It’s 2020 and there’s still work to do

Written by: Ashley Boyes
TW: mention of rape and sexual assault

She didn’t say Yes when her professor got a little too close when she asked a question about an assignment.

She didn’t say Yes when she wore that mini skirt to the bar on a night out with her girlfriends.

She didn’t say Yes when her brother-in-law violently raped her in their family home.

She didn’t say Yes…

One in three women will experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime. 39% of Canadian adult women reported having had at least one experience of sexual assault since the age of 16. Only 1 in 3 Canadians understand what sexual consent means.

If I were to take a survey of the women reading this blog, I would wager that nearly every woman has personally experienced some form of sexual harassment, assault or violence.

Over the years, I have become all too aware of the everyday violence that women experience on a daily basis both in Canada and abroad. From an early age, I was exposed to and educated about some of the world’s greatest issues — poverty, homelessness, human trafficking. No matter the issue, I was always struck by how the greatest burden inevitably fell on women and girls.

39% of Canadian adult women reported having had at least one experience of sexual assault since the age of 16. Only 1 in 3 Canadians understand what sexual consent means.

Wanting to save the world and be a “social justice” warrior, I applied to law school in my early twenties. It has taken me a few years to navigate my various passions, but I am proud to say that every day I get the honour and privilege of representing the men and women who have experienced sexual violence and abuse.

Over the last few weeks leading up to International Women’s Day, I’ve been thinking about my own life and my own experiences as a woman …the double standards, the sexual harassment. How when I worked as a server, I was forced to wear high-heels and wear my hair completely down as part of my “uniform”. How when I was volunteering in a female MP’s office, her male Chief of Staff forcibly kissed me after a night of “getting to know me”. How even now, as a lawyer, male partners feel the need to mansplain concepts I’m all too familiar with.

The justice system is woefully inadequate.”

In my work as a civil sexual assault lawyer, I have learned the everyday sexual violence that women experience at the hands of boyfriends, husbands, family friends, doctors, teachers, and therapists; women who sit in my office and tell me the details of their workplace harassment, their domestic violence, their sexual exploitation. I have to sit and explain to them that no matter the outcome, the justice system is woefully inadequate. And they know all too well that no amount of money in the world will make them whole again.

Demonstrators protested Judge Gregory Lenehan’s decision to acquit a Halifax taxi driver charged with sexual assault during a rally in Halifax in 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese

But I have also learned that we, women, are resilient. That we are better together than we are apart. And that the future is female.

“Here’s to strong women: May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them”

Ashley is an advocate both in her professional and her personal capacity. She currently maintains a practice at Lerners LLP in their Health Law and Sexual Assault/Abuse practice groups. Prior to joining Lerners, Ashley practiced with a global law firm, and completed her articles with the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General Crown Law Office – Civil.

When Ashley is not practicing law, she continues to advocate for those without a voice. She is currently Project Lead of #ProjectMapleLeaf – a national human trafficking media awareness campaign.

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