Category: SARAH

Wear Denim on April 29!

By: Candice Perry

Since 1999, April 29 has been designated as Wear Denim Day, a day when people around the world wear denim in solidarity with survivors of sexual assault. The movement caps off Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and is the second sartorial statement in protest of sexualized violence, the first being Wear Teal Day on April 7 each year.

Wear Denim Day began when female Italian parliamentarians went on a “denim strike” in response to an Italian Supreme Court decision to overturn a rape conviction, in part based on the reasoning that the victim must have consented because the tight jeans she wore at the time of the attack could not have been removed “if she was fighting with all her force”.

Another factor in the decision was that the victim, an eighteen year old student at a driving school, attended a driving theory class after the attack. The student reported the rape in 1992, after the driving instructor sexually assaulted her during a driving lesson. The Supreme Court decision demonstrated how persistent myths about sexual assault are within a culture because it came about three years after Italy had modernized its sexual assault laws. [1] Similar scenarios have been played out over the ensuing decades around the world, including in Canada.

The myth that a “true victim” will ”fight with all her force” or “raise a hue and cry” [2] is common. In fact, neuroscientists have shown that commonly misunderstood reactions to sexual assault such as continuing a relationship with the perpetrator or freezing can be an automatic reaction. The commonly known “fight or flight response” is actually preceded by a “freeze response”, allowing the human being to devote all the senses to assess the danger of the perceived threat. Also, in crisis, the human brain relies on habits to stay safe, so it should be no surprise that women, who in our culture are socialized to appease others and help them save face, might react to sexual aggression by appeasing the attacker or maintain a friendly relationship with him afterwards.[3]

While the Italian “jeans defence” was met with vocal public backlash at the time, pervasive sexual assault myths continue to have harmful effects on survivors, the administration of justice, and society. When the people to whom survivors turn for support believe these myths, survivors feel re–victimized and alone. This complicates their recovery and may cause them to be reluctant to report sexual violence to the authorities. When investigators and judges believe these myths, perpetrators are never sanctioned and are allowed to victimize even more people. And when these myths are believed, pervasive stereotypes about women are allowed to result in bias and discrimination, thus enabling sexism to continue.

April 29 is Wear Denim day and April is Sexual Assault awareness Month, but we are all challenged to stand in solidarity with survivors by recognizing and refuting myths about sexual assault whenever and wherever they come up.

[1] Stanley, Allesandra. New  York Times, February 16, 1999

[2] Craig, Elaine. The Ethical Obligtions of Defense Counsel n Sexual Assault Cases, Osgoode Hall law Journal, Volume 51, Issue 2 (Winter 2014).

[3] Haskell, Lori, and Melanie Randall, The Impact of Trauma on Adult Sexual Assault Victims, 2019

Survivor’s Hope COVID-19 Statement

Due to the recent updates of COVID-19, Survivor’s Hope Crisis Centre will be implementing the following strategies immediately to ensure that the health and safety of the community, volunteers, staff and Board of Directors of Survivor’s Hope remains a priority.

The organization will remain operational and work hours will continue as status quo with an emphasis on slowing down the spread of the virus by completing the following strategies:

– The office in Pinawa will be closed until April 10, at which time we will reassess. Staff will check for phone messages and will be checking emails regularly while working from home.

– All SADI workshops and Girls’ Group Mentorship programming is suspended until April 10, at which time we will reassess.

– The SARAH Program will be available to provide advocacy over the phone but in-person advocacy at hospitals and RCMP detachments is suspended at this time. Immediate SARAH support by phone can be accessed by those who have the SARAH pager number using the same protocols as always.

–  The SARAH workers on the schedule for the next two weekends will not be called to attend call-outs anywhere in community. The person on pager duty will provide the advocacy and support by-phone using the SARAH phone. We will reassess this plan April 10.

For staff, please inform your supervisor via phone call, text and/or email if applicable should you be experiencing symptoms and will not be able to work from home. It is notable that the Government of Canada has waived the one-week waiting period for EI sickness benefits for new claimants who are quarantined so they can be paid for the first week of their claim. Link for more information is below.

With your support, we will inform the community of our indefinite program suspension and encourage everyone to follow the advice of Public Health officials and stay home as much as possible. Our phone and Facebook communication will remain operational to assist with providing support.

As we become more informed on the virus in the coming days and weeks, the above mentioned strategies will be updated to best respond to the health and safety of the Survivor’s Hope Crisis Centre team and the larger community. This is a reminder on how to best practice the values of Survivor’s Hope Crisis Centre by treating one another with respect, helping with understanding and empathy, seeking to understand situations and being open minded.

