High school students in northwestern Ontario are being asked some tough questions this week as part of an interactive workshop to help them identify sexual violence, and stop it before it happens.
"Everyday, there are decisions that we make, or things that we say and there are things that we look away from that create a culture in which sexual violence is allowed to happen, and so for us it was about really making it tangible for people 'where do you draw the line, where do you decide enough is enough,'" says Julie S. Lalonde, the project manager of draw-the-line.ca.
The Ontario initiative acknowledges that sexual violence is real, it happens in every community and more needs to be done to stop it. It challenges common myths about sexual violence and examines what is, and isn't consent.
For Lalonde, it meant asking teenagers at high schools in Sioux Lookout, Dryden, Fort Frances and Atikokan, what they would really do if they received a naked photo of classmate, if a friend passed out on the couch at a party, or if the coach seems to be spending too much time alone with a teammate.
She listened to their responses and then as a group they came up with suggestions on how to help.
For instance, she said the sharing of nude photos should be reported, because if the person is under 18 years old it's classifed as child pornography. It's also important to alert the person in the picture who may not know the image is being shared with the whole school.
"It is not consensual. That person consented to share that picture with one person, not with everyone," Lalonde said, adding it's also important to speak with the person sending the image and ask "why did you break that person's trust?"
Lalonde also outlined that sexual violence takes many forms, all the way from sexist jokes to stalking to rape.
'You have more power than you think'
Only about 10 per cent of victims report their sexual assault to police, but many will confide in a friend, a sibling or a trusted teacher, Lalonde said, and she wants them to know they can help.
"You have more power than you think," she said.
"I don't want you to feel apathetic, I don't want you to feel defeated, I want you to feel fired up to do something because you are more likely to hear about it as an everyday person in this community than you are as a police officer, which means you have the power to change the conversation."
She believes ideally the conversation around consent should begin as early as elementary school, citing a statistic showing that people under the age of 25 are at the highest risk of being sexually assaulted.
Talk to young kids about consent
"I get so frustrated every September when some sort of shenanigan goes on at a campus in Canada and we all throw our hands up and we're so horrified," Lalonde said.
"We should be horrifed, but we could also prevent this stuff by having the conversation sooner. If you wait until university or college to have a conversation about consent, it is too late."