Bystanders, men have role in preventing violence against women, victim’s father says - ‘It’s just wrong, and I’m never going to shut up about it’
Cockburn, N. (2014). Ottawa Citizen.
OTTAWA — One of the things that still haunts the father of Rehtaeh Parsons is that there were people who didn’t help his daughter.
“We know what happens now, when we do nothing,” Glen Canning said Tuesday. “It can drive a victim to suicide. We have to let victims know that people care, and of course the best way to do that is to try to prevent them from being victims in the first place.”
Parsons, from Nova Scotia, was taken off life support after a suicide attempt in April 2013 that her family says was prompted by months of bullying.
The 17-year-old girl was tormented after a digital photograph purporting to show her being sexually assaulted in November 2011 was distributed around her school, they have said. Two men, now 19, face child pornography-related charges connected to the case.
Canning, a writer and photographer, has been outspoken since his daughter’s death. He was in Ottawa on Tuesday to speak at a “community discussion” held by the Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women.
During an interview with the Citizen, he pointed to high-profile cases such as that of a pair of high school football players raping a drunken 16-year-old girl in Steubenville, Ohio, “where there are people around, watching what’s happening, and none of them are saying or doing anything. They’re just letting it happen,” he said.
“I’m trying to reinforce the idea with people that that’s completely unacceptable. That’s just wrong — in my opinion you’re partaking ... in a sexual assault, if you’re just standing there, watching it happen without doing anything to stop it or to hold people accountable for it.”
Other advocates have worked to spread a similar message in Ottawa, particularly around the need for bystanders to step in if they see sexual assaults or harassment in transit stations and on buses.
Canning said men must play a role in ending violence against women, and in changing culture that encourages it or turns a blind eye.
“Violence against women is a men’s issue. We need men to start setting examples, we need men to start speaking out, we need men to start challenging the culture that goes around with rape and sexual assault of women, where people make jokes about it or make light of it,” he said.
People are part of the problem when they downplay incidents or cast doubt on victims and create an environment where victims don’t feel comfortable reporting an assault, he said.
“You’re perpetuating the issue where women just don’t bother coming forward at all because of how society looks at it. ... As innocent as that may seem to you, you are actually part of the problem. You are why women don’t come forward, and you are why sexual predators have victim after victim.
“It’s just wrong, and I’m never going to shut up about it,” Canning said.
The culture is ingrained, he said, referring to a chant at frosh week at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax that glorified the sexual assault of young girls.
“It can be a little bit frustrating, but the more the message is out there, the less people have an excuse,” Canning said.
The event was being held in Jean Pigott Place at City Hall from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
With files from The Canadian Press
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