Catherine Day, a crisis counsellor here at the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre, shares her thoughts about some of the recent events covered in the media and how resistance and choice are vital to these conversations. Here’s what Catherine had to say:
(Please note, we have linked to each of these individuals’ statements which describe their experiences of sexual assault, which may be triggering for some.)
The young woman from the Stanford University sexual assault case, CBC employee Kathryn Borel, Premier Christy Clark: these are just some of the individuals who recently spoke loudly, clearly and directly to the problems of sexualized violence in our society. Like so many others before them, they stood up and spoke truth upon truth to power. Overt resistance is compelling and inspirational to witness (to say the very least), and sometimes, it can even change things.
As a crisis counsellor at VSAC, I see many clients for whom the question of “what to do next” is a clear and straight forward path. For example, some clients say: “I want to report this – the police need to know” or “I do not want to report this” or “I’d like to know my options”, or “I have to carry on with my life – I don’t have time to deal with this” or “I just want some advice on how to deal with the nightmares/the angry boyfriend/the shitty boss/my mind-numbing sadness…”
For others, the next steps are not so clear, or easy to decide. More recently, I’m noticing that many of my clients are struggling under an internalized pressure that they should DO SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING, (a sentiment that is often associated with saying something to the police). Frequently this pressure is coming from extremely well meaning friends, family members, internet support sites, and the media.
Where ever it’s coming from, I’d like to share this: that survivors, including those we see as clients, are struggling with some of the toughest decisions they have ever had to make in their lives; they are trying to get a sense of what they can do next, what feels safe to do next, what their particular work/social responsibilities will allow them to do next, and ultimately what they feel physically and mentally able to do next. Some clients can just barely get the words they feel around their tears. And so, yes, it can be a challenge figuring out how best to support them, how best to be an ally in spirit and in action.
As a counsellor, one of my guiding principles is that I do not pressure anyone to do anything they don’t want to do. I have also witnessed the frustration, anger, and disbelief that clients experience if, and once, they do decide to “go forward”. Long court waits with frequent delays (many over a year and a half), no-contact orders that require the survivor’s heightened vigilance, jobs and responsibilities that have suddenly become the hardest things to be present for, and sometimes a world that moves on while they feel stuck, tired and afraid. Decisions about what to do and who to tell can be complex and for many survivors of sexualized violence, it is rarely as simple as “I want to report this”.
For some survivors, reporting sexualized violence can absolutely make a difference in their lives. Reporting can also provide police with the information in order to investigate and forward charges; researchers and policy makers with information to decide how to allocate resources, and so on. But the flip-side to the current social momentum (media-driven appeals to survivors to, “come forward”, “fight back”) is this: We run the risk of leaving the job of stopping sexualized violence to people who never signed up for this – people who have lives, who have dreams and wishes, who are not responsible to do our jobs for us. For change to happen, we all – in particular politicians, funders, policy makers, the court system, and members of the police force – need to collectively take action, hold people accountable for their actions, as well as honour the different ways survivors choose to resist, speak out, heal and create justice for the violence committed against them.
One way we can honour survivor’s dignity is this: you can tell your friend, your child or your loved one that you are there for them and that you believe them. Or: Is there anything they’d like at this time? Maybe a ride, a phone number, a cup of hot soup …or just some quiet time?
There have been a lot of events of late that highlight the injustice, hate and violence that too many people continue to experience. As I have written in a previous piece about resistance, whenever people are badly treated they will always resist. Resistance can take many forms, sometimes it is overt, like in the case of the individuals mentioned above, and sometimes it is not. It is our collective resistance and action that are the catalysts for change; creating a world where it is safe for any survivor to speak out and where ending sexualized violence is possible. Let’s just always, always respect each other’s dignity and inviolable goodness while we’re doing that. ~Catherine Day
Other posts about resistance: