Why One of the Best Is Not Good Enough

While thumbing through the latest issue of my university’s “progressive” newspaper, I stumbled upon an article chronicling three women’s experiences pursuing recourse (legal and otherwise) through the school against their respective sexual attackers. In each woman’s case, a common thread that resonated loud and clear with respect to these proceedings was the inadequacy of the school’s support, both during and after, each of their cases.

In response to the women’s claims of feeling unsafe on campus, as well as a general feeling of disappointment with the way their cases were handled, Concordia President Alan Shepard maintained that the institution’s sexual violence policies are “among the top in the country” (The Link, 2017), with several of the school’s representatives echoing this sentiment. I think it’s quite telling that, amidst stories of various acts of sexual violence being committed against women, arguably one of the most infuriating elements of this article was the school’s insistence that their policy is a shining example of the right thing to do. For far too long and in far too many contexts men, and others in positions of power, have felt a sense of entitlement in providing stances and opinions regarding the lived experiences of women who’ve fallen victim to violence ­­– both at the hands of their perpetrators and of the systems in place to help them through these crises.

When did these outside individuals’ opinions become ample enough evidence to contest the tangible realities of so many women? And how are we still at an impasse as to what steps should be taken to rectify these injustices? Though this has been said before, and will likely be said again and again, I feel it necessary to repeat it. Perhaps as a cry of desperation as a woman who has been let down by these very systems, or as a shout of frustration as a human being with even a modicum of empathy. It is never the place of a person or an institution to disprove what someone with lived experience knows to be true. If a victim of violence feels unsafe, it is likely because there is an imminent threat to their safety. If a victim of violence feels disregarded by safety networks, it is likely because these networks are not working as they are meant to.

Stories such as these are not simply isolated incidents, but rather components of a broader trend that the dominant culture has tried to sweep under the rug time and time again. If complaints with regards to your institution’s policies resonate as a personal attack on you or your livelihood, then I call on you and those around you to check yourselves. Take a moment, step outside of your own current circumstances, and recognize that the acknowledgement of the system’s failures is the only way forward.  Your opinion, professional or otherwise, is irrelevant when it comes to the knowledge gained through lived experiences of violence. Your truest failures aren’t borne of the identification of flaws in your work, but of the choice to remain silent when faced with them. Do not confuse silence with neutrality. Inactivity is taking a side, and it’s the side of the oppressor.

Sure, one of the best is pretty good. But even pretty good is not good enough when it comes to the security of an entire population. There is no end-game with regards to women’s public safety, other than, you guessed it, safety. There is no basis for comparison when discussing what is best for victims of violence. It does not matter what has worked almost perfectly, or what has been good most of the time. As Olympic athletes do with their sports, and academics do with their grades, we should be striving for perfection, not just something vaguely resembling it. This is not to say that the perfect system exists, nor that we cannot celebrate the rare instances of success when these things are handled correctly. But we cannot stop at each moment of positive feedback under the guise that we have arrived at whichever destination we think we’re travelling toward.

And so it is with this in mind that I write to you, the general public, the readers of this blog, Alan Shepard and his associates, with the insistence that we, as a collective, remain critical. Both in our moments of glory and failure, we must march on with the knowledge that we are not there yet. Wherever “there” truly is. Perhaps “there” is a destination to which we will never come, but that is not reason enough to be pacified by the quasi-victorious title of “one of the best”.