Join us for a conversation with Dr. Vara-Horna to learn more about his research on the company level costs of domestic violence to medium and large sized enterprises.
Register here for this free event in Toronto on October 4th 2018
On August 1st, the Ontario government announced that the planned 3% increase to social assistance rates will be reduced to 1.5%. These cuts, along with other changes including the cancellation of the change to the definition of ‘spouse’ will have an impact on women across the province. These changes put women at greater risk of poverty and violence.
The government has said they will be undertaking a 100-day review of social assistance programs in Ontario. WomaACT wants to ensure that the voice and expertise of women with lived experience of poverty and violence and advocates with equity-seeking groups are heard. It is critical that we continue to advocate for an intersectional gender-based analysis of income security policies and programs.
Join us on September 27th for a cross-sector discussion on making social assistance reform in Ontario work for women. This important discussion will also help inform a response to the Ontario government on social assistance reform.
The event will start with a panel of experts and move into working groups to discuss key questions:
September 27th 2018 from 2:30 pm – 5:30 pm
Children’s Aid Society of Toronto
30 Isabella Street,
Food and light refreshments will be provided.
At WomanACT, we are very concerned by the recent announcement by the Ontario Ministry of Education to repeal Ontario’s sexual health education curriculum in September.
As an organization committed to women’s safety and gender equality, we believe that access to effective and relevant sex education is a key contributing factor to the health and well-being of children and young people.
Compromising children and young people’s access to information on consent and equitable relationships means putting people’s health, safety and rights at risk. Comprehensive sexual health education that is inclusive, rights-based and promotes gender equality has a role in preventing violence against women. Schools are well placed to shift social norms, attitudes and behaviours.
To this end, the curriculum must reflect and respond to the lived realities of young people. Teaching children and young people about consent and healthy relationships is critical.
Just this month, the Canadian Femicide Conservatory released its mid-year report showing that in 2018 alone, 78 women and girls have died as a result of femicide in Canada. 41 of these women and girls were in Ontario. With such shocking numbers of women and girls dying as a result of dating violence, intimate-partner violence, we need to commit to learning and discussing safe, healthy and equitable relationships in our education system. With a rise in cyberbullying, the curriculum must cover how children and young people can protect themselves online and respect one another online. We need a curriculum that informs young people of their rights online.
Sexual health education is more than words written on a curriculum document; it is about promoting critical conversations in schools among young people; conversations about gender, sexuality, choice, boundaries and rights. We want the Government of Ontario to send the message that these are vital conversations that must be encouraged and fostered.
As per our Open Letter submitted to the Ministry of Education, our concerns are shared by a number of organizations and individuals. The open letter prepared by WomanACT has been endorsed and co-signed by a total of 13 Toronto Based organizations, 41 Organizations based in the province of Ontario, 18 Organizations working in other provinces of Canada, 4 Canada-wide organizations and eight individual experts.
The Ontario Election is in two days and here at WomanACT we think there is a lot at stake. We are calling on the next Ontario government to prioritize issues related to Gender Equality and Women’s Safety.
The Ontario Thrive coalition sent every candidate in the four key parties an invitation to complete a survey on gender-based violence and other key equity issues. Check out if your local candidate participated here.
Below are a few other things we have been reading and listening to ahead of the election, you may find them useful as well:
Parties Platforms: Green Party, NDP, PC Party and Liberal Party
WomanACT Election Platform
Apathy is Boring Issue Sheets
Toronto Star op-ed: Count us in! Women will vote on June 7th
YWCA Women Vote for Action Campaign
Unsure when and where to vote? Visit Elections Ontario.
By Lieran Docherty
In November 2017, the Canadian government launched the first ever National Housing Strategy in Canada. As a part of this strategy, the federal government made a commitment to working towards a human rights-based approach to housing. The government held a public consultation with communities across Canada on the proposed approach.
In preparation for this submission, WomanACT coordinated a consultation process with stakeholders providing Violence Against Women services in the city of Toronto. WomanACT’s submission stresses the importance of recognizing the intersections between housing, homelessness and violence against women and the many barriers that women face when trying to seek safety. WomanACT recommends that a rights-based approach to housing must recognize the critical importance of safety in achieving adequate housing and the right for women to remain in their own homes. WomanACT’s submission also recommends that the principles in the National Housing Strategy can be further strengthened through a robust intersectional Gender-Based Analysis, meaningful engagement with Women with Lived Experience and a commitment to addressing systemic inequality and discrimination.
