ameila’s story here.
Amelia’s story was recently presented to the provincial government’s Select Committee on Sexual Violence and Harassment.
May is Sexual Violence Prevention Month.
I would like to first thank members of the Committee and all others in attendance today for your interest and participation, as well as your devotion to ending sexual violence and harassment, and gender-based violence in general.
Please know that I understand my experiences to be my own, and though these experiences are certainly reflective of the sexual violence and harassment that others have faced, my perspective is that of a person with certain “unearned privileges”: My light-coloured skin tone, the fact that I do not identify as transgender, and that I am currently physically able-bodied has certainly had defining and lasting positive impacts throughout my journey as a survivor within a society that demonstrates strong preferences for individuals who exhibit these characteristics.
I encourage the Committee, and attendees and listeners, to consider in their approaches the needs of survivors from all demographics.
During my second year of high-school, I was sexually assaulted by another student within school walls. After a couple weeks’ hesitation, and with the encouragement of a friend, I made a choice to disclose my experience to a trusted teacher. It was unclear to me at the time that from the exact moment I made my disclosure, the power to choose what I would go through would not be my own. Instead, the power of choice in the matter would reside in protocol beyond what was accessible to me.
Existing school board policy dictated the next step. My teacher was careful, and informed me very gently that, unfortunately, she would have to bring this to her superiors right away. Immediately from this point, her superiors, not-so-gently informed me that they would be compelled to report what they called an “incident” to police services. Because the sexual assault took place on school property, charges would have to be laid against the offender.
Experiencing trauma and attempting at a young age to cope, largely unsupported, with sexual assault, it was not long before my troubles were exacerbated by stressful legal meetings in uncomfortable settings. Alone, I would meet with a detective with whom I had never previously built trust, interact with officers whose names I was not given, and finally end up in a courtroom where a trial, led by men I did not know, would somehow bring about what society often refers to as justice. My experiences were not driven by my needs for support, but rather by the needs of systems that sought to prioritize punishing law-breakers.
Based on the excellent encouragement I received, many years later from SACHA, I have been able to look back on my high school experience and see a mirror opposite of the healthful, empowering support I received as an adult.
Questioning posed to me in the courtroom included the trope inquisition regarding the misguided belief that sexual assault may have been warranted as a result of any provocation of the offender: I was asked for a description of my clothing at the time of my assault. Had I dressed or behaved in ways that were presumed to be provocative — a highly ambiguous concept in itself — the court may have seen it reasonable to blame me, the victim of assault, for the offender’s choices.
Volunteers and staff of Sexual Assault/Rape Crisis Centres and community organizations have dedicated countless hours to correcting this perception. Today, as a result of this work, we are well aware that the notion of a victim being to blame for an offender’s behaviour is mythical and erroneous.
Throughout the early stages of my experiences with education professionals within my high school, communication and support were feeble and insubstantial. My feelings were not validated, options were not available or respected, and praise for the courage it took me at this age to come forward was scarce.
Today, community specialists know that the skills to truly and adequately support survivors are not innate, nor do they materialize out of good intentions. Sexual Assault Centre experts must themselves be supported and empowered so that skill-building opportunities can be shared more widely, and more professionals and workers alike can become increasingly enabled to respond appropriately and supportively for survivors in need.
A key element of the negativity I lived through in high school was the resultant tension that grew between my best friend and I following my assault — we soon stopped speaking entirely. My best friend was a bystander and witness of my assault, and had to be subpoenaed into the courtroom proceedings. With little education, and no training or support, he too lacked the empowerment and resources to recognize and respond to assault in ways that may have prevented the trauma I experienced.
Present-day innovative bystander programming and training developed and delivered by Sexual Assault Centres can provide much-needed resources and information for countless individuals who will certainly within their lifetimes witness harmful attitudes, endangering behaviours, and ultimately sexual violence. Proactive learning techniques and prevention education will encourage Ontarians to assist in ending the prevalence of sexual violence and harassment.
Without appropriate, adequate and secure funding for organizations like SACHA, few of today’s outstanding support services for survivors would be possible. Over a decade after my assault, SACHA allowed me the opportunity to become accountable to myself and to take power in making my own choices in healing from the trauma of assault and abuse.
Sexual Assault Centres take the courageous and demanding roles of being both the beacons of survivor empowerment as well projectors of survivor voices. To advocate on behalf of the myriad survivor needs and experiences throughout the province, Centres must continue to operate with the independence that allows for the continual improvement and correction of policies, practices, and laws across Ontario.
Community experts working and volunteering throughout Ontario’s 41 Anglophone and Francophone Sexual Assault Centres lead the way in empowering survivors’ voices and livelihoods through the recognition, support, and funding granted by the province.
It is imperative to the well-being of survivors and for the termination of sexual assault and harassment that these resources become permanently integrated into our understandings.