By Muniyra Douglas
Transcribed By Shira Ragosin
Sexual violence is an unfortunate reality of our world today. Many affected voices are forcefully silenced from speaking out against or reporting sexual assault. This is due to the existing trends of victim blaming, workplace harassment and gender promoting narratives.
Bringing a positive change to the existing rape culture in cities like Toronto is creating safe places in public, at work, in schools, and even online.
One such organization which has taken an initiative for rape survivors and holding meaningful conversations is the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre – Multicultural Women Against Rape (TRCC/ MWAP). The organization is a grassroots, woman-run collective, working to end all violence to women and children.
In this Interview, VIBE Talks Correspondent Muniyra Douglas speaks with Deb Singh, Counsellor at TRCC/MWAP, and an advocate/ activist for the women's movement. We discuss in depth some of the common misconceptions that exist surrounding the rape culture, including ways in which we can actively help victims through awareness and support.
Muniyra: What services and programs do you provide?
Deb: We have a 24 hour crisis line that is confidential 416-597-8808. We provide face-to-face counselling, court support, so if survivors have an appointment with children, or family court, or a legal proceeding to do with sexual assault, they want to report a sexual assault to the police, we would provide a support person volunteer for them to do that. We provide volunteer training. We have a Latin-American women's program, where all of our services are in Spanish and geared towards Latin-American community members. And we have different events. So one of the biggest events we have, it’s a global event, that happens in almost every city around the world, Take Back The Night, we’ve been hosting it with other organizations for the past 37 years.
Muniyra: Why do so many survivors not press charges?
Deb: Well the last statistic I read was about a 2014 statistic, of which about 8% of people who experience sexual violence, will go to the police. And there’s a myriad of reasons, but basically nobody believes them. So usually survivors don’t go to the police first. They might tell somebody in their family, or their friends, and if somebody doesn’t believe them and then they really don't feel that the police will believe them, if their own family and friends don't’ believe them. Another reason why is because there’s not a lot of sexual assaults that are reported to the police that become or that result in a charge and arrest. A lot of times the police find those reports of sexual assault unfounded, which means nothing happened according to their investigation. So the police don't believe you when you approach them and your friends and family which are usually your first point of contact, also don’t react in ways that make survivors feel like they're being heard and like what happened to them actually was real. Another reason why is because of rape culture, we actually blame survivors and people who experience sexual assault for the fact that they experience it.
There's a lot of victim blaming and telling survivors, that once they finally are courageous enough to say that this happened, that somehow they made this happen. They wore the wrong clothes, or they went to that bar, or they shouldn’t have got drunk; and there’s all these really clear messages that there was something you did that allowed this to happen. And so they don’t believe that the police will believe them.
Muniyra: How much does appearance or behaviour actually contribute to sexual assault?
Deb: Well I think that nobody would ever want to experience sexual assault, so there's nothing that they would ever do to make that happen to them on purpose. Nobody wants to experience violence. So it’s a pretty logical thing; I think we can all safely say that none of us want to experience sexual assault, so why would we do anything to make that happen to us? It’s kind of an oxymoron because there’s no other crime that the victims of that crime are more blamed for what happened to them than sexual assault. And so people actually think, in general, that a woman’s, but also Trans people and non-binary people's, behaviours could stop sexual violence. They would do that, because they don't want to be sexual assaulted. So what you wear doesn't get you assaulted, what you drink doesn't get you assaulted, where you went doesn't get you assaulted. Its people who do violence, people do the assaulting. I think that it's really sad in our community that there's so much of a rape culture, that we actually believe people are trying to provoke violence against them just by what they wear or what they drink or where they go. That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.
If we really want to end violence, we need to start putting the blame on the people who are doing the violence because they are the ones who are making the choice to do that violence.
Muniyra: For those that are aware of any traumatic events that have occurred to somebody around them, what is it that you can suggest to them to do? How is it that they can help?
Deb: There's a lot of conversations about this idea of bystander intervention, and its two folds for me. One, sexual assault generally happens in places where it’s just two people. But most people who are perpetuating and perpetrating this sexual assault know that it’s wrong, or sexual harassment. They know that it’s not okay that’s why they’re cornering this person in an isolated situation and doing these behaviours. Whether they’re violent behaviours or verbal behaviours of a sexual nature. On one hand it’s really hard to interrupt those behaviours because they’re behind closed doors, in spaces that are really comfortable or familiar to survivors, and to individuals, like the workplace or school, or their homes. Some places like bars, or dances, or college campuses, we can think about what it might mean for someone to interrupt that behaviour in many ways. Generally, it’s woman or Trans people and non-binary people who experience sexism and transphobia in the world, and I think we can do something to interrupt when we see those behaviours happening. We can call out our friends in good ways, we can say that: “That’s not okay.” We can check in on the survivors and say: “Hey that’s weird, are you okay?” We can do something to try to interrupt, when we see something happening in front of us, or to question when something is happening when it’s wrong, and we know it and we see it.