Read the full submission here.
We are looking forward to hosting the Cyber Sexual Violence Forum today!
Special thanks to the Department of Justice for funding this important project.
May is Sexual Assault Prevention Month in Ontario and WomanACT wants to take this time to raise awareness of the impact of sexual assault. As statistics demonstrate, sexual assault is the only criminal offence with an exceptional increase in victimization rates compared to ten years prior.
There are common misconceptions about sexual assaults that need to be addressed and eliminated. The Canadian Women's Foundation has shared 10 frequently asked questions and answers about sexual assault and harassment in Canada. We encourage you to download the file below, provided by the Canadian Women's Foundation, in order to learn more and raise awareness about the facts of sexual assault and do your part in eradicating sexual violence against women.
As part of May's Sexual Assault Prevention Month, WomanACT would like to shine a spotlight on a Toronto agency, Elizabeth Fry Toronto, for their commitment to support survivors of sexual assault. Elizabeth Fry Toronto is a charitable organization dedicated to helping women break the cycles of criminalization and victimization in their lives. For 65 years, this agency has offered support through individual and group counselling, crisis intervention, release planning, referrals, transitional housing, and community education for women who are, have been or are at risk of being in conflict with the law. The programs at Elizabeth Fry Toronto provide the first stage of healing and are designed to help women learn new skills that will help them successfully reintegrate into the community after a term of imprisonment and avoid future contact with the criminal justice system. We wanted to learn a little bit more about Elizabeth Fry Toronto, and more specifically, how they are supporting survivors of sexual assault.
What services does Elizabeth Fry Toronto offer in respect to sexual assault survivors?
Trauma is a pervasive issue for clients. The Healing from Abuse Counselling Program provides an opportunity for marginalized women to identify and explore their experiences of trauma and abuse and to gain awareness of how trauma symptoms are interfering with their lives. By addressing the underlying issues of trauma, clients have the opportunity to explore the healing process. This instills a sense of wellness and can facilitate the development and maintenance of healthy, productive relationships, both intimate and with the community at large.
The Exit Doors Program supports female-identifying persons as they transition out of the sex industry and uses the Critical Time Intervention Model of Changes to support women. Services offered are: outreach, counselling, housing, and employment support. Through community partners, other supports such as medical, legal, and financial are also offered. The program facilitates integrating into healthy community, and the care/support for an individual continues throughout the different stages of their journey as they exit the sex industry. Exit Doors supports females who are working on the street, trafficked, and also private/non-identifying sex workers. The program aims to assist in building a healthy lifestyle that they envision for themselves.
The Partner Intervention Program is a domestic violence court initiative that delivers a specialized \mandated community based group intervention for women funded by the Ministry of the Attorney General. This program provides individual support and group counselling to women who have been charged within domestic violence situations and are mandated to attend counselling\psycho-educational group for issues related to abuse and emotions management.
The Talk and Listen Support Line is a toll-free number that provides direct access to emotional support and bridges the gap for women in conflict with the law and the community. Callers have a space to simply talk about everything and anything on their mind without fear of judgement. The Talk and Listen is “staffed” by community volunteers. The volunteers support women with discussion of next steps and speak about housing, employment, education and counselling services. Imagining a future of possibility helps women feel more prepared upon their release and in turn reduces recidivism rates. The support line is an early stage in the reintegration process as women have the opportunity to discuss their feelings, future planning and goals upon release. This program is also available for women in the community.
What can be done in the city of Toronto to enhance services for sexual assault survivors?
Since more and more people can easily access the internet and social media, cyber violence against women and girls is an increasing concern. In the city of Toronto, there could be more counselling, more awareness, and more education surrounding the issue of sexual assault, and safe exiting. We could also create partnerships with other agencies that are able to get funding to help carry out strategies and discuss the needs of women and girls to prevent or eliminate this form of gender-based violence in the community.
WomanACT would like to thank Elizabeth Fry Toronto for sharing their work and providing great support resources for survivors of sexual assault in Toronto. Visit the Elizabeth Fry Toronto website to learn more about their programs, services, mission, values and contact information.
Continue to stay tuned to the WomanACT blog for more stories, news, and informative posts regarding Sexual Assault Prevention Month.
