It’s time to deal with sexual assault

As a society we have to protect these victims by empowering them to come forward without fear of shame or guilt. We need tougher criminal penalties for the assailants. We need to make sure that violence will not be tolerated.

Myrna Driedger, MLA Winnipeg Manitoba Progressive Conservative (PC) caucus
Myrna Driedger
Broadway Journal

Recently an award-winning broadcaster, writer, musician, and producer was fired over allegations he participated in non-consensual rough sex with females. He is quoted as saying these actions were consensual. Several females have come forward with similar stories and all say his behavior was not consensual. Due to his celebrity status it does put the issue of violence against women on front-page news.

Yet other incidents that have come to light in recent days, in particular those about the rape along with the murder or attempted murder of young girls, have focused attention on a related, deeply disturbing issue, one that society has turned its back on for far too long.

Many women do not come forward because they fear they won’t be believed, that police will not do anything, and they are fearful their attacker will strike again possibly killing them. Some are embarrassed and fear being ridiculed by others for appearing to be a willing participant and taken advantage of by the guy’s charming personality, i.e. How could a smart intelligent woman be so naive?

As a society we have to protect these victims by empowering them to come forward without fear of shame or guilt. We need to make the assailants accountable with tougher criminal penalties. We need to send a strong message that violence will not be tolerated nor socially accepted. We need effective violence prevention programs and appropriate education in the schools to teach self-confidence and assertiveness to those who may feel intimidated by the inappropriate behavior of bullies. We have to stop blaming the victims.

We share the responsibility for protecting each other from sexual assault; it is our job to support victims and bring perpetrators to justice. It is also our job to increase awareness. As a woman, I felt compelled to bring forward legislation to help other women. I submitted a Private Member’s Bill to adopt April as “Sexual Assault Awareness Month”, which was passed into law in 2012. It is one small step in the right direction in protecting Manitobans of all walks of life from heinous acts of sexual violence. It is my hope that by designating April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month it will help lift the veil of secrecy and shame surrounding sexual assault and violence all year round. It is also a month where I hope that women’s organizations and government will specifically focus on this issue.

I also initiated a Private Members Bill that was put into law in 2007 to help reduce the risk of unknowingly consuming the so-called “date rape” drug by allowing patrons of licensed establishments to take their drinks into the washroom. Bill 215 – The Liquor Control Amendment Act (Helping to Prevent Date Rape).

It takes courageous women with strong self-esteem to put their name out in public against a perpetrator of violence. These women are courageous because our society still puts much of the blame on women. What was she wearing? Was she drinking, doing drugs, has she had sex before and if she was then maybe she was responsible for the attack, maybe she wanted or deserved it. Nobody deserves to be slapped, choked or raped ever. Tina Fontaine did not deserve to die violently and by the hands of someone who had so little regard for women.

The consequences and outcomes of these senseless violent crimes will send a strong message to both the assailants and the victims. Let’s hope it is the right message, one that will stop the violence.

Myrna Driedger is MLA for Charleswood.

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