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Editorial: It's OK to say it's not OK

A recent report shows 48 per cent of women and 32 per cent of men have experienced unwanted sexual behaviours across the North

The Issue: Gender-based violence
We Say: Engage with the crisis

A Statistics Canada report released Aug. 26 revealed some troubling figures relating to unwanted sexual behaviours across the territories.

Nearly half of the women (48 per cent) and one-third (32 per cent) of the men in the North have been subjected to unacceptable behaviours, ranging from jokes, cat-calling and leering to unwanted touching. One in four women and one in 10 men in the territories have experienced these behaviours more than twice in 2018.

Forty-eight per cent is not a small number.

To most people living in the territories, this won't come as a surprise either.

Dealing with – or avoiding – problematic people in social situations is a coping strategy that honestly shouldn’t have to be employed in this day and age.

In February, filmmaker Alethea Arnaquq-Baril brought forward serious allegations against actor Johnny Issaluk involving unwanted touching and stated that for years she had heard “many” stories of women who “suffered violent physical and sexual assaults from him.”

These behaviours are not at all acceptable and we know that as individuals, so how are we so slow to respond to a growing crisis?

The Statistics Canada report posits some studies have suggested a “normalization of violence among some Inuit women” in a territory where the rate of sexual assaults is high. Consequently, some less-serious unwanted sexual behaviours may not be perceived as having a violent nature.

“I didn’t know what to call it back then and now I know what to call it – it’s #sexualassault,” Arnaquq-Baril wrote.

In light of the allegations, Issaluk stated, “It was never my intention to hurt anybody, but I know I did. By not healing from my own trauma, I have hurt others.”

But when the territorial government chooses to deny responsibility for allegations of assaults by an employee, as in the class-action suit relating to former teacher Maurice Cloughley, how can we expect those who have been abused and turn their traumas against others to take responsibility for and change their own actions?

On Feb. 24, Rankin Inlet North-Chesterfield Inlet MLA Cathy Towtongie made it clear that she is concerned about the current approaches to addressing sexual assault.

“It is not easy and certainly not popular to defend someone who has committed a terrible act against others. Victims need our support, but so do victimizers. They are both suffering,” she said.

Suffering or not, the cyclical violence must end.

Perhaps the addictions and trauma centre that's to be built in Iqaluit in the coming years will help make a dent in this disturbing issue.

In the meantime, it's up to all of us to speak up when we bear witness, even when the incidents in question just involve so-called jokes or insinuation. Those in positions of authority – workplace managers, in particular – need to treat these matters with the gravity they deserve, not just brush them off, especially with repeat offenders.

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