By Bianca Caputo, WomanACT Social Media Team
Sexual assault continues to be one of the most under-reported crimes in Canada despite an increase in occurrences. Between 1999 and 2014, the incidence of sexual assault increased from 33 to 37 per 1,000 women in the Canadian population (Johnson, 2017). A statistical profile of police-reported sexual assaults in Canada from 2009 to 2014 demonstrates that the majority of victims, 87%, were female, particularly young women and girls (Rotenberg, 2017). In 2014, sexual assault was the only exceptional increase in victimization rates compared to ten years prior, with an increase by 4%. However, only 5% of sexual assaults were brought to the attention of police (Johnson, 2017; Perreault, 2015). It is a common belief that in order to receive adequate service, victims must fit a stereotypical mold or perception of a ‘real’ victim that includes a number of characteristics: (1) the incident is quickly reported; (2) the victim is not under the influence of alcohol; (3) the offender is a stranger; (4) the victim has physical injuries; (5) there was a weapon used; (6) the victim presents to be emotionally upset; and the list goes on (Johnson, 2017; Maier, 2008). If these characteristics are not met, victims may feel reluctant to report the incident, as many feel re-victimized when confronted by police officers (McGregor, Wiebe, Marion & Livingstone, 2000). Research has demonstrated that rape myths influence the perception that law enforcement officials have of sexual assaults. O’Neal (2017) notes the following beliefs as rape myths:
…women fantasize about being raped, husbands cannot rape their wives, rape is simply unwanted sex and not a violent crime, healthy women can resist all sexual attacks, men can be sexually provoked to a point of no return, victims are usually attacked by strangers, all rape is violent, women who dress provocatively are asking for it, only attractive women are raped, women who engage in alcohol or drug-related flirting deserve to be raped, and false reports of rape are common (p. 3).
By assuming these types of beliefs, it is common for police officers to demonstrate skepticism of sexual assault reports and then classify sexual assault cases as unfounded (Johnson, 2017; Venema, 2016). These beliefs combined with the number of stereotypical characteristics noted above often result in the unmet, narrow and prejudicial criteria that is asked of female victims for their case to be termed legitimate. Police officers are the first, and often only contact that female sexual assault victims have with the CJS, and this initial response is the most crucial in either deterring or encouraging a victim’s willingness to trust the system.
Female sexual assault victims want to be listened to, treated with dignity and have their stories taken seriously, which often times, does not occur (Johnson, 2017). Robyn Doolittle, through the Globe and Mail, shared stories of 36 female victims of sexual assault who did report their cases to the police; Eight of these victims had a positive experience reporting to the police, 11 said they were not updated about the investigation, 12 felt blamed or shamed during the police interview, and 25 had their allegation dismissed before going to court (Doolittle, 2017). According to Powell and Cauchi (2013), feeling valued is one of the most influential aspects of an officers response on victims of sexual assault which is not a difficult action to manifest. Open and active listening, non-judgemental tones, and properly structured questions are also noted to be of high importance to victims. Maier (2008) notes that questions pertaining to attire, the use of substances, degree of resistance and prior sexual encounters are insensitive and done without proper training. The revictimization of sexual assault complainants occurs when multiple investigators are assigned to a case which forces the victim to retell their story multiple times. Intrusive questioning towards the victim may seem necessary in order to gather strong and reliable information, however, victim-blaming is often correlated with such questioning tactics.
In a study by Venema (2016), police officer perceptions and decision-making in sexual assault cases is examined through schema theory; when police officers respond to a call, they use prior knowledge and experience to interpret the victim’s story and evidence about the alleged assault. Schemas represent shortcuts of a large amount of information which is important to understand the way police culture generally progresses through sexual assault cases. As a result of this study, officers admitted that if the victim and suspect had or have a relationship, if there is any regret on behalf of the victim, or if the victim has emotional issues, they will most likely perceive the report as false. Officers agreed that “they tend to remember being lied to, and they recall false reports more easily and frequently than those perceived as legitimate” (p. 879). It is common that officers perceive victims, specifically females, as revenge and/or attention seekers. However, research demonstrates that only 2-10% of sexual assault complaints are recorded to be false (Johnson, 2017), therefore, the other 90% of complaints that are true do not all get the respect and unbiased reaction of police officers that they deserve. Quinlan (2016) notes that there are major inconsistencies in police investigative techniques for sexual assaults in which officers prioritize different elements of a victim’s case in order to deem it as legitimate. Both Quinlan (2016) and Vemema (2016) highlight officer admittance of the stereotypical characteristics and rape myths previously discussed as having a direct effect and bias on their initial call to investigate.
