Speak to the Y-O-U-N-G

Speak to the Y-O-U-N-G
Column originally appeared in The Western Star, Corner Brook, NL Sept 11, 2013. Warning: This column contains lyrics and information that may be troubling to some and could trigger a highly emotional reaction. Please read with caution and protection for your emotional health.

I’m not going to rant, because I’m tired of ranting. Ranting does nothing. It makes me feel better momentarily, like crying when you’re upset. But without the thing that upsets me changing, neither crying nor ranting will resolve the issue.

People like me talk and write a lot about issues like this. The problem is that we are only listening to each other. The people who need to hear us don’t because they brush us off for “over-reacting” or being “too feminist” or “too serious.” Trust me, I’ve heard those phrases a lot.

So I’m done ranting. Instead I’m going to present some facts.

The  Canadian news scene exploded last week with revelations of a chant at St. Mary’s University Frosh week that promoted rape and underage sex. Well, actually, explosion is an overstatement. There was a lot of attention, but the tough questions, the ones that should’ve been asked, weren’t. My first response was “how long has this been going on? Have their been previous complaints? Was the university administration aware of this?”

The media’s first response was to treat it like a he said/she said issue and get feedback from students on what they thought. A big part of the response was sympathy for the student union that allowed this chant and the punishment and stigma they were now facing. The excuse? The chant had been around for ages and they just never thought about it.

I’m not going to rant, I promise.

The lyrics of this offensive chant make it difficult to believe their story. How anyone could say the words:
 Y is for your sister,
O is for oh so tight,
U is for underage,
N is for no consent,
G is for grab that ass
 without thinking that maybe what they were saying was inappropriate is entirely implausible.

They knew it was offensive. That is why they took such joy in chanting it. The video of the incident at Saint Mary’s University shows that this was a celebratory, revelling chant.

Later, students at UBC also performed the same chant at their frosh week activities. Except their last line was “G is for go to jail.”

Let’s examine that shall we?

Nova Scotia premier Darrell Dexter said he couldn’t believe students would chant something so bad, especially in their province where they are well aware of these sensitivities.

However, facts and statistics gathered by a local Halifax women’s centre tell a different story. The Avalon Centre  has gathered Statistics Canada and Department of Justice stats on sexual assault, reporting, and sentencing in Nova Scotia.

They report that in 2007 (the last year of reliable published numbers):

  • Nova Scotia had a reported sexual assault rate of 75 per 100,000 people compared to the national rate of 65 per 100,000 people. 
  • Only 30% of reported sexual assaults had charges laid. This percentage was the lowest of all the provinces and territories. The national average was 42% 
  • The acquittal rate for sexual assaults in Nova Scotia was 13%. The rate was only 6% for other violent offences.
  • The rate of police-reported sexual assault in Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) in 2007 was 87 per 100,000. There is an average of one sexual assault reported every day. 
  • Only 22% of sexual assaults reported in HRM had a charge laid. In comparison, 49% of other violent offences reported had charges laid during that same period.
According to Statistics Canada, 88% of rape goes unreported. So looking at the Nova Scotia statistics under that additional lens, we can see – generally speaking - that in Halifax alone there are about five rapes a day, with only 1 of those being reported.

Each week, of the 7 reported cases, only 2 have charges laid. At the end of the month, of the 8 offenders charged, 1 is acquitted. So after a month of 150 rapes, 7 rapists face possible sentencing. That’s just in the Halifax area. However, even then, 41% of those convicted (as compared to 10% of those convicted of other violent crimes) will receive conditional sentencing only.

So, 150 rapes means 4 rapists go to jail. And that’s just in Halifax.

While the chant that’s been repeated at UBC for over 20 years, according to student reports, ends in “go to jail,” most rapes don’t end that way.

Most end with terrified, intimidated, broken women and men trying to reclaim their lives while their rapists live free, chanting and having fun. And when their rapists are charged and go to jail, they, like the student leaders who support their activities through their chants, get sympathy for the unfair punishment they face.

How a chant can be sung at a university for over 20 years and the administration not be aware of it, I don’t know. I suspect they were aware and chose to do nothing, just as Premier Dexter must be aware of the rape statistics in his province and chooses to not talk about them.

