Classes are ending. College and University students are putting away the books. It’s been a difficult year as students, faculty and administration of several university campuses have had to deal with issues related to sexual violence on campus. St. Mary’s University and Dalhousie University are this past school year’s examples, but we’ve seen other incidents at other campuses too in the past few years.

Add that to this winter’s arrest of Jian Ghomeshi, CBC’s former host of Q on sexually related violence, and we’re hearing a heightened level of discussion about the issue to an extent that we’ve never heard before. And while hearing about these incidents is horrifying and disturbing, the fact that we’re now talking about these issues is a good thing.

When Sue Montgomery, along with fellow journalist Antonia Zerbisias, created the BeenRapedNeverReported Hashtag, even they were surprised by how quickly it took off. Many people, she said, don’t realize how widespread and normalized sexual assault is even in a country like Canada. “We don’t talk about it enough.”

Yet the popularity of the Hashtag suggested that silence is coming to an end. Within 24 hours of its creation, the conversation had spread around the world, prompting thousands of people to share their own experiences. By making the conversation public, Montgomery hopes that women will stop blaming themselves for being sexually assaulted and feel empowered to seek help.

Montgomery was speaking as part of the Sexual Assault Awareness Week at Carleton University on February 26, 2015. In her presentation, Montgomery talked about her own experience as a survivor of sexual violence and the need for more support for survivors, the role of media in responsibly covering sexual assault, and the importance of these conversations in helping victims of sexual assault recover from their experiences.

Because the phenomenon is so widespread, said Montgomery, addressing it will never be accomplished without the participation of all Canadians. “It can’t be just one gender that does this, it has to be everyone…Basically it comes down to respect.”

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