The prejudicial treatment of sexual assault victims, specifically females, results in lower levels of trust with others, negative perceptions of their own neighbourhoods, and most notably, low confidence with police services. As outlined in the 2014 General Social Survey on Victimization, victims of sexual assault had lower levels of confidence in the police than victims of other matters of crime and were more likely to have no confidence at all (Conroy & Cotter, 2017). As Johnson (2017) notes, “the actions of one police officer can either deter or encourage willingness to trust the police” (p. 50), and the latter is not as common as it should be. One victim states that she “would not report to police in the future because of the trauma of reliving the assault, the triggering effects of past assaults, and the questioning of her integrity and honesty” (p. 54). Less than half of sexually assaulted victims in this study felt that procedural justice, the respectful and compassionate response, was provided by police officers. The very limited amount of women who decide to involve police trust them to enforce the law while upholding the protection of victims, however, the acceptance of rape myths and prejudicial treatment commonly deters sexual assault victims from reporting future incidents. A greater intersection between police and Violence Against Women front-line staff, clientele, and agencies is needed in order to foster enhanced sexual assault training, response, report writing and most importantly, better connection with victims. Clinical Psychologist Dr. Lori Haskell is an expert on the neurobiology of trauma in relation to sexual violence and has been providing trauma-informed training to many police services across Canada. Working with experts like Dr. Haskell is a great step in the right direction and would be extremely beneficial for police officers to understand trauma and its effect on victims. It is also the culture that needs to change. Police culture is not going to adjust unless societal acceptance of matters of a sexual nature is terminated. Prejudicial treatment of police response to female victims of sexual assault needs to be changed, and it needs to be changed now…#TimesUp.
Johnson, H. (2017). Why doesn’t she just report it? Apprehensions and contradictions for women who report sexual violence to the police. Canadian Journal of Women and the Law, 29(1), 36–59. doi:10.3138/cjwl.29.1.36
Conroy, S., & Cotter, A. (2017). Self-reported sexual assault in Canada, 2014. Retrieved from Statistics Canada website:https://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/85-002-x/2017001/article/14842-eng.htm
Doolittle, R. (2017). What it's like to report a sexual assault: 36 people share their stories. Retrieved from https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/investigations/what-its-like-to-report-a-sexual-assault-36-people-share-their-stories/article34338353/
Johnson, H. (2017). Why doesn’t she just report it? Apprehensions and contradictions for women who report sexual violence to the police. Canadian Journal of Women and the Law, 29(1), 36–59. doi:10.3138/cjwl.29.1.36
Maier, S. (2008). “I have heard horrible stories …”. Violence Against Women, 14(7), 786-808. doi:10.1177/1077801208320245
McGregor, M. J., Wiebe, E., Marion, S. A., & Livingstone, C. (2000). Why don’t more women report sexual assault to the police? CMAJ: Canadian Medical Association Journal, 162(5), 659–660.
O’Neal, E. (2017): “Victim is not credible”: The influence of rape culture on police perceptions of sexual assault complainants. Justice Quarterly. doi:10.1080/07418825.2017.1406977
Perreault, S. (2015). Criminal victimization in Canada, 2014. Retrieved from http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/85-002-x/2015001/article/14241-eng.htm
Powell, M. B., & Cauchi, R. (2013). Victims’ perceptions of a new model of sexual assault investigation adopted by Victoria police. Police Practice & Research, 14(3), 228-241. doi:10.1080/15614263.2011.641376
Quinlan, A. (2016). Suspect survivors: Police investigation practices in sexual assault cases in Ontario, Canada. Women and Criminal Justice, 26(4), 301–318. doi10.1080/08974454.2015.1124823
Rotenberg, C. (2017). Police-reported sexual assaults in Canada, 2009 to 2014: A statistical profile. Retrieved from https://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/85-002-x/2017001/article/54866-eng.htm
Venema, R. M. (2016). Police officer schema of sexual assault reports. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 31(5), 872-899. doi:10.1177/0886260514556765
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