Millennials charged with task of changing minds about sexual assault

Christina-WebChristina Romualdo
Guest Columnist

Oh, Canada. It’s been a difficult couple of weeks, hasn’t it?

From Oct. 26, our country has been plunged into controversy since Jian Ghomeshi, beloved media personality and poster child for our national broadcaster, was terminated by the CBC and subsequently came under fire for allegations of sexual abuse and violence.

To date, 10 individuals have come forward with their stories of assault. Toronto Police, the CBC, and journalism schools across the province have commenced investigations into allegations made by those within their interests. Everyone is doing their due diligence to ensure that this situation is appropriately addressed.

This recent period has been difficult, no doubt about it. Sexual abuse and violence are never easy to talk about.

But from the darkness there came a great light.

In response to the allegations put forth by actress Lucy DeCoutere, author Reva Seth and eight others, including a male former York University student, there arose a national discourse about the stigma surrounding sexual assault and the discrimination that victims face.

One Twitter conversation, #BeenRapedNeverReported, has engaged over eight million people worldwide through over 36,000 tweets. Started by two veteran reporters, Toronto Star’s Antonia Zerbisias and Montreal Gazette’s Sue Montgomery, the hashtag prompted an outpouring of solidarity from fellow victims of abuse. Men and women alike spoke out publicly against their attackers, many for the first time.

Granted, Twitter is not a completely safe space to talk. In addition to fears of suffering personally, professionally and emotionally from their public admission, respondents have been subjected to negative comments that perpetuate the victim-blaming attitude of the status quo.

However, many of those speaking out acknowledge the importance of this movement, as shown by the fact that almost a full week later, people continue to add their voices to the chorus.

With the world so embroiled in this conversation, I was baffled to discover that there were people who were completely oblivious to what was happening.

Minutes after reading Reva Seth’s blog post on how Ghomeshi had assaulted her, I received a message from a friend asking, “What’s all this Ghomeshi deal about? Should I bother to Google it?” I had been so incensed by Seth’s account and her feeling of powerlessness that to learn of this wilful ignorance added insult to injury.

I started to wonder, after years of defending my fellow millennials against claims of apathy and laziness, if those assumptions were true. Are millennials truly ignorant? Given that, as a journalism student, I am surrounded by people whose careers are committed to keeping abreast of current events, I asked friends whose lives didn’t revolve around the Twitter feeds of major dailies.

While there were many in my circle who were aware that something was happening with Ghomeshi, most admitted that they were not following it closely, citing school, work and other commitments as reasons for not being able to keep up.

I understand that students are busy, being one myself. However, it shocks me that for a generation so resolute about changing the world, we are confusingly uninformed and frustratingly inert on the issues that demand action. What’s more is that this conversation is happening on social media, a domain in which we proudly proclaim mastery, and yet this oblivion still exists.

I get it; the subject matter is a difficult one to stomach. One Twitter user expressed how emotionally draining it was to follow the #BeenRapedNeverReported feed, adding that she planned on taking the following day to recuperate.

But just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean that we get to ignore it.

We are at the brink of a watershed moment in our generation’s history. As I said, there is a national discussion taking place on this subject.

It’s up to us to decide whether we want to move forward and be a part of it or sit idly by while we let others change our culture for us.

So millennials, in or out, what’s it going to be?