BY CHRISTINA-MARY PIPER
The Sheridan community came together last week to give a voice to victims of bullying and sexual assault.
For Her We Speak, was held at the Marquee at last week in honour of Rehtaeh Parsons. In 2011 Rehtaeh, at the time was 15, she was sexually abused at a party in Nova Scotia, and after the assault Parsons was a victim of cyber violence and “slut shaming” from her peers. Seventeen months later Parsons committed suicide.
Leah Parsons, the mother of Rehtaeh, was the keynote speaker of the night, along with speakers including MP Pam Damoff, vice chair of the Parliamentary Standing Committee for the Status of Women. Damoff spoke about Canadian government increase role in VAWG (violence against women and girls). “One thing that is clear, our current situation is not working. one in four women will face gender based violence in their life time,” Damoff said.
According to Canadianwomen.org, half of all women in Canada have experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence since the age of 16.
Damoff also touched on increased access to technology and social media, saying “this violence can invade every aspect of this person’s life.”
Former Sheridan President Dr. Jeff Zabudsky discussed Sheridan’s commitment to anti-violence.
“As the president of Sheridan, a growing community with over 20,000 students and 2,500 employees, the issues of sexual assault and gender based violence concern us deeply,” said Zabudsky.
Parsons talked about how she started painting stones after Rehtaeh’s death and would place them around the community for others to find. The stones are painted with vibrant colours, Rehteah’s birth and death dates, and an anti-violence message on the stones.
Parsons said prior to the event that she goes around speaking to schools in Canada. Sheridan College was the first college to invite Parsons.
She explained that she stopped working for a week after Rehtaeh was sexually assaulted. Parsons worked as a counsellor, and has her masters in psychology and a degree in counselling. “Rehtaeh was my inspiration for going back to school. I was a high school dropout. After she was born I went back to school as a mature student,” she said.
Parsons says that she still gets nervous while speaking publicly. She opened with a brief video of Rehtaeh. Included in it was what happened to her that night, and she was leading up to suicide, Parsons also includes an explanation of, and she got very emotional speaking about Rehteah
“Don’t worry if I get teary eyed, and think ‘Oh my god she isn’t going to be able to do this’.” The way Parsons spoke about Rehtaeh that night was with a lot of love in her heart. She wanted to share with everyone who Rehtaeh was as a person so that people could understand who she was, using words like, Rehtaeh was too sensitive for this world and that Parsons worried because Rehteah was a girl.
Through Town Hall’s help, Oct. 13 in Oakville is known as For Her We Speak Against Violence and Women’s Day.
The evening concluded with a panel of experts including Brent Duguid, public educator at Halton Women’s Place; Dr. Sara Cumming, Sheridan nursing professor/sexual assault and violence nurse; Pam Damoff, Oakville North-Burlington MP, Maria Lucido-Bezely, Sheridan dean of students; Cindy Noble, Sheridan nursing professor.
For more information visit rehtaehparsons.ca