May is Sexual Assault Prevention Month in Ontario. Formerly referred to as Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the name was changed in recent years to signify that awareness alone is not enough; to effectively support sexual assault survivors, action is key.
The sexual assault crisis is one that existed long before the COVID-19 pandemic, physically and emotionally affecting people of all ages, genders, ethnicities, sexual orientations and religion. This abuse of power happens in every community, often by someone the survivor already knows. Sadly, the lockdowns put in place to protect Ontarians from COVID19 have inadvertently created isolating environments and placed obstacles in front of survivors seeking support.
Every person deserves to live free from the fear of sexual assault, and to live in communities where all public and private spaces, including workplaces, schools, and homes, support their safety. This is why OPSEU/SEFPO collective agreements include protective language around workplace violence and harassment including workplace sexual harassment. And it’s one of the key reasons why we fight for the government to invest in our public services – so that Ontarians can have access to the strong, reliable supports and resources that everyone needs.
The sexual assault crisis has gone on far too long, and we all have a responsibility to put an end to it. This is not only the right thing to do, it is the law. We must strengthen our systems of accountability so that assaulters know their behaviour will not be tolerated; remove the shame and stigma around it so that survivors are empowered to seek support; and speak out against it so that beliefs and attitudes promoting rape culture are removed from our society.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas, OPSEU/SEFPO President
Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida, OPSEU/SEFPO First Vice-President/Treasurer
Dianne Clarabut, Chair, OPSEU/SEFPO Provincial Women’s Committee (PWC)