Students key to a violence-free future
Yesterday I joined 300 high school students at Rick Hansen Secondary School in Mississauga, where YWCA Toronto facilitated a presentation to mark the start of the Week Without Violence. The Week Without Violence is a country wide initiative held each year from Oct 17 – Oct 23rd that uses education, art, empowerment and action to spread a message of peace and non-violence.
The presenters with me were Tricia Bennett, an advocate who spoke about sexual abuse and the law, and Tuval Dinner from White Ribbon Campaign, who talked about what all of us, men and women, can do to stop violence.
Outside the assembly hall, the students set up a table commemorating the Week Without Violence with a message wall on which they posted their hopes for a world without violence or abuse. I was thrilled by the passion bursting from the little post it notes on the wall and felt a tinge of pride that YWCA Toronto was a large part of this positive student movement.
Tricia talked about her own experiences and told the students what they should do if they become a victim of violence or abuse. She is such an inspiring example of strength and survival. She was asked by a male student how to be sure you really had consent from a girl. A female student asked what she should do if her boyfriend asked her to do something she really didn’t want to do.
Tuval talked about the sexual assault of his high school girlfriend on prom night. That incident led him to where he is today – leading public education for The White Ribbon Campaign. The campaign is the largest effort in the world of men working to end violence against women.
I know the students were interested because they didn’t budge an inch in their seats and you could have heard a pin drop during the presentations. They asked important questions. After the presentation a group of students gathered at the front to talk to Tricia and Tuval personally. They asked how they could get more boys interested in Week Without Violence activities, how they could raise more awareness about ending violence and how they could do something even bigger next year at their school.
These students gave me something important yesterday. They gave me a real sense of optimism that things can change, that there might actually be a day when no one is victimized by violence. I know it’s not going to happen tomorrow, but seeing teenagers with such commitment to changing how we think about relationships, power and responsibility gave me a little glimpse of what the future could look like.
Lise Schofield is the new Manager of Communications and Marketing at YWCA Toronto.