by Rebecca Heaton
Julie Lalonde is an award-winning women’s rights activist, public educator and advocate. She works with various feminist organizations dedicated to ending sexual violence, engaging bystanders and building communities of support. Her passion for change-making started when she was a student at Carleton University and was disappointed by the lack of resources for sexual assault survivors. She spent seven years fighting for the creation of a student-run, university funded sexual assault centre on campus, which opened in September of 2013. She also founded the Ottawa Chapter of Hollaback! (an international movement dedicated to addressing street harassment) and co-chaired the Ottawa Chapter of The Miss G__ Project (a successful campaign dedicated to getting Women’s and Gender Studies into the Ontario High School Curriculum). Currently, she is a support worker at the Sexual Assault Support Centre of Ottawa, sits on the board for the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, hosts “The Third Wave” (a weekly feminist radio show), is a frequent media source and does tons of freelance writing on the topics of rape culture, sexual violence, bystander intervention and social justice activism in Canada.
What are some of the misconceptions about sexual violence? Despite all the progress we've made over the last few years, there is still a deep seated belief that women "cry rape". I don't just see this on Twitter threads, I see it every day in my role as an educator. People fundamentally mistrust women and our inability to even get past that first hurdle is what's holding us back.
As a public educator on sexual violence, how do you engage and influence your audience? Are people becoming more or less receptive? Online activism is a tiny part of the work I do. I work primarily as a public speaker and workshop facilitator where I bring folks together to talk about the reality of sexual violence and how we can collectively put a stop to it. I work with groups aged 12 and up, so it always changes from day to day! I could be in an elementary school one day, talking to 7th graders about online sexual violence and be on Parliament Hill the next day, talking to politicians about how to end workplace sexual violence. My format might change (More GIFs here, fewer swear words here) but I always try to "real talk" and be as blunt and honest as I can be. It's the only way I know how to connect with people, frankly. But I also present on a topic that makes people really uncomfortable, so if you don't name the elephant in the room, you can't get folks on board. I do feel like the tides are turning for the better but I also see a tremendous amount of backlash. I once presented at an elementary school where a grade 6 boy accused me of pulling my statistics from a "fake news feminist website". So, the road ahead is long I'm afraid.
You’ve said that you’re passionate about bridging the gap between theory and practice. Can you elaborate on this? I'm the first person in my family to go to university so I've always felt a real sense of responsibility when it comes to breaking down the Ivory Tower. I think theoretical chats are fun but I live in the real world and I'm more interested in creating concrete change than burying my nose in a book.
We know that gender-related killings of women are not just a problem of the developing world. How do we begin to address the fact that women in Canada are dying at the hands of their domestic partners? The Canadian Femicide Observatory just released a report that showed that 148 women and girls were murdered last year in Canada. That's a woman or girl every 2.5 days. That's a horrifying statistic. But we need to face it if we want to change it. For me, that's a major problem in Canada. We want to believe violence happens elsewhere and that it's our job as benevolent Canadians to go and fix other people's problems. But we're reticent to face our own. Hell, I gave an entire lecture on this and so much of the hate mail I received was "Be grateful you live in Canada, bitch!"
What are your goals for the next five to ten years? What do you hope to accomplish? I'm currently writing a book that will be published spring/summer 2020 so that's keeping me super busy! I'm also cooking up two top secret projects right now. One to address stalking and the other to address sexual harassment. I'm stressed the hell out but excited! As much as this work is incredibly difficult and my colleagues and I spend our lives being overworked and underpaid, I can't imagine myself doing anything else. Ending violence against women is truly my life's work and I bust my ass every day in the hopes of putting myself out of business. I want to create a safer world for my nieces so I can retire and bake vegan cupcakes for the rest of my life.