BC Lions members have asked local high school students to “Be More Than a Bystander” when it comes to violence against women through an education program that pairs professional football players with the Ending Violence Association of B.C.
The Gulf Islands’ Violence Against Women in Relationships Committee sponsored the whole-school event featuring Jeremiah Johnson and Rolly Lumbala at Gulf Islands Secondary School last Wednesday.
As walking symbols of male power and status in today’s society, the players successfully brought home the message that males must work together with females to change deeply the ingrained system that normalizes violence against women.
“If anything I need you guys to understand you are a community, and communities get strong from within,” Johnson said at the conclusion of the event. “If you take anything from this experience, be more. Be more than a bystander.”
Lumbala started off the presentation by breaking down the figures in an easy way to understand, asking the audience how many people had three women they cared about in their life. Every person who said yes, which was everyone, then realized that statistically one of those three women would experience physical or sexual violence. In Johnson’s case, his wife is the survivor who motivated him to participate in the campaign.
Johnson spoke later on about the far reaches of the problem. Although the incidents of relationship violence trend downward the older one gets, women’s shelters are treating women into their 90s. And perhaps more shockingly, 83 per cent of women living with disabilities have been sexually assaulted.
Recent statistics collected by Discourse Media document police-reported rates of violence against women in 600 different Canadian communities from 2008-2015. The data collected for Salt Spring shows a decreasing trend after a spike of reported incidents in 2009 and 2010. In 2015 there were 266 incidents per 100,000 people — or 26 reported incidents given the island’s actual population of 10,500. That appears to be a huge improvement over the 100 incidents reported in 2009.
However, Discourse warns that police-reported data is a controversial unit of measure, as the majority of incidents are not reported to police.
A graphic that Lumbala and Johnson included in their presentation showing the pyramid of rape culture put the most horrific crimes such as rape, murder and molestation at the pinnacle. But the acts that provide the necessary foundation for such outrages include seemingly innocuous things like “locker room banter” and jokes. The next level up includes non-consensual photos and obsessive, unwanted texting.
The presenters therefore urged local students not to engage in any of those behaviours and to be more than a bystander at the most basic level: to refuse to laugh at sexist jokes and to talk with friends about why they are doing it. They also stressed the importance of continually given consent for any sexual activity or even just basic touch.
An important part of the presentation was the connection with the professionals in the community who young people can turn to if they are experiencing violence. The footballs players gave a hero’s welcome to representatives from SWOVA, IWAV, Island Health and Salt Spring Community Services, whom they introduced on stage.
For more on this story, see the Feb. 28, 2018 issue of the Gulf Islands Driftwood newspaper, or subscribe online.