Tomorrow afternoon, students from NPSS, the Energetic Learning Campus and Dr. Kearney Middle School will march from the high school to Centennial Park and the North Peace Arena to raise awareness of sexual violence and promote the vital role that men play in fostering healthy relationships. This year, however, organizers want to see their anti-violence efforts turned into actions.
“A march and stuff does raise awareness,” argues grade 11 student Esther Wenger, “but the action part is getting the message out there, especially to men. So more to women, there’s help for you if you’re in an abusive situation, and for men, that you need to take responsibility for your actions.”
As a male, grade 12 student Sebastian Cortes hopes the young men leave tomorrow’s rally with the understanding that violence is not the answer. He wants to help others realize that the victims of abuse could be as close to them as family members.
“Something like that, it could happen to anyone. It could be your sister, it could be your mother, or your grandma, so it is important to point out what’s going on, so everybody’s aware and gets a solution as to what’s the problem.”
Grade 12 student Mandy Wuth believes it is important for messages like that to get to men early when they are at a high school age.
“If not now, they’re going to go off to university and they’re going to see this behaviour as the norm,” she explains. “They’re going to accept it and, as bad as it sounds, maybe peer pressure or their friends will force them to change their behaviour to become more aggressive.”
Wenger adds that working in industry environment can have a similar effect.
“If you don’t get rid of the stigma or the culture now, it’s just going to be perpetuated as they get older,” she maintains.
Wenger hopes that as a result of this campaign, men take a closer look at the role they play, and to treat their partners with more respect. She also hopes that blame for sexual assault will be placed less on the woman and where she may have been and been wearing to deserve it.
“Men can control themselves, and they’re the ones who are raping women or abusing women,” she says. “They’re the ones who can stop it; they have the power.”
My Strength is also connected to the Men Can Stop Rape campaign, which aims to redefine masculinity and male strength in preventing violence against women. Wuth admits that Canada is much further ahead than many other counties when it comes to the treatment of women, but believes the situation can always be improved.
“I think it’s important to acknowledge that, but also to indicate that we can prevent further rapes and that we can be more proactive and have a greater effect.”
Members of the public are invited to join the students as they meet in the high school gym at 1 p.m. and march with them. Peace Project Co-ordinator Clarice Eckford will be speaking before the rally, and a spokesperson from the Fort St. John Women’s Resource Society will be speaking either at Centennial Park or the arena, weather dependent. The event kicks off at 1 p.m.