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If a friend confided in you they had been sexually assaulted, how would you react?
The Fredericton Sexual Assault Crisis Centre hopes to tackle this question, on Friday at the 27th annual Take Back the Night, a march to protest sexual violence.
The theme of this year’s march is “Believe Her.” Organizers want to demonstrate the importance of offering support when a loved one confesses they have been sexually assaulted.
“This theme is really about promoting the importance of supporting people by believing them when they come forward, to not question them or judge them,” FSACC director, Lorraine Whalley, said.
“It [believing] really goes a long way in preventing secondary-wounding for that sexual assault victim.”
Those who wish to participate in this year’s theme can log onto the event’s Facebook page, and submit a photo of themselves with one of the provided placards that read “When a woman says she has been sexually assaulted, I start by believing her.” A slideshow of the photos will be presented at Friday’s event.
According to the Fredericton Police Force’s 2011 Year End Report, the total number of sexual assaults in the city increased by nine reported occurrences last year.
“So many women have such a difficult time coming forward to report a sexual assault in the first place, and a big portion of that is that they feel they won’t be believed,” FSACC volunteer, Joanna Mills, said.
“All we really want is for people to understand that it [sexual violence] happens so much more than they think.”
Mills says while the march is significant across the world, student-towns like Fredericton are often the perfect fit for such events.
“Fredericton has two university campuses, and that could be a direct link to why it is important in the city.”
Whalley says sexual assault constitutes “any form of unwanted sexual contact; anything from forced-touching without consent all the way to forced sexual intercourse.” She adds that the majority of sexual assaults often occur between people who know each other to some extent.
She says it’s crucial to present a fair representation when teaching the public about sexual assault.
“There needs to be that balanced message. We need to not only tell women to watch their drinks, but we also need to send a strong message to those who might take advantage of someone else. It’s sexual assault. It’s a crime and it causes long-term harm.”
Organizers expect up to 200 participants for this year’s march.
Whalley, whose organization has hosted the event since the mid-1980s, says the march acts as a platform for women who have been affected by sexual violence, as well as those who haven’t, to raise their voices together.
“Historically, the march has been an opportunity for women to speak out about the issue of violence against women.”
“Even if individual women haven’t been sexually assaulted themselves, they likely know someone who has or they’ve probably experienced some form of sexual harassment.”
Mills urges everyone in Fredericton to come out to the event on Friday, whether or not they have been directly impacted by sexual assault.
“Think about your mother, your sister, your aunts, your cousins and friends and the women you know in your life and even the ones you don’t know who have been affected by sexual violence,” Mills said.
A reception will follow Friday’s march at the Fredericton Sexual Assault Crisis Centre.
Take Back the Night starts at 8 p.m. on Sept. 21, at Fredericton City Hall. Only women and children can join the march. Visit www.fsacc.ca for more information.