For more information on COVID-19 please review the following links:

https://www.gov.mb.ca/health/coronavirus/

https://www.gov.mb.ca/health/publichealth/factsheets/coronavirus_selfisolation.pdf

https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/2019-novel-coronavirus-infection.html

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/index.html

https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/corporate/notices/coronavirus.html

Health Links at 204-788-8200

Thank you for your understanding and compliance with these strategies, should you have any questions or concerns please feel free to ask.

Rural Third Party Reporting for Sexual Assault

Survivor’s Hope Crisis Centre is able to process Third Party Reports of sexual assault and assist with applying for up to $2000 in counselling through Manitoba Justice Compensation for Victims of Crime.

In April 2018, the Winnipeg Police Service and Manitoba RCMP announced a new protocol that would allow people to report sexual assault to a community agency who then submits an anonymous report to law enforcement. Survivor’s Hope has partnered with Klinic Community Health Centre to make Third Party Reporting accessible in north eastern Manitoba.

“We have a team of well trained volunteers who already do a stellar job of providing crisis support in hospitals and RCMP detachments through the region,” said Stephanie Klassen, Reaching Out Program Coordinator for Survivor’s Hope. “And now those skilled helpers are ready to assist anyone who wants to let law enforcement know about their experience of violence but doesn’t necessarily want to make a full statement and press charges.”

Third Party Reports allow anyone who was the direct target of sexualized violence to document as much of the experience as they want and submit it to either RCMP or Winnipeg Police Service. These reports help to track violent offenders and may provide additional information on other cases.

The Compensation for Victims of Crime Program through Manitoba Justice is now accessible to those who make Third Party Reports. Up to $2000 towards counselling can be accessed by completing an application form.

Those interested in more information about Third Party Reports are encouraged to contact Survivor’s Hope 204-753-5353 or email.

“We wanted to share this information during 16 days of activism which take place Nov 25 – Dec 10 each year,” said Klassen. “The ability to make Third Party Reports is the result of the work of activists in Manitoba who are constantly working to provide better care to those who have experienced sexualized violence.”

Sexual Violence Myths Getting Good Press?

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and there are two recent news stories that raise some very important points about sexual violence.

It is not often that we hear satisfying stories of closure and justice in regards to sexual violence. These types of crimes are fraught with influence from cultural myths and misunderstandings about what is happening when sexual violence occurs.

We have heard a Manitoba judge say that sexual assault is actually just a “clumsy Don Juan” trying to get lucky and accidentally assaulting someone. It is a myth that sexual assault is rooted in the desire for sex.

We have watched the Ghomeshi trial in which every action the survivors took after the assaults was given far more weight than the actual assaults. It is a myth that all sexual assault survivors will act in the same manner if they were really sexually assaulted.

Two recent stories have highlighted more myths about sexual violence.

There is currently a lawsuit against the Mennonite Brethren Church of Manitoba that alleges the church created an atmosphere that made it easy for a pastor to lure, groom, and sexually assault a child in his congregation.

This lawsuit highlights myths about sexual violence by shattering the usual myths. This lawsuit is trying to get to the bottom of why sexual violence happens and the conditions that promote silencing victims. In a word – power.

It is not often that we see legal action taken against the structures that promote inequality or injustice, but this lawsuit is attempting to do just that. It’s not that churches promote inequality and injustice, but when people, particularly children, are told that the church leader is “chosen by God,” that leader has a lot of power and authority which may be easily abused. More safeguards are required in these settings to hold leaders accountable and encourage anyone who may be a victim to trust their own experience and feel safe to speak up.

There are many groups, inside and outside faith communities, working on and discussing these problems. Especially relevant to the faith community involved in this lawsuit is the organization Our Stories Untold which is working to end the silence around sexual violence in churches.

Another story that has recently highlighted myths by breaking them came out of a denied conviction appeal. A teacher was convicted in 2013 of sexually assaulting a female student by repeatedly groping her at school. He tried to appeal his sentence on the grounds that the victim had not come forward soon enough; she had not reported the first incident on the first day it took place.

The Court responded in a refreshingly informed way by saying that the convict’s argument was not evidence that the assaults never took place. The Court acknowledged that the power the teacher had over the student played a significant role in the assaults and in the student’s response, which likely included some form of Sexual Assault Trauma.

At its core, sexual violence is about power, not sex. Sexual contact is simply the weapon of choice. Sexual violence comes from a disregard for consent which essentially entails dehumanizing someone, using them as an object so the perpetrator feels powerful and gets what they want.

