I was at the Blissdom Canada conference this past weekend. I had a wonderful time and will tell you all more about it in a different post. This post though, is about what happened on Thursday at Concordia University in Montreal. I am sure you are all racking your brains right now trying to think of the news Friday morning and what, if anything, you read or heard about Montreal or Concordia University. Can't think of anything right? Didn't think so.
Friday was the day that I met an incredible man. A man who is has been through what can only be described as a parents worst nightmare. A father working to change our world, who has taken what has happened to him and his family and is working to make the world safer for our daughters and sons. Friday afternoon, I met Rehtaeh Parson's dad, Glen Canning.
Friday afternoon I also learned just how much of what we read (or don't read) in our newspapers and online publications is manipulated by those behind the scenes. Friday afternoon the concept of "if it bleeds, it leads" hit me harder than ever before. So much so that I asked Glen if I could write about it and share his (and Rehtaeh's) continuing story. He agreed and here is what happened.
On Thursday, October 3rd, Glen Canning was at Concordia's Centre for Gender Advocacy to celebrate the university's new Sexual Assault Resource Centre. It's a program and resource that students and the centre have been campaigning for since April of 2011 and with the recent hiring of a full-time social worker and program coordinator, the Sexual Assault Resource Centre is finally ready to open its doors to students and the community at large.
This kind of service is much needed at universities across the country and a big step for Concordia University and the Montreal community at large. One in four students will experience some form of sexual assault during their post-secondary years and 80% of those are women.
"The Sexual Assault Resource Centre will be staffed by a social worker, who will provide counselling and coordinate activities along with student volunteers, who will offer peer support, community outreach and education initiatives. The Centre will provide free confidential services to students, staff and faculty.
"Our hope is that the Sexual Assault Resource Centre will make it clear that placing the onus on survivors to prevent their own sexual assaults is unacceptable," explains Julie Michaud, Administrative Coordinator at the Centre for Gender Advocacy.
The problem however was that the imminent opening of the Centre and these much-needed services and resources was not the story that was published on Friday morning.
On Friday morning, the headlines that were all over national media publications said this:
Any mention of the Centre for Gender Advocacy and the new sexual assault centre were lost in the media's headline hunger and frenzy over one or two things that Glen had said during the hour long press conference. The news outlets sensationalized his words even more by reporting that Rethaeh had "hatched a plan" to go to the media, using language that, in my opinion, sounded dangerously close to blaming her for wanting to speak out.
I had a chance to ask Glen how he felt about the press conference and the media's reporting of this event and here is what he had to say:
"I was really disappointed actually, the story was about the Centre for Gender Advocacy. It was about opening a service for women in Montreal. I was asked a quick question about my daughter and what parents would do if they were in my shoes and I said that if you are there and you have done everything you can, don't hesitate to go to the media if you don't think you are getting results. Make your story known. Looking back I wish I had done that and actually, Rehtaeh wanted to do that.
They took that as the headline for the entire event, they didn't really say a whole lot about something that was really really important. I got up this morning and read it and I felt disappointed. My daughter was used by four people, her photo was shared and used by a lot of people, it's been on a dating website and now, if that's not bad enough, the media is using her name for a headline. That is just so unfair, they should have reported on what the whole event was about and what it covered, because that was the big story there. And that's what I feel about it."
I get that "the news" is a cut-throat business and that yes, more often than not, if it bleeds it is going to lead. That's the news that makes people want to watch or click or pick up a paper or retweet or share. And really, that's all the newsmakers want, because that is what puts money in their pockets. The even sadder part of it is that they work hard to create the content that WE want. They KNOW how easily we all get sucked in.
Until we can change the landscape of our desires, our need for "blood", for sensationalized stories about tragic events and all the details of the affected people's lives, the real stories, the not-so-sexy stories, the stories about how to prevent more "blood", will always get buried underneath the catchy, click-bait-y, bleeding headlines.
I am disappointed too. That every national publication in this country chose to use Rehtaeh's name and tragic story once again for a front page headline on Friday morning. I am disappointed, that after a two-year campaign by STUDENTS to open a sexual assault centre on their campus, that these efforts where not deemed the newsworthy piece of the day. And ultimately, I am extremely disappointed that mainstream media refuses to acknowledge how complicit it is in the narrative of the culture of rape that exists in our world and chooses to take the road of victim-blaming language and sensationalism once again and not the one of social and cultural change.
It's a good thing we have awe-inspiring and incredibly resilient people like Glen Canning around to help lead the way down that far less travelled road. Even when that road is riddled with potholes big enough to swallow him whole, this is one man who will not let his daughter's life and the memory of her be one without purpose and without hope for a better future for all of our children.
And I have to believe that no matter how far off base the news headlines may try to steer us, the truth will emerge and prevail and change will happen.