Because of the powerful impact of those words, the Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services launched a new public service campaign, titled I Believe You, that set out to support sexual assault survivors while raising awareness of how to support victims.
Launched at the end of August, the campaign is a powerful one instructing friends, family members and acquaintances that when a victim comes forward, the biggest thing we can do is support them, believe them and stand with them. However, there's been a lot of talk over AASAS' chosen spokesman, former Dragon’s Den member W. Brett Wilson.
Known for his philanthropy work and several charitable efforts, it might not seem like much of a stretch for Wilson to be in support of the campaign, as evidenced by his Facebook page and Twitter account.
However, Celeste Côté, digital media consultant and freelance writer, put together a Storify article that paints another picture. Côté notes that, in the past, Wilson tweeted support for former CBC radio personality Jian Ghomeshi (a tweet that read, "I believe Jian's story. The truth..."), and she also documents instances where he has made misogynistic and sexist remarks via his Twitter and Facebook pages.
Côté (among others) called on Wilson to explain himself. She told me, "I think the #IBelieveYou campaign is an important one that deserves attention and support, not criticism," adding that she believes anyone standing publicly for a cause should be held to account for any contradictory behaviour or comments.
Wilson's publicist, Joni Avram, who also happens to be the media representative for the #IBelieveYou campaign, had Wilson reach out to Celeste via email with a message titled "Not sure why I owe YOU in particular a response." In his email, Wilson discussed briefly why certain comments, tweets and actions were "far from perfect." Celeste tells me, "To admit 'I was part of the problem, but now I'm part the solution, and if I did it, you can do it too' resonates more strongly than simply preaching a solution or ideal. I actually find it kind of ironic that the Storify piece reflected more poorly upon Wilson after he spoke for himself directly."
When it comes to high-profile spokespeople, we tend to idolize their fame or success, which is why Côté believes public role models should be "open and transparent about their own personal learning curves."
To be fair, everyone has social media records, and sometimes we make comments or remarks we may not be proud of. But Côté says, "It's not about blaming and shaming. It's about acknowledging that in order to achieve the end goals of any campaign for positive change, we need to talk about the process of getting there by overcoming our own personal weaknesses — a process that's often ugly and uncomfortable, but hey, personal growth comes from discomfort."
One thing Côté and I both agree on is that there was no way for AASAS to have known the entire history of W. Brett Wilson prior to bringing him on as a campaign spokesman.
The focus on the campaign is so vital and important that perhaps AASAS could have approached actress Lucy DeCoutere (who publicly spoke out against former CBC radio personality Jian Ghomeshi) or Julie Lalonde, a women’s rights advocate, for its #IBelieveYou campaign.
However, through all of this, the most important thing to remember is this: Always support sexual assault survivors, through this campaign or otherwise.
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