KW one of the worst safe places for women

Trigger warning: This story contains mentions of sexual assault and violence.

I recently read a news story in The Record titled “Kitchener man sexually assaulted two high school students” that reaffirmed the fears that I’ve had since I was a young teenager.

The article discusses a 39-year-old male who attacked a female student just two months after being released from prison for committing the same offence in April 2016.

The first incident occurred inside Resurrection Catholic Secondary School, and the second in a railway tunnel in the middle of the afternoon.

Unsurprisingly, this is a pattern of behaviour that is very unlikely to stop without continued supervision and criminal intervention.

According to what he told the police, “the victim was simply there … he just felt like doing it …  [his] victim pool is any young woman he comes across.”

I used to walk back and forth to school throughout grade seven to grade twelve, and even though I only lived about a twenty-minute walk away, I was always on edge.

I can’t count the number of times that I was catcalled, aggressively yelled at or made to feel unsafe in some way.

It didn’t matter what I wore, if I took a different route or if I pretended to be on the phone with someone. And despite the fact that I was walking, most of the time, in the morning or later in the afternoon, that never seemed to deter any street harassment that was directed towards me. It happened routinely, regardless of what I was doing at the time.

Whether I was walking with friends, listening to music and doing everything that I could to ignore it, it really didn’t matter. This behaviour continued and came from a variety of men.

Multiple times, I was sure that I was being followed either to school or back home and I was terrified that I would be harmed in some way.

What happened to the girls in this article is what women are repeatedly warned about from the time they gain any sort of independence and become aware of the world around them.

Yet, when we vocalize these fears to others, we are often brushed off and invalidated for “overreacting.”

A high school boyfriend of mine couldn’t believe some of the precautions I would take when I would walk home and laughed when I would tense up if a group of older men would pass by us. “What’s the worst that could happen?” he would ask me jokingly.    

And despite utilizing every tactic that I assume she was taught to implement during an assault while fighting back against her attacker, the second girl was overpowered and only left alone when the assailant was caught by someone walking into the tunnel where she was being assaulted.

This is an undeniable problem that needs to be taken far more seriously and addressed with the appropriate severity when teenage girls are sexually assaulted in their own schools or while they’re walking home.

No matter what the time or the place, this shouldn’t be happening, ever. And when it does, the punishment should fit the crime. And currently, I don’t believe it does.

Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge was rated one of the worst in a recent report on safe places for women.

Women and girls should not be put at risk by simply existing, and this is an issue that the region needs to be addressing with the criticalness it needs and deserves.

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