Keep Yourself Warm

Take your house keys and hold them in your fist. Space them between your fingers so that they jut out like iron fence posts. They are not sharp, but they will do.

Walk home. Take the long way, for it is brighter. This does not mean that you are safe, but it’s a little better, even if it does add 10, 15, 20 extra minutes onto your journey. Think about your friend’s boyfriend calling her late one night, plastered, walking alone through neighbourhoods in the mottled darkness of the city. Maybe he worried about his wallet, or his phone, or that he would trip and chip a tooth on the sidewalk, but does he worry about his body? Does he keep his music low and eyes alert? Does he look back? He makes it home ok, and falls asleep.

Listen to people as they tell you stories. They were young. They were afraid. You are the first to hear them. They are still afraid.

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We hear the same statistics over and over again after a high-profile sexual assault case hits the news: It is important to note that the number of sexual assaults reported by police is likely an underestimate of the true extent of sexual assault in Canada, as these types of offences are likely to go unreported to police. For instance, self-reported victimization data suggest that the majority (88%) of sexual assaults experienced by Canadians aged 15 years and older are not brought to the attention of police (Perreault and Brennan 2010).

People don’t talk because people don’t listen. It’s easier to say that someone is lying than to believe that someone good or smart or interesting is a horrible person. Rapists are scary, skinny guys wearing greasy tank-tops on episodes of CSI, lurking in the bushes, leaving beautiful women dead in elaborate tableaus. In those shows, the characters stand around tables strewn with evidence and search every inch of them for fingerprints, hair, skin flakes, whatever. They chase the guy down until he is cornered and in cuffs, another spooky madman off the streets. They are stoic, but they knew they did a good job, even if seven or eight women were brutally murdered in the process. Thanks, I guess.

In real life, hundreds of thousands of kits remain untested throughout the US. Canada has only very recently started an inquiry into the hundreds of missing or murdered Indigenous women, something Stephen Harper described as “… [not] really high on our radar, to be honest.” It isn’t much better anywhere else. Stories go untold, people are ignored, and the scars continue to be formed. The one thing about scar tissue, though, is that it hardens, it is painful, and it can break.

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There is a section of the internet that is oddly dedicated to the idea that most reports of rape are false. That the women and men who come forward are looking to smear someone, for payouts, for notoriety, as if there is a lucrative underground world of people throwing themselves in front of strangers going, “Ah ha! I got you! RAPE, RAAAAPE.” Accusations are treated with the same skepticism as dash cam videos where someone wanders into the middle of the street, only to leap in front of a car as it tries to pass by. Those people are gunning for something. There is a plan, and that plan is to use someone as a means to an end, even if that means risking your own body. Rape does not work that way. It is not born of wanting money, or wanting a book deal, or wanting to make a big show of it. It is different. It is something people will carry with them, like a thumbtack in their pocket, for a long time afterwards. Sometimes you forget it’s there, sometimes you go days and days and you’re ok, but then that one little prick and suddenly you’re aware again. It all comes back in an instance, whether you’re ready for it or not.

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There is a saying that goes you are not required to set yourself on fire to keep others warm. It works the other way though, as well. You should not leave others to burn to keep yourself warm. You should not ignore them to save yourself the bother of having to make an effort to help someone else in their time of need. You should not look away as they burn.

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I have watched friend groups become splintered as allegations come out. Voices start to layer and the din grows louder and sides must be taken. What is hard is watching people go silent and try to tone down the noise, try to achieve calm at a time when no one is ok, try to ignore it and search for a place to hide while the people around them speak out. One woman spoke, then another and another and another, friendships ruined and tears shed, and yet there are still those who go, “Are you sure? Are you sure? Are you sure?”

— — — — —

You do not need to be in a hospital to be sick. You do not need to come home to an empty house to have been robbed. You do not need to tremble to show fear. You do not need to be running from an abandoned house, blouse torn asunder, to have been raped. You do not need to push another person into the fire to keep yourself warm.

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