It’s been less than a week since Jian Ghomeshi was found not guilty on four counts of sexual assault and one count of choking. Sue Goyette and Erin Wunker, both instructors at Dalhousie University, were appalled by the verdict and decided to take matters into their own hands to give those in their community a safe space to talk. The result is Safe Harbour, a gathering at The Company House tonight at 5pm.
“I was dismayed at the message it gave to women who had been considering coming forward with their own experiences,” says Goyette of Ghomeshi’s acquittal. Wunker agrees: “If you’re someone who survived sexual assault, what you’re hearing is ‘nobody’s going to trust a survivor.’ Your experience is always going to be the thing on trial opposed to the experience itself.”
Award-winning poet Goyette and Wunker—co-founder of Hook & Eye: Fast Feminism, Slow Academe—know how important this sort of offline meeting is, because they organized one in 2014 when complaints about the CBC’s former star first came forward. “It’s a public facilitation of discussion in a safe space,” says Wunker.
According to Goyette, 97 percent of human communication is done non-verbally: “If someone is talking about their pain online, we miss the small little clues that are giving us the capacity and depth of that pain.” She believes a lot of people are “feeling right now,” making it hard for them to heal. “We can’t feel and think at the same time. It’s just not physically possible.” She says feelings are like a cloud, and once they are heard they dissipate, resulting in people feeling better and having the chance to properly heal. “We can’t act until our pain has been witnessed. That’s just an inevitable part of healing.”
Whether attendees are hoping to share their stories or quietly listen to others share their own, Safe Harbour is a place for feelings and inclusion. All are welcome to attend, no matter gender, age or experience. “My hope is that people feel heard,” says Wunker, “and that there is a bit of catharsis that comes from this conversation.”