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Becoming strong and speaking up 

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With the growing list of assaults, the recent uprising of debates against rape culture and the extensive media coverage on mostly negative aspects of these topics, it is no argument in my mind that our community is extremely lacking of education regarding sexual violence.

I was an A-plus student in school. I loved my teachers and enjoyed going to school every day. I didn't smoke or do drugs, I didn't party, I had friends and was not a victim of bullying. In fact, I was actively involved in organizations for preventing violence. When I was in junior high, I was very shy when it came to men. I was scared of rejection, nervous to date someone who didn't respect me and my body.

Meanwhile at school we were being taught how to properly open and place a condom on a banana, which was placed in between the legs of my fellow classmates. I remember having endless conversations in class about sex, sexual diseases and the consequences of becoming pregnant too young. Although this was necessary education, never once in these discussions were we educated on the seriousness and effects of sexualized violence. Either no one knew enough about it to bring it up or the ones who did were too ashamed to interrupt our already uncomfortable conversations.

I am a victim of sexual assault. I was not under the influence, I was not misbehaving, I was not wearing provocative or "shameful" clothing. I was simply walking home, down a busy street where I knew almost every person. I was five minutes from the place my family and I call home, from where we were told we'd always be safe and protected.

I decided the best for everyone was not to tell. If I didn't tell, it would be like it never happened, right? Wrong. I started to become very controlling---of the things I could control---in my life, I was very irritable, I started blowing off my friends, I became very hateful towards school and men. The idea of any type of physical connected repulsed me.

I hid all of this from everyone until one day, I couldn't handle anymore. It was weighing me down, I was not the person I wanted to be, I could see myself changing every day and I felt there was nothing I could do to stop it. I broke down and I told my parents.

I was put on a two-year waiting list at the IWK to see a therapist, which made no sense considering because of age restrictions I would no longer be able to go there within the year.

My doctor referred me to Avalon Sexual Assault Centre. I will never be able to express how helpful everything about Avalon was to my recovery. The staff are all very friendly and it always felt like a safe environment to go when you need to not only talk, but be heard. I did not feel like an inconvenience or a burden. They make people feel like they are important and unique. Despite the reason I was there, I looked forward to going to talk to someone who understood, made me feel comfortable and most importantly cared. I owe where I am now to the Avalon Centre and my family ---they have changed my life.

Although I may still struggle with things, and most likely always will, I understand the effects not just for me but for everyone involved with me. Young people do not realize how precious their innocence is and quite honestly, it didn't either. I someday hope to have a family, to live in what I think is a safe place for my children to play, learn and grow. I would like to teach them how their Prince Charming or their Cinderella is out there and will find them someday. However, they will be educated and I will make sure of that.

I do believe people commit these crimes because they have had something terrible happen to them in their lives and were not given the support and knowledge to help them move on. Children need to be educated on what is around them, how to deal with emotional traumas. But we should be educating youth to be respectful of each other and themselves, not blaming others for lack of education. We need to show them sexual violence is not always all about giving up and keeping quiet. It is about being strong, having self-respect and speaking up.

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Emily Martins is a local psychology student and victim who advocates for community education on sexualized violence.


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