News

Did you know that one in three girls and one in five boys will be victims of unwanted sexual activity before the age of 18?

I do, now. Thanks to the work I do with Breaking Free Foundation and the Victor Walk, I am armed with an arsenal of education and awareness on this difficult reality. Having survived ten years of sexual abuse as a child, I knew of my own experience only, but was not surprised to learn that three people in my family had suffered the same reality (that we know of).

I had my first “me too” experience at the first Victor Walk in 2013, when I stood in front of strangers at the Calgary rally and revealed the truth that had weighed me down for years. Since then, my voice has catapulted me to new levels of healing and happiness and vulnerability that I never knew existed. The domino effect of positive change that continues to occur from the Victor Walk movement, never ceases to amaze me. But, it did amaze me this past week in a huge way, when I got to to witness the ripple effects in my own family first-hand.

Towards the end of 2016, my uncle Peter emerged as a newly sober and inspired person. We had spoken in December about his plans to cycle across Canada following his sobriety journey, and that in light of learning about my story and the other members of the family, he wanted to dedicate this ride to raising awareness about child sexual abuse. But truthfully, this was the last we really spoke of it.

Uncle Peter, and his newfound friend Jacques Letourneau, began their bicycle journey across Canada in May. On June 16th, they arrived in Calgary. The second day they were in town, I was surprised to find my uncle donned in Victor Walk apparel.

“Where did you get that?” I asked.

“I ordered it online months ago,” he said.

I was shocked, in a good way. How cool is it that he was cycling across Canada dressed in orange Victor Walk gear?!

The rest of the weekend was great, I had not seen my uncle in six years, and it was great to spend time with him, Jacques and the rest of the family for a weekend. On his last day in Calgary, my uncle divulged that him and Jacques had setup a website to raise money and awareness for child sexual abuse on their cycle trip across Canada. Their website was titled “2 Frogs Against Abuse”, and they chose in part for humour because they both hail from Montreal, but also because the Victor Walk frog inspired them. The notion that a frog never hops backwards, was a key message for them.

Sexual and physical abuse are prevalent, systemic and at epidemic levels.  Abuse is masked, silenced, or ignored by institutions like the army, police forces, the media, former native residential schools, universities and even our own families.  Recently, Peter  learned that his family and his neighbourhood were casualties.  The number of victims are reflected by a shocking national average of over 30%. Furthermore, the relationship between abuse, addiction and crime are overwhelming. We want to dedicate our ride across Canada to all those who have been traumatized by abuse.

Wow, I couldn’t believe the gratitude I felt that they would take inspiration from our message and kickstart this whole nationwide movement. I was also thrilled to learn that he, as a teacher, has taken his platform and has been using it to raise awareness and educate young people about consent, addiction and sexual abuse.

Yesterday, my uncle called me from Edmonton, to let me know that CBC wanted to interview him about this awareness ride. He asked my permission to mention me in the piece, of course, I obliged. He also let out a few tears over the phone and let me know that he was very proud of me, and that this is important to the family.

As fellow victims of childhood trauma will know, that feeling of “not good enough” can linger. And for me, hearing that threw me into a whirlwind of emotions. I hung up that phone and cried my eyes out. I was happy, proud and most of all grateful. Silence took a toll on myself and my family for years, and it is really amazing that conversations are starting to happen. I am so incredibly proud of my uncle and the Victor Walk movement.

For our Francophone friends, here’s an interview in French on CBC radio that my uncle and Jacques did; for English, check out this video on CBC (hit the 10 minute mark).

You can learn more about the Victor Walk here.

 

Sexual assault in the workplace is a serious issue, an issue that has garnered a lot of extra attention as of late, with many big companies facing allegations and investigations right now. The media has been all over big brands in the last couple of months, for the stories of sexual assault happening among their employees or in the workplace.

In any case of sexual assault, it’s important to remember that there’s nothing rare about it, it’s how companies react to these allegations that can brand them as leaders or part of the problem.

FACT: sexual assaults are extremely common, 460,000 sexual assaults happen every year in Canada. Of that number, 33 out of every 1,000 sexual assault cases are reported to the police. Perhaps more importantly, only 2-4% of reported sexual assaults are determined to be false reports.

In understanding the statistics, companies should realize that in the majority of cases, these are very legitimate claims and need to be taken very seriously. However, some companies jump into PR mode when a sexual assault claim arises, and go on the defensive instead of putting their energy where it can be most effective—in care and compassion for the victim.

Brands are worried about losing credibility, but in going on the defensive, they end up hurting their business even more, and the victim too. A perfect example of this misstep, is what happened to Uber this past month. After a huge BuzzFeed investigative story was posted, it was unveiled that 6,000 complaints involving sexual assault were filed against Uber. Instead of going the compassion route, Uber posted a very defensive open letter on Medium, which proved only to cause more scrutiny towards the company, and re-traumatized the immense number of victims.

“Our analysis for all of these results shows five tickets that allege an actual rape occurred (0.0000009% of rides in the three years from December 2012 to August 2015) and 170 tickets with a legitimate claim of sexual assault (1 in every 3.3 million trips).” [Uber on Medium]

Needless to say, the response to the public concern over the high number of complaints, led to some serious scrutiny by many.

So Uber apparently thinks it’s okay to defend itself by announcing that only 1 in every 3.3 million passengers is sexually assaulted? Even if that number was 1 in every 3 billion, it would be one too many. Uber has an obligation as a company to ensure the safety of its passengers and to use figures like this as a form of defense is an insult to everyone who has ever reported such an incident. [The Next Web]

So how should a company react when a sexual assault claim is brought against their business or an employee?

  • Assure the person bringing forth the complaint that the matter is being seriously looked into. Walk them through the process and what will happen next, and be sure to offer support both on a professional level and through required HR resources or third-party resources (therapy, crisis lines, etc.).
  • Consult with your HR department and upper management on how to proceed with the situation internally and externally. Be sure to inform staff of the process occurring and provide the necessary support, as trauma can have a ripple effect within a workplace. The Government of Canada has some great resources on responding to trauma in the workplace, we also have additional resources on this on our website here.
  • In many cases, an external communication plan will be needed. If you don’t have the resources in-house, consult with both an HR and PR representative on how to address the situation publicly and with compassion and information.

If your company does not offer insurance-covered therapy with a certified trauma specialist, please check out our Therapy Grant Program for any employees dealing with the trauma associated with sexual assault. You can follow us on Twitter for more resources.

— Written by Amber Craig [Twitter]