Sexual harassment and assault victim Joy Jennings experienced many incidences of assault as a child before becoming a victim of sexual assault as a woman. She is now an author working to bring awareness regarding sexual harassment, abuse and assault. Jennings’ troubling story is a reminder that violence towards women is still ever-present in our society.
Q: Joy, why did you feel it was so important to tell your story?
A: Sexual harassment and assault is still such a large problem in our society and not nearly enough women and girls are coming forward. They are either too frightened to speak up, not taught how to or even that they can. They don’t understand what is considered sexual assault or that such crimes are committed against them. They also fear not being taken seriously and these are all the same problems I faced. Another reason is that girls are becoming more accepting of this rape culture and therefore more males are convinced that it is ok to treat women badly when it isn’t. I needed to tell my story so that other women can learn from my mistakes and to help protect themselves. Ultimately, I am hoping for new male attitudes and behaviors with a shift towards social change.
Q: You had many incidents as a young child that you decided to keep quiet about. Why do you think sexual harassment and assault frequently goes unreported?
A: As a child, if your parents have not had that talk with you, you are left uninformed, unaware and unprepared. It is a difficult job for parents to protect your children and they couldn’t possibly cover all the possibilities that their child might come across, so it is tough job but nevertheless, a crucial one.
Q: Recently, the University of British Colombia went under fire for making a mockery of sexual assault when only 6 of their 273 complaints were formally investigated. What do you make of this?
A: Those figures are disgusting, but not surprising. Sexual assault is never taken seriously enough and reinforces why women and girls are too afraid to come forward. This is the same problem I faced and it needs to change. Women need to be empowered to be courageous by example, and situations like these only set us back and do more damage. It continues to disappoint and infuriate me.
Q: What are some of the lasting effects that have stayed with you after so much abuse?
A: I continue to suffer in all areas of my life. I still experience night terrors, anxiety and stress, especially when around men, and have some relationship issues. I become an unintentional nervous wreck over the simplest of things too. As an example, a man offered me assistance with my groceries last week and he put his hands on my bags. I froze into a petrified terror and felt as if I was being violated all over again. That is not normal functioning but it is who I have become.
Q: In your experience, what are some ways we as a society can prevent sexual harassment and assault?
A: We need to be teaching this subject in schools. Young boys need to be taught what are considered sexual crimes and simply not to commit them. They need to be taught how to respect women and how to behave in public. Girls need to be shown how to handle certain situations, what to do, where to go and who to report to. Parents need to do their part also. This is a major issue and we absolutely have to educate our kids about this.
Q: If you could give victims of sexual abuse one piece of advice, what would it be?
A: Don’t be afraid and speak up. Screw them! This is your life, your body and you have the right not be assaulted. These predators are banking on you not saying anything and are afraid of being punished, so don’t let them get away with it. Report them! Speak to your kids, educate them about potential dangers and how to handle situations. Stay safe and please, whatever you do, don’t remain silent any longer.
For further information about Joy Jennings, please visit her website.