Why I Walk, or How I Underline My Vulnerability
I walk because I have been shamed and felt ashamed as a victim of sexual violence.
I walk because living with shame is like wearing a set of prescription glasses made for someone else.
I walk because being vulnerable is human and there is no shame in my humanity.
I walk to underline that vulnerability, which I am told is “weak” and should be kept private. Rape culture, a euphemism for our shared social environment that permits and condones sexual aggression and obscures understanding of consent, is excruciatingly public and I cannot be quiet about its insidious consequences.
In early 2016, Toronto Police Service (TPS) charged a man with sexual assault after I reported a ‘date rape.’ They took my statement three times that day. They made copies of my handwritten notes detailing what happened. They photographed the bruises. They collected clothing for evidence. One year later, in early 2017, in a meeting with the Crown to discuss the upcoming trial, I was told that the behaviour of this man was “ungentlemanly” but that it was, in the words of the TPS detective, “hard to read minds.” Never-mind the statement which indicated how many times I uttered the word “no” and the brutal nude photographs they had access to—this was not a winnable case. The Crown suggested I ask the man to sign a Peace Bond instead of going to trial. I agreed (flippantly) because it was clear that my experience at the hands of this man was no longer enough. A lawyer and a cop had agreed it wasn’t that bad.
One of the goals of sexual violence is the humiliation of the victim; reporting sexual violence often re-traumatizes and re-humiliates. Prosecuting this crime is a heavy and harmful burden on victims who often have no advocates. The incentives to report are low, the burden of proof is high, and the system is not equipped (nor designed) to deal empathetically or ‘productively’ with people who experience sexual violence.
I walk for White Ribbon because by the time the crime is reported the harm done is irrevocable. We must stop gendered and sexual violence where the first seeds are planted and become rooted: in schools, in the media, in political discourse, and in gender socialization, in every form. White Ribbon is doing the work of education, with programming that promotes “gender equality [and] healthy relationships and helps to counter the harmful effects of toxic masculinity.” Toxic masculinity as an ideological system negatively codes vulnerability: it is the female-sexed body, the feminine mystique, the “weak,” and the victim. I am all of these things in concert and in conflict.
I walk because when I do, I am reminded that I am also surviving and I am not alone. Victims keep living. We are here. We exist. We walk together. And we walk for the ones who didn’t and who cannot and we walk for a different world.
Lindsay Sidders is participating in White Ribbon’s Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, presented by Town Shoes Ltd, taking place on Wednesday May 30, 2018 at 12noon, David Pecaut Square, 215 King Street West, in Toronto. Visit the Walk website to register, participate, and or donate. Thank you for your support of White Ribbon’s work to engage men and boys in promoting healthy masculinities and ending gender-based violence.