OPS_TaylorSwiftTrial_EvaRinaldi
Photo courtesy Eva Rinaldi

Influential people can help encourage survivors to report sexual assault

By Mackenzie Ens, September 12 2017 —

Taylor Swift made headlines this summer for something much different than a new song or a rumoured feud.

After almost two years out of the spotlight, Swift made a public stand for sexual assault survivors during her own trial by successfully counter-suing former DJ David Mueller for $1 after he groped her during a meet-and-greet in 2013. Mueller originally sued Swift for slander, alleging that Swift had falsely accused him of sexual assault, resulting in the loss of his job.

Swift’s actions against her assailant are admirable. By using her massive platform and access to the media, she stood up for herself in the face of sexual assault and harassment. This also encouraged other survivors to come forward and seek justice in a society in which that isn’t an easy task.

An extremely popular celebrity testifying in their own sexual assault case as a victim will help other sexual assault survivors come forward with their stories. The weekend following Swift’s testimony, United States anti-sexual abuse organization Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network saw a 35 per cent increase in calls from survivors of sexual assault and harassment, showing that media coverage of sexual assault survivors empowers other survivors.

According to the Canadian Women’s Foundation, a non-profit aiming to end violence against women, the rate of sexual assault for Canadians aged 15–24 is 18 times higher than that of Canadians aged 55 and older. That demographic falls directly within Swift’s fan base, making her bravery even more influential.

The University of Calgary has taken steps to protect students with its updated sexual violence policy, which took effect on June 1, 2017. The new policy includes more reporting options for survivors, defines concepts such as consent and differentiates between sexual harassment, assault and violence. In Canada, one in three women and one in six men will experience sexual violence in their lifetime, according to Statistics Canada. This means policies like the U of C’s are potentially life-saving. The policy can help educate the student population about dangerous behaviours while also providing resources for survivors.

While this new strategy is a step in the right direction to combat sexual violence, it takes more than a policy to encourage survivors to report violence. Most sexual assault survivors don’t report their assault due to factors like self-blame, fear of future attacks and the belief that reporting it wouldn’t accomplish anything. Students at the U of C must not be bystanders when acts of violence occur around them and they should believe and support survivors if news of an assault or harassment is shared with them.

Our society won’t be able to change overnight, but if powerful people, institutions and citizens take responsibility for their actions and behaviour, sexual violence could eventually be a thing of the past.

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