Too often we hear myths about sexual violence mistaken for truth. Sexual Assault Awareness Month is a time to become better informed, debunk myths, and create safer spaces for everyone in our communities.

For more information on a variety of topics related to sexual violence, visit the Links page of our website.

How We Talk About Sexual Assault

In Winnipeg last weekend, a woman was sexually assaulted by a cab driver in the middle of the night. She had been at a club and after stumbling on the sidewalk, a cab driver helped the woman into his cab, drove to the area near the address she provided, and then he sexually assaulted her.

The day after this incident, women started sharing their own scary experiences of cab drivers on social media. This story is not a new one. This is not the first time a woman has been sexually assaulted in a cab. This is not the first time a woman has been sexually assaulted after leaving a club. The lack of news reports about these types of occurrences creates a false sense of the actual rates of these incidents. I read this story and thought, “Why are they reporting on this assault and not all the others that have occurred?”

Nevertheless, it is important that these stories reach the general public, even if it is only some of the time.  We know that only about 10-15% of sexual assaults are ever reported to the authorities, so that means for every story we hear about sexual assault, we can assume that there are probably upwards of 8 other stories that we are not hearing.

That being said, just reporting on these incidents is not enough. We need to be careful with how they are reported. There are several concerns that stand out in the way this story was reported in the Winnipeg Free Press and on the CBC website.

Victim Blaming

The victim of this sexual assault had been drinking and every news report made that clear multiple times. It was reported in a matter-of-fact and non-judgmental way but the repeating of it communicates that this was a very important part of the story. If the victim’s alcohol consumption is communicated as a key factor in this story, then the message behind this repetition is “If the victim had not been drinking, none of this would have happened.”

Far too often, the victim is blamed for an assault if it happens when she/he is intoxicated. Victim-blaming messages are way too prevalent in our society. No matter how much someone has had to drink, it is always the perpetrator that is responsible for sexual assault.  Do we think that this woman’s intoxication is what gave the cab driver the idea to sexually assault her? His desire to take advantage of a vulnerable person has nothing to do with her clothes, her actions, or her alcohol consumption. It is all on him. (The “safety tips” in this sketch from The Daily Show are a joke because they won’t keep anyone safe.)

Highlighting the habits of victims when we report on sexual assault does absolutely nothing to address the root causes of why some people want to take advantage of others and engage in non-consensual sexual acts. Yes, there are social forces that encourage men to view women as objects to which they can help themselves, but we still need to hold individuals accountable for their actions while we try to change those harmful social forces.

Misplaced Concern

Despite the “seriousness” of this sexual assault (more on that later), the news reports still spent a significant amount of time addressing concerns that are peripheral to the crime that took place. Winnipeg Councillor Harvey Smith found it necessary to emphasize the good relationship between the Winnipeg Police Service and the taxi companies. He also talked about how few sexual misconduct cases come to the Manitoba Taxicab Board, of which he is a member. He also speculated about whether or not the victim made up these allegations and said it “does not look good” for the cab driver right now.

All of that is incredibly dismissive. Is the relationship between police and taxi drivers the most important concern in this story? Should we really be worried about the job security of the perpetrator of this crime? Raising these political and outlying concerns seems very disrespectful to this particular victim of a violent crime and to all victims of sexual assault. If this incident creates an opportunity to discuss any political issues, it ought to be the issue of women’s safety. Winnipeg was among the first “developed” cities to sign up with the UN Safe Cities Initiative because street harassment of women is a major concern and this story is an example of that first and foremost.

Serious vs. Not So Serious

The sexual assault in this incident has been reported as a serious sexual assault, which begs the question, “Which sexual assaults are not serious?”

If we look at conviction rates for the answer to that question, we would see that sexual assaults are deemed among the least serious of all the violent crimes as they have the second lowest conviction rate. A study of reports to police forces in Ontario found that sexual assault reports had the highest rate of being considered “unfounded” and only a third of reports across Canada lead to charges compared to half of all other violent crime reports.

The criminal code does not distinguish between serious and not serious sexual assault. There is, however, a difference between sexual assault (any unwanted sexual contact) and aggravated sexual assault (any unwanted sexual contact that results in wounding, maiming, disfiguring, or endangering the life of the victim). It sounds like this story is about aggravated sexual assault because the victim was reported to have been injured during the sexual assault.

Calling this a serious sexual assault is someone’s subjective take on the situation, not the legal description of what happened. Of course this is a story about serious sexual assault, but only because every sexual assault is serious. As long as we call some serious and others not, we will keep sending the message to victims that there is no guarantee that what they went through was serious enough to deserve any kind of a response. This also implies to perpetrators of sexual assault that sometimes what they do is not serious and therefore allowed. What we permit, we promote, and if we permit sexual assault of any kind, we are promoting it.

