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No silence against violence

Demonstration against rape culture attracts over 100 people

by Iris Robin

Organizers stand in front of the large "CONSENT" banner. [Credit: Nyssa Komorowski]
Organizers stand in front of the large "CONSENT" banner. [Credit: Nyssa Komorowski]

[content warning: discussion of sexual violence and assault]

Upon learning of self-styled “pick-up artist” Daryush ‘Roosh’ Valizadeh’s world tour with stops in Canada, Canadian feminists saw the opportunity to speak out against larger issues of rape culture and misogyny. Valizadeh is a known misogynist who advocates for the legalization of rape on private property. A petition to bar him from entering Canada, signed by over 46,000 people, circulated online before the demonstration.

Over 100 people congregated at Queen’s Park on Saturday, August 15 as part of a rally against rape culture. Activists, survivors, and community members were in attendance. People arrived with signs that read “no silence against violence,” “no no no misogyny,” and a large banner with the word “CONSENT” emblazoned on it.

“Valizadeh supposedly teaches other men to practice these forms of violence. We need to think about whether we are offering violence a platform and if that contributes to, normalizes and perpetuates the practice of violence. In my opinion, it absolutely does,” said Nyssa Komorowski, one of the organizers of the demonstration.

 “Our collective effort was to demonstrate against rape culture, and we tried to educate about what rape culture is, and what good consent is by sharing our experiences and perspectives,” said Komorowski, adding that the term ‘rape culture’ is often misunderstood. “Rape culture is not just violence - it is the acceptance of violence as normal and natural, based on hierarchies that work to maintain power and privilege for a few but not others. We need to keep noticing rape culture and calling it out,” Komorowski explained.

Komorowski said that Valizadeh’s tour sparked the event, but that the protest itself had larger aims. “For me, Roosh was a catalyst but organizers spent time planning goals and outcomes that have nothing to do with Roosh, and were designed entirely for our own well-being. Rape culture is already in Canada and barring Roosh would not change the misogyny that already exists daily and openly here,” she said. “Misogyny is alive and well in Canada, everyday, normal, horrible. We tried to express that at the demonstration.”

The event included a diverse lineup of speakers, many with lived experiences of sexual violence and assault.

One such speaker was Veena Singh, for whom speaking was important because of the stigma that exists around discussing rape and sexual assault. “For the longest time, I was too afraid to even say the words “I was raped” because of the stigma it carried,” said Singh. “But that changed when I realized that the only way to get rid of the stigma was to normalize the conversation – which means someone has to be willingly uncomfortable and start talking about it.”

Singh talked about her experiences with both sexual assault and harassment, in order to emphasize that assault can occur anywhere, and the assailant could be anyone. “I was assaulted in my own bedroom in university by someone I thought I trusted,” Singh recalled. In her discussion of harassment, Singh talked about the failure of the police to support her when someone followed her from London, England to Toronto.

“The (female) cop actually said “You can’t come running to the police every time you have boy problems” in reference to the fact that I had reported the boy who assaulted me. Victim blaming is propagating rape-culture, and it’s not okay.”

The speakers each brought a different perspective to table, discussing the ways in which rape culture interacts with various other forms of oppression. Akio Maroon, Chairperson of the Board at Maggie’s Toronto Sex Worker Action Project, brought a trans feminist perspective that centres sex workers and people of colour, especially black and indigenous people. Maroon stressed the importance of talking with and not for these people, stating that consent is about active consent, choices, and freedom. “If your feminism doesn’t include migrant people, trans folks, sex workers, your feminism is not enough,” they said.

They also discussed state sanctioned violence, such as Bill C-36, the goal of which is to reduce demands for sex work and to ultimately abolish it.

“Rape culture affects us all, but differently,” said Komorowski, who spoke about her experiences as a genderqueer Aboriginal person. “There is often very little space for me to express myself openly as an Aboriginal person, because this identity is at risk and is under constant pressure to assimilate… It feels obvious to me but perhaps it isn't to everyone - we need to centre the experiences of people who are the most marginalized.”

Suraia, an anti-war advocate, took the chance to address Valizadeh’s appropriation of the term ‘Islamophobia’. “Threatening and assaulting Muslim women for wearing a headscarf is Islamophobia. Vandalizing and burning mosques is Islamophobia. Three Muslim students being gunned down in their apartment in Chapel Hill for their religious beliefs is Islamophobia. Being nationally condemned for advocating rape doesn't qualify,” Suraia said at the demonstration.

Suraia talked about the Islamophobia, xenophobia, and racism that she has faced, all of which she said were frequently expressed with vitriolic sexism, “from misogynistic harassment to disturbing rape threats.”

“The other day my mother told me, ‘Isn't it enough we have Taliban back home, and now we have to deal with the Taliban here?’” said Suraia, commenting on the violence in Canada and in Afghanistan where she is from.

Although rape culture is a pervasive structural issue, many of those present at the rally had some ideas as to how to dismantle it. “We have already begun to dismantle rape culture, and we need to keep dismantling it and not give in to the erroneous belief that all people are liberated from oppression and our work is finished,” said Komorowski.

“Honestly I think talking about it and normalizing the conversation would be the very first thing. Let’s stop calling people brave for telling their stories – it shouldn’t have to be something that takes bravery to do. By talking about it openly, we defy the stigma, and the more people that defy the stigma, the less stigma there remains,” said Singh.

In terms of next steps Komorowski suggested using the hashtag #SowSeeds, in reference to the grassroots organizing that went into the demonstration. “I will go on, after this experience, to continue working against and calling out rape culture. And others will too, planting their own seeds and sparking that drive in others, making connections. We can use this to educate online and in life about rape culture and good consent, to share our stories and demand justice. Just as violence can be normalized, good consent can be normalized, and we begin taking the first steps when we #SowSeeds.” 

According to Komorowski, the huge CONSENT banner from the demonstration will be displayed at the Xpace Cultural Centre from September 11 to October 17 in an exhibition that explores interweavings between Aboriginal identity and spirituality, land rights issues, de/colonization, and personal experiences of violence. 

“Resisting rape culture has brought a lot of people all over Canada together, and we are going to continue working together to eliminate rape culture, reduce harm, educate, and keep our networks strong.”

 


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Iris Robin (Iris Robin)
Toronto
Member since June 2015

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Iris Robin is a Toronto-based reporter. They grew up in Brighton, England, before moving to Canada to study English literature and modern languages at the University of Toronto. Iris is now completing their Master of Journalism at Ryerson University. When Iris isn't writing, they are probably watching Star Wars.

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