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Growing up as a child in Canada I did not acknowledge the existence of different cultures for some time. My friends were from all over the world, Europe, Asia, Russia, and various parts of the Middle East. Of course there were differences between us, clothing, diet, religion, but because I was young and without negative impact it didn’t bother me. They were my friends, we were Canadian and that was all that mattered.

Everything changed a few months ago when a man followed me from the tram here in the Netherlands. Thankfully I had taken a couple of self defense courses at work, and knew how to react to the situation; otherwise, I fear I would have been raped. To this day, the encounter is still unsettling; and I wonder what I did to attract this man, asking myself if it was somehow my fault that he decided to follow me. I have also become more wary of my neighborhood, and for no reason, being the man followed me from the tram and returned to the station when he realized I was not going to be his victim. The fact is, this encounter although nonviolent has forever changed me whether I like it or not.

It is now you wonder about the man? At this point, he is not relevant. Instead, I would first like to speak about recent events in world news, immigration, and lastly about racism.

We’ve all heard of the recent conflicts in the Middle East and Africa; and the mass migration of refugees to Europe and North America. There have been many sides to this story in Europe and in my homeland, Canada. No one wants to see people suffer, especially children. As a woman, I definitely do not want to hear about sexual assaults and violence upon the innocent either, as in many ways these acts are no less an atrocity. Still, I have read countless stories of men from North African and Middle Eastern decent, sexually assaulting women and even young women in their teens. Appalled, I could not comprehend why this was happening. Was gang rape common in their home country? Did these men see women here as easy targets? As a woman, I felt it was necessary to educate myself in an effort to answer some of these questions, only to learn that a lot of what was happening could be explained through cultural differences.

As a Canadian, I have a clear understanding of cultural differences and for the most part welcome them. After all, Canada was built on immigration, and the rich diversity has made it a wonderful place to live. I say ‘for the most part’ only because I have recently learned of one cultural difference that for me, as a woman, is completely unaccepted. It appears that in some cultures women who are less conservative in their appearance and/or behavior are perceived as prostitutes and worthless, and it is here in which the problem lies.

Sadly the statistics regarding sexual assault, aside from what has been released in Norway and Sweden, have been swept under the carpet in fear of governments being labelled racist and/or of being politically incorrect. However, through my self-education, things have become clear, and there is definitely a problem. If not, why is Norway offering educational lesson to immigrant men on how to treat women? Why has Canada limited their refugee plan to women, children and families?

Although I am in a way generalizing (and sad to do it), these “cultural differences” cannot be tolerated nor justify any type of violence against another person or animal. After all, these individuals have chosen to migrate to a society vastly different from their own, and in doing so, must accept the vastness of cultural differences in the countries in which they now live.

Who was the man who approached me? I think you know the answer to this question now. Do I want to fear a culture? No. But…do I want to live amongst people who see me as an infidel and therefore worthless? No. What is the answer then? It is known that women in Germany are told to dress more appropriately to avoid misunderstanding amongst different cultures, something that in truth bewilders me. Did our forefathers and foremothers (I may add) not fight for the freedom which has enabled us to live our lives as we see fit? A freedom that taught me to respect other cultures, and to fight for equality for all. With these said freedoms also comes the freedom of speech, yet for speaking out in a manner such as this, leaves me wondering when I will be declared a racist when in fact is it I, a women, who has become a victim of racism by being seen as worthless by another culture.

With that said, does racism really have anything to do with it? I think not; in this matter it simply cannot be justified.

In the end, sexual assault will continue to occur whether we restrict immigrants or not…that is the world we live in. Still, sparing one women or child from sexual assault resulting from ‘cultural differences’ seems worth the effort does it not? Many defend this argument with the notion that we can change the thought process of these men through education. However, is changing someone’s cultural beliefs in itself unethical and/or is it our place to do so? Unfortunately, there is no clear answer to this. What I do know is that something further to education must be done by our governments who must face this matter regardless of cultural differences. Until then, I will have to decide whether I need to change my values to avoid another incident like that I experienced when recently walking home from the tram station.

Marnie