There have been a number of disappointing media stories about sexual assaults over the last few months. The very existence of sexual assault is bad enough; we don’t need to make it worse with the way we talk about it in the media. We can do so much better than this! We owe it to victims of sexual assault to honour their experiences when we report on them by making their concerns the central feature of the story.

Expectations of Victims?: Reactions to Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence

Near the end of March, a Nova Scotia woman had a very unfortunate experience with her boyfriend and then with the RCMP. While going through the process of reporting a domestic assault and documenting her injuries, this woman received a disturbing accidental voicemail message from the RCMP.

The officer that called seemed to think he had hung up the phone when in actual fact he left a three minute message. The message consisted of several officers discussing this woman’s case. They discussed the complainant’s emotional state and one of the officers asked if she deserved to get hit and laughed.

It is important to say that this is not typical RCMP behaviour. Canadians are helped by dedicated officers every day and Survivor’s Hope works alongside such officers through the SARAH program. The officers involved in the voicemail message are now subjects of a disciplinary inquiry and an official apology has been issued.

IS THIS A REFLECTION OF US?

This story raises a very important concern and it doesn’t have anything to do with the RCMP. For a moment, let’s just think of the voicemail comments coming from average Canadians, not RCMP officers. Do their comments reflect some of the attitudes of the general public? Do we expect victims of domestic violence or sexual violence to express a limited range of emotional responses? Don’t people deserve help regardless of how they emotionally process an experience?

I am most concerned about the first comments heard on the voicemail message which are about the emotional state of the woman. The officers say that when they talked to the woman about what happened, she said she was afraid her boyfriend would kill her, but according to the officers, she was “very nonchalant,” which they point out a few times. I worry that they were pointing out her nonchalance as if it diminished her report of violence and how threatened she felt.

A LITTLE DOMESTIC VIOLENCE THEORY

Every time we discuss domestic violence, we discuss the cycle of violence, or cycle of abuse. The vast majority of domestic violence happens in a patterned matter. This means that it takes place in a relationship that follows a predictable path of building tension, explosive episode, rationalization, and then pretending normal for a while before the tension builds again and the cycle repeats. This is the cyclical pattern of abusive behaviour and those who are subjected to this behaviour by their partners know this cycle very well.

cycle of violence

It may not be surprising then that a victim of domestic violence can report their experience and their fear in a matter-of-fact nonchalant way. The cycle and the abuse, the fear and the pain are very familiar facets of everyday life. Many people organize their lives around this cycle because their partner controls them with abusive behaviours.

Those who live in the cycle of abuse, both the abusive partner and the victimized partner, can become so accustomed to this pattern that this seems normal. Children who grow up seeing the cycle of abuse in their home may come to believe that these behaviours are normal. Even though violence can be normalized in people’s lives, it does not make it okay and it does not mean that the threat of serious harm or even death is not real.

LEARNING TO COPE

Normalizing the cycle of abuse and violent experiences can be a coping strategy for those trapped in the cycle. It is not that they want this to be normal, but they can become so accustomed to it, that they just try to make it work. No one can live constantly in hyperdrive, in that adrenaline pumping state of fight or flight that happens when we feel threatened. Thus, constant fear becomes normal and can be discussed in nonchalant ways, or even minimized and explained away.

There is no typical or standard reaction to domestic violence or to sexual assault or to any other traumatic experience. The range of responses can be from numb to frenzied, from distracted to fixated, from urgent to avoidant, from guilty and shameful to enraged and vengeful and anything in between. Normalizing fear as a coping strategy is definitely not what everyone does when they are brutalized by domestic violence.

The point is that someone who lives in the cycle of abuse may not have the emotional response that we think is “appropriate” or “normal.” No one – not average citizens, not RCMP officers, not medical staff, not crisis workers – should take that as permission to dismiss a victimized person’s request for help.

OUR REACTION MAKES A DIFFERENCE

When we compare self-reporting surveys to police statistics, we find out that more than 70% of domestic violence and sexual violence does not get reported to the authorities, and that’s a conservative estimate. It is not easy to talk to strangers about these experiences. But when someone is able to talk to another about what has happened, the response of that trusted other is very important and can set the tone for the victimized person’s healing process.

This very unfortunate voicemail message might function as a mirror for us. When we look into this mirror, do we see our own assumptions about domestic violence? Do we judge a victim’s credibility based on how we assess their emotional reaction? We know we should not judge a book by its cover, so let’s make sure we don’t judge people by their outward response.