4 min read

Reading, Writing, Arithmetic and Resilience

The incidence of sexual assault among women attending university in Canada is estimated to be as great as 25%.  A recent research study by the New England Journal of Medicine found that first year students completing a 12-hour resistance program reduced the rate of rape by nearly 50%.

Something to be celebrated? Certainly. But sexual assault isn’t just something that happens in adulthood.

More than 10,000 sexual assaults against girls under the age of 18 are reported in Canada each year.  Only around 10% of sexual assaults are ever reported which means the actual figure could be ten times that.

The truth is that females of all ages currently exist in a society which is conducive to sexual assault because of a huge spectrum of societal norms.

Is there more we could be doing from an educational point of view to develop a culture where sexual assault isn’t rife?  And could we be equipping our youth to better deal with the reality of sexual assault?

We believe so.

Today the Globe and Mail call for prevention programs to start earlier and they asked Carya about some of the programs we offer teens and tweens.

Carya runs five in-school programs for both girls and boys age 11 – 17 which empower them to find their voice, discover self-confidence and develop resilience.

Lisa Seel-Thompson, Managing Director of Youth and School Engagement, believes this “social and emotional learning” holds the key to creating real societal change.

“To truly shift culture, we need to start young.  We encourage schools to prioritize what we call ‘life skills’ in the curriculum for all ages, so everything from personal boundaries to personal values.  This does happen in schools to an extent but I definitely think we could push that further here in Canada.”

Currently Carya’s programs are only available in certain schools and to students living with certain risk factors but the argument for incorporating program content such as using your voice, self-confidence, harm reduction, safety planning and consent into the curriculum is strong.  Particularly as research shows confidence among girls declines sharply between the ages of 9 and 13.

“When we talk about consent, we often think of sexual consent. But consent can mean consent for anything.  By encouraging girls at a young age to understand that they have the right to give or withhold consent for anything, we’re starting to change their internal dialogue.  Our hope is that by the time they reach University or that next stage in life, that they’ve fully mastered using their voice to say yes or no to whatever is right for them.  It’s about practice.”

And it’s not just girls who need this sort of education.

“Boys experience assault too and we need to remember that.  But we also need to educate boys on healthy relationships and masculinity from a much younger age to change this story.”

Ultimately, the responsibility for the societal change required to create a safer world for girls and women rests with all of us; irrespective of gender, culture, age or background.  This sort of change takes time but in the interim organizations like ours will continue to drive it in whatever ways we can while also equipping those affected to deal with the reality of the here and now.

“Sadly bad things will always happen, we can work to reduce the frequency but they will still happen.  What we can do though is focus on changing how the aftermath impacts on the individual, ensuring that victims don’t feel blame or shame, and that they have the confidence to use their voice to reach out for support.”

Read more about our programs for Teens and Tweens here.

Lisa Seel-Thompson, Managing Director Youth and School Engagement at Carya

 “It’s never too late to learn resistance and resilience skills but it’s never too early either.”