By now, all of us are aware of the tragic circumstances of Rehtaeh Parsons’ rape, torment, and suicide. I don’t need to provide the details of what happened to her. To be honest, and perhaps selfishly so, I know I can’t bear to write about it.
Because this isn’t the first time we have written about the suffering of a young girl, victimized by the very rape culture we are subjected to daily. We do this on what seems like a weekly basis: another teenage girl, another heartbreaking story, another sad ending.
So as we have done in the past – with Amanda Todd in British Columbia – and as we do now with Audrie Pott in California, we grieve. We grieve for the life of a girl who never really had a chance to live. We pain for her family; bewildered by what they had to go through and offering them our sympathy. We take comfort that now, maybe….just maybe… justice will prevail. That, for Rehtaeh, the Canadian system will do as it is supposed to do.
I live where, sadly, Rehtaeh used to lived. Not in Nova Scotia per say, but in New Brunswick – its neighboring province. We, including Prince Edward Island, make up the Maritime Provinces of Canada; full of kind and compassionate people, surrounded by wild and unscathed beauty, with a population of only about 2 million.
But despite all the raw grandeur and the tight-knit communities of our region remains a very stark reality: a situation like Rehtaeh’s is not uncommon.
1 in 4 North American women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. But in the Maritimes, the rates of violence are higher than the already staggering average – violence against women is among the highest in the country and resources to help are frighteningly limited.
In Fredericton, New Brunswick, where I currently live, I have an 88% higher chance of being sexually assaulted than in the rest of the country. Third highest in the country. The first? Saint John, New Brunswick (an approximate 1.5 hour drive from Fredericton), where women have a 132% higher than average chance of being sexually assault.
Yet, knowing that less than 1 in 10 sexual assaults that occur in Canada are actually reported, lower than any other violent crime, how many more acts of sexual violence are occurring in the Maritimes – my home – without us knowing? How many more women around me are suffering in silence?
The terrifying question remains: How worse off are we?
Because this is what the culture of rape is all about: isolating women, victimizing women, shaming women. It tells us that, for things to get better, we must change. It tells us that the growing rates of sexual assault are our fault.
Just as Rehtaeh continues to be blamed in the form of posters for support of the boys who assaulted her, all women are blamed for the sexual violence that is committed against us.
But the reality is it is society who is to blame.
- Society tells us that we are increasingly guilty of making false rape accusations, although research proves it’s a rarity.
- Society tells us that if a man is guilty of rape he will be held responsible, although statistics show us that sexual assault is the least likely of all violent crimes in Canada to result in a conviction.
- Society tells us that the police will find evidence if an assault takes place, although the justice system shows us that the prevalence of ‘unfounding’ in sexual assault cases, a finding of ‘a crime not committed’ by police, is highly variable across Canadian regions. In fact, such rates have been criticized for lack of consistency.
And society limits our sources of support.
- The only Planned Parenthood in the Province of New Brunswick closed its doors in 2006.
- The New Brunswick Advisory Council on the Status of Women was abolished by the provincial government in 2011.
- Funding to the capital city’s sexual health services was severely cut in 2011.
- Abortion services are also limited: no surgical abortions can take place on Prince Edward Island and the Morgentaler clinic, the Maritime’s only public abortion clinic, is not deemed ‘medically necessary’ and therefore not provincially funded.
In fact, rather than making services more accessible, and rather than providing funding to the limited services that are already available to us, New Brunswick politicians suggest creating ‘women only’ parking spots. It’s laughable, except that the neglect of women throughout the Maritime provinces is no laughing matter.
We are, as Alexandra at Feministing so poignantly said, “in a state of emergency”. The Maritime Provinces have been stuck in this ‘state’ for quite some time, and I for one have had enough.
I am tired of being scared in my home, and I am tired of being blamed for feeling the way I do.
What we have learned from this horrible situation is that to achieve justice for all of us – whether we live in the Maritimes, throughout Canada, or anywhere else in the world –we must get angry, we must demand change as did after hearing about Rehtaeh.
So, to the men and women of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island: be concerned, get angry, start acting. It’s time for change. Please – start conversations in your communities, form rallies, write letters. It’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Let’s make the most of it.
For assistance in the Maritime Provinces:
In New Brunswick
In Nova Scotia
- Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women
- Nova Scotia Domestic Violence Resource Centre
- Halifax Sexual Health (formerly Planned Parenthood)
- Avalon Sexual Assault Centre
- Antigonish Women’s Centre
In Prince Edward Island