Just as, here at home, the Engineering facility at Memorial is perfectly aware of a sexually offensive and inappropriate mug created by their student society to celebrate back-to-school. A mug featuring a provocative cartoon pose of a woman with the phrase “If she’s thirsty, give her the D(day)” is a play on the phrase “if she’s thirsty give her the D(dick).” The students here at Memorial are facing the same kind of “discipline” the students at Saint Mary’s and UBC face: issue an apology and learn some sensitivity.

It takes time to reform our justice system and time to change a culture, but none of it will happen until we change our mindset. Currently we’re working and living in a rape culture that excuses and even mocks sexual assault. The only way to change that is to start with our young. Instead of ranting at each other about how horrible it all is, we need to talk to our children, calmly and reasonably, to show them how they can change this.

I wish these student’s parents had done that. But they didn’t. It’s our turn now. How will you keep your sons and daughters from following in their footsteps?


Not Just the First Day

(originally published in The Western Star, Corner Brook, NL Sept. 04, 2013)

This week I bring my youngest son to his first day of school.

My eldest is entering the Elementary grades, and my little princess will be twirling her way through grade two.

It seems too fast and long awaited all at once.

I’m looking forward to a bit of quiet to do my work in, but I’m not looking forward to no longer being able to spontaneously go on daytrips or outings without working around the school schedule, homework, and the everlasting “we need groceries – you’re out of school snacks!” concern.

It’s stressful, for sure. For them and us. Like, kids who refuse to get out of bed, making everyone late. Somehow your employer can understand this better than their schools can. And the field trip forms that never make it home for some reason (thank God their new school uses email for important things). And always, the constant need for supplies of one kind or another…

But it’s also exciting. Especially the firsts! This first day in Kindergarten will be my last. And then there’s all the firsts my eldest has already accomplished. For some reason I suspect that “first time solving a calculus problem” is not going to seem so monumental as his “first time understanding multiplication.”

It should though.

For older children, the excitement wears off and all that stays is the stress. And there’s more stress in Junior High and High School. The assignments are harder, the extracurriculars more competitive, the supplies more expensive.

But the things they learn! Their first time reading Steinbeck and Hemmingway (for God’s sake, please look at their reading lists and make sure they read The Red Pony before The Pearl and ANYTHING by Hemmingway before The Old Man and The Sea). And the first time they truly understand a quote from Shakespeare – strange English and all.

There’s the calculus and the stoichiometry. The first electrical circuit they’ll build in Physics. Their first real exams and the first time they’ll get cut from a team because they’re just not as good as their peers.
There’s their first heartbreak too.

For some reason, as parents, we let the excitement wear away each year. Their first day of Kindergarten is a nerve-wrackingly proud moment equalled only by their last day of Grade 12. And all that’s in between gets lost somehow into a routine of packed lunches and transportation arrangements.

Grade four is the first year my son has been asked to bring pens to school as his supplies. Pens! That means that he is now expected to write tidily (he can’t) and to know enough not to make constant mistakes. Pens! The trust his teachers have put in him to use ink on paper is a monumental thing. Most adults don’t even do that anymore, tapping away at our word processing programs and using spellcheck. By the end of this year he’ll have created more handwritten output than I have in the past five, I’m sure.

My daughter started to make best friends last year. And over the summer a girl at daycamp became her first real bosom buddy. This school year: perhaps her first best friend for the rest of her life? The social life flourishes so much this year. And if all runs according to how it did for her brother, this will be her first year reading and reporting on a chapter book for school. Up until now, they’ve concentrated on building the actual skills to read and write, this is the year it starts to gel together into reading and formally responding.

How can these firsts be any less important or monumental than the first time my youngest walks through a classroom door with the dedication to stay and play and work there every year for the next thirteen?

If teens today are like myself and my friends were, they’re playing it cool for you but they’re worried senseless that they’ve picked the wrong school clothes. They’re secretly skimming through their school supplies, pretending to check that they’ve put their name on them, but actually wondering which colour binder will be best for their first year doing Physics and in which class they’ll meet the boy or girl whose name they’re going to write all over the cover of that binder in hearts.

They’re worried and excited, just like my five-year-old and, well, you should be too. The worry is always there, I know, but encourage them to share their excitement. Talk to them of your high school firsts. Let them know it’s okay to be worried, but even more so, let them know it’s okay to be excited.

They’ve made it so far, accomplished so much, and now their goals and accomplishments are so much larger that they should be even more exciting, not less so, than all those early firsts.