When it comes to tackling sexual violence in Sarnia-Lambton, Michelle Batty has seen a lot of change in 25 years.
“In the early years, people thought it just didn’t happen very often,” said the executive director at the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Centre (SASC) and Women’s Interval Home. “But we now know that one in three girls, and one in five boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18.
“There has been new legislation come into play, more awareness of the supports and services available, and government leaders — regardless of their party — all see this as an issue that needs attention.”
In 1993, the agency held its very first Take Back the Night event to raise awareness about violence against women and children. This year, on the 25th anniversary, Batty is hoping for the biggest turnout yet.
This year’s event will focus on the fight against human trafficking.
“I think generally, people think of human trafficking internationally, and are often shocked to realize that domestically, it’s very prevalent,” she said. “The stats are pretty high.”
Human trafficking in Canada — often confused with human smuggling — is a serious crime and human rights abuse, involving the recruiting, controlling and holding of a person to exploit them. Most cases involve the sexual exploitation of women and girls.
More than 90% of Canada’s trafficking victims come from within Canada’s borders, and 55% of youth meet their trafficker via text, website or social media. Some 85% of victims believe the trafficker is their boyfriend.
“This is an opportunity to bring more awareness to that issue, as well as violence against women and children,” said Batty, pointing to event speakers Ruth Geurts, social service professor at Lambton College; Const. Jill Harding with Lambton OPP, and Chantal Butterfield, Human Trafficking coordinator with the SASC.
The following evening, the agency will host a screening of the 2018 film The Tale. Written and directed by Jennifer Fox, the Emmy-nominated film tells the story of Fox’s own childhood sexual abuse and how it affects her later relationships.
The film will be shown 7 p.m., Friday, Sept. 21 at the Sarnia Library Theatre, with a panel discussion to follow.
Batty said the #MeToo movement against sexual violence has played a huge role in spreading awareness; but there’s still a long way to go.
“I’ve been at the centre for more than 26 years and one of the things I’ve seen consistently is how difficult it has been for survivors to come forward,” she said, noting most survivors do not report to police, and that the majority of clients are dealing with childhood sexual abuse.
“Fortunately, we have a really good network of community partners to offer the best resources for survivors.”
If you have experienced sexual assault or childhood sexual abuse, visit www.sexualassaultsarnia.ca or call 519-337-3154. A crisis line is available 24/7 at 519-337-3320. All services are free, confidential, with no wait lists.
IF YOU GO:
WHAT: Take Back the Night, 25th anniversary
WHERE: Gather at the Peace Court (Christina & Lochiel Streets)
WHEN: Thursday, Sept. 20, 7 p.m.
DETAILS: Event is free, open to the public