11/01/2015 08:44 EST | Updated 11/01/2016 05:12 EDT

We Need To Keep Speaking Up And Out On Sexual Violence

What would I like to see the #BeenRapedNeverReported campaign become? Before any meaningful change can occur, we need to work towards pulling back the layers of stigma. If we are unable to talk openly, how can we expect survivors of sexual violence to come forward with their own experiences with trauma?

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TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 26: Jian Ghomeshi leaving College Park Court with his Lawyer Marie Henein after Ghomeshi was released on $100,000 bail. The 47-year-old has been charged with four counts of sexual assault and one count of overcome resistance (choking). (David Cooper/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

It's coming up to the one-year anniversary of the #BeenRapedNeverReported campaign, a grassroots Twitter movement that was launched in the wake of the Jian Ghomeshi scandal last fall.

It all began as a simple tweet -- an impassioned response to the notion that unless a sexual assault is reported to the police, it probably wasn't that scarring or that serious to begin with. Suddenly, from all around the world, survivors of sexual violence were stepping forward with their own disclosures of past sexual trauma, and sharing how they too, never reported the assault to the authorities.

As a survivor of a violent rape, something that took me over 35 years to find the courage to publicly disclose, I immediately added my name to the growing chorus of survivors who had #BeenRapedNeverReported. As one of the few men willing to step into this discussion, I was able to use my connections as a high-profile athlete to write articles for various publications about my experience with sexual trauma, as well as respond to requests for interviews from media outlets all across North America and Europe.

I have a sense that we arrived at the tipping point with the breaking of the Jian Ghomeshi story because it forced us a community to become "sensitized" to an issue that, for far too long, we had become desensitized to. It's ever so tempting to envision a sexual predator as that evil dark figure, that "boogeyman" who lurks in the bushes and back alleys.

But all that changed as each new allegation against Jian Ghomeshi came to light. We as community were compelled to put a real face on sexual violence. Here was somebody we had welcomed into our homes; someone who had become a part of our day, someone who we thought embodied the diversity and strengths of our country.

Now we had a face, a persona to place on that violence.

The very dissonance that this created challenged the stereotypes and misconceptions that had prevented us from having a substantive dialogue about the prevalence of sexual violence in our communities. The bitter reality is just as survivors of sexual assault and harassment encompass every conceivable demographic, so too do the perpetrators of that violence. In fact, it is just as likely that the face of sexual violence could be that of your father, your mother, your siblings, your neighbours, or your colleagues as it could be that of a complete stranger.

As an advocate for survivors of sexual violence, I welcomed this long-overdue discussion, yet from the very beginning of the #BeenRapedNeverReported campaign, I could sense that for all the momentum the campaign had, it lacked a coherent direction, something I believe is critical to enact a shift in societal norms around the taboo of discussing sexual violence.

Let me be perfectly clear when I say this -- I am in no way diminishing the significance of survivors, many of whom for the first time are disclosing that they, too, have lived through the trauma of sexual violence. We are all defined by the narrative we assign ourselves, and as a survivor of rape, I know how critical it is for our healing journey to reach the point at which we no longer allow our present to be dictated by what happened to us in the past.

I have been front and centre in this issue for the past year, and I've come to believe that "disruption" -- and for me, this involves generating a candid and substantive dialogue about the prevalence of sexual violence -- this disruptive dissonance is not likely to begin as a huge groundswell of public involvement. But rather, it is more likely to take root as each of us acknowledges that we all play a role in accepting responsibility for addressing this issue.

So, what would I like to see the #BeenRapedNeverReported campaign become?

Before any meaningful change can occur, we need to work towards pulling back the layers of stigma around having those initial discussions about sexual violence. If we are unable to talk openly about this with our friends and family, and even in the broader realm of the media, how can we expect survivors of sexual violence to come forward with their own experiences with trauma?

Second, the more "faces" we can put to both survivors and sexual perpetrators, the more likely we will acknowledge how widespread this problem really is.

Next, it's time we all stopped being bystanders and started being "upstanders." If you witness sexual violence or harassment, speak up and speak out.

And finally, it doesn't hurt to remember that at times in our life, we will all need a lifeboat, a parachute, a soft place to land. As someone who continues to work through the repercussions and trauma of sexual violence, it is my belief that we are all blessed with a deep reservoir of resilience that lies inside each of us, waiting silently until we need it most.

Part of my moving forward has involved a willingness to reach out for help when I need it, and more importantly, a desire to be there for someone else who is longing for that connection, that quiet presence, that gentle empathy.


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