Deb: Because I think one of our biggest problems in a culture of rape, where we don’t interrupt these behaviours is that a lot of people see, when young woman are experiencing sexual harassment or even sexual assault on the subway. For example, the TTC, a lot of us turn our eyes. “We have somewhere to go.” “It’s not for us to get involved.” “We’re not sure what’s exactly happening.” But I think it’s important for us to stand up and even if it might feel uncomfortable, that we wouldn’t want that happening to our friends, our community members, people who are close to us, and I’d hope that we also, at those moments, try to say something and do something. When we see something in public that's really clear, happening of the sexual violence nature, and it’s not okay, and to say that, you know? It’s really hard for example, when you see a young person on the subway and some guy is way too close, or groping them in rush hour, or trying to show them a body part, or something like that, and none of us do anything. Especially older people, because it happens a lot between the ages of 18 and 25. To see that, and in our more adult community, not do something to support them.
And [the victims are] super disempowered in those moments to say anything or do anything. They’re already experiencing the violence, and now they have to stand up for themselves on top of it.
I think as a culture, as a sub-society, we can come together and interrupt those moments. We can also do a lot of our own education and support each other, to learn more about how to support folks who are experiencing this. To believe people when they come to us and are courageous enough to tell us. These are some of the bystanders things that individually we can do that are actually really simple, just believe somebody when they tell you this happened to them. Don’t question what they were wearing, what they were drinking, where they went, why they did that. Believe that the violence is left with the person who did it, not the person who experienced it.
Muniyra: Can you just elaborate on some common misconceptions revolving around sexual assault?
Deb: So the last statistic I read about this, shows around 70% of people who experience sexual assault, knew the perpetrator prior to this moment. In childhood sexual violence the number one perpetrator is the father, after that is the uncle. And then sexual violence, when it comes to people that we know, it’s usually a date, a boyfriend, a partner. And then after that, it can be someone very close to you, in your inner circle, like a teacher, a coach, a co-worker, somebody who may probably have power over you in some way. Even if it’s a co-worker, that co-worker is a man and he might have power over you in a certain way if you are a woman. It makes sense that sexual violence happens in this way because these are the people who are most accessible to us, these are the people who we know, the perpetrators, and we’re close to them. There's already a flux relationship, we don't necessarily have to see it coming. But absolutely, stranger violence does happen in our community. Sexual assault is perpetrated by people we do not know prior to this, or are very [much] like acquaintances, that more often than not, as long as you know that person even to the level of being acquaintances, then it’s around 70%.
Muniyra: Have you ever dealt with any cases involving males?
Deb: Yes of course. Here at the Toronto Crisis Centre - Multicultural Women Against Rape, we support all survivors, that could be cis-women, cis-men, non-binary and trans community members. Yes, of course in my decade of working here I’ve worked with survivors who identify as a man. Generally speaking the number one perpetrator of violence is a cisgender male against another cisgender male. I mean when it comes to sexual assault usually it’s another male. Of course there are women who are perpetrators of sexual violence, but again statistically it’s mostly men raping or sexually assaulting other men. So when it comes to the gender piece of the sexism piece, survivors kind of have a similar feelings or similar thoughts. What might be different is sort of the impact, so how sexual violence and talking about a man’s experience of sexual violence, it will be different because of how we see gender. Often survivors who identify as a man, don’t get relieved, but that’s still similar to woman, it’s just for different reasons. “Oh a man can’t get raped!” “He always wants to have sex!” “He can’t possibly ever say no!” And that is again not true, and based in a false notion around gender. But often times all the survivors aren't believed anyway. So women aren't believed because: “Who cares? “You’re just a woman, that’s expected.” “Oh, you were wearing a short skirt, of course he wanted it”. And men are not believed because of: “How could you not want it?” “You’re a man, you should always want sex.” “You could never say no to sex possibly!” So these narratives are really just putting us in boxes, that don’t allow people to talk about their own experiences of what really happened to them.
And I think it’s up to us as individuals, to break down those ideas and [that] all survivors kind of experience some of the same feelings, some of the same thoughts, and some of the same impacts even though we have many differences among us. And some of those differences make it so we have different impacts when we experience sexual violence. So Survivors often share some commonalities, absolutely.
You can contact the 24-hour line 416-597-8808, or visit the website.