Native Women's Association of the NWT

CBC The Trailbreaker: Consent and sexual violence in the N.W.T.

CBC North radio host Allison Devereaux, centre, leads a discussion on consent and sexual assault.

As seen on CBC’c The Trailbreaker Jan 15, 2015

This week a Trailbreaker panel looks at consent, the law and the barriers to reporting sexual assault.

The panellists are all women who work to combat sexual violence. They include Marie Speakman, a victim service worker with the N.W.T. Native Women’s Association, Jennifer Koshan, a law

professor Calgary who practised law in the North, and Nancy MacNeill, co-founder of FOXY, an organization that teaches teenage girls about sex education.

Nancy MacNeill is one of the founders of FOXY, an organization that teaches young women about sexual health and empowerment. (Allison Devereaux/CBC)

​In Thursday morning’s discussion, panellists explored what’s needed to teach and obtain consent. They also discussed the challenge of protecting personal safety while avoiding victim-blaming.

Nancy MacNeill, co-founder of FOXY, an organization that teaches teenage girls about sex education, says the idea that no means no, but silence means yes still persists.

Her organization focuses on helping teenage girls understand what consent can be. It stresses consent should be “enthusiastic all the time.”

“What we really try and do is help them build the self confidence skills to actually enforce their consent, to communicate really, really clearly with their partner and to ask questions as well as to give information.”

MacNeill says consent isn’t limited to sexual activity, but should be a part of relationship.

“It’s extremely important for partners to ask partners (for consent), regardless of gender,” she says.

Personal boundaries are key, particularly for young people, says Marie Speakman, a victim service worker with the N.W.T. Native Women’s Association. For some this means learning what they’re

comfortable with, for others it means establishing new ones.

“It’s a space for you to heal and get strong and to protect yourself,” Speakman says.

Jennifer Koshan, a law professor in Calgary who practised in the North, weighed in on what courts consider in sexual assault cases.

She says legally people accused of sexual assault must have taken “reasonable steps” to determine if a complainant was consenting. But Koshan says whether this happened can get blurred during

court proceedings. She says judges and juries often must sift through two different versions of events.

It’s easier to get a sexual assault conviction if a complainant can describe to the court how they did not consent, she explained. Koshan also says consent may also depend on circumstances. For

instance, legally it may change if a person is intoxicated, has mental health issues or if there’s a power dynamic in a relationship.

That link between alcohol and consent is particularly relevant to sexual assault in the North, says MacNeill. She says there is still a great deal of shame and blame associated with sexual assault,

especially in the many cases tied to alcohol.

“That is somewhere where there’s been a lack of education in the Northwest Territories. There is still a stigma that if you are drunk and you are sexually assaulted you bear an equal part of the

responsibility,” she said.

One strategy her organization tries to talk to young people about is looking out for one another in situations that could become unsafe.

On Friday, part two of the panel’s discussion looks at the barriers to reporting sexual assault. That discussion will air at 7:40 a.m. MT on CBC Radio One in the N.W.T.