Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres (OCRCC): December 6: the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women in 2023

 

Violence can affect anyone—but the events of December 6, 1989 made clear that violent victimization is often gendered. On December 6, 1989, a gunman killed 14 women at Montreal’s École Polytechnique, before killing himself. In the suicide note he left on his body, he described his rage against women and identified their pursuit of social equality as the event that singularly “ruined his life.”

 

Gender-based violence remains a reality in Canada today

Women, girls and gender-diverse people still face incidents of gender-based violence. For example, Statistics Canada found that reported sexual assault rates in 2021 were at their highest since 1996[1]. This November, the Ontario Association of Interval Houses (OAITH) noted that over the last 52 weeks (one year), there have been 62 women and children killed; In most cases, they were harmed by men who knew them, in situations of domestic violence[2]. And while these femicide rates overall are appalling, First Nations, Inuit, and Metis people in Canada are at even greater risk of being targeted for lethal gender-based violence[3].

At sexual assault centres across Ontario, we see these realities reflected in support-seeker trends. In a recent year, OCRCC member sexual assault centres reported responded to over 37,500 crisis calls (phone, text, online chat) while in 2019, this number was 23,000. Sexual assault centres centres also saw over 6400 people in counselling (individual and group)—up from 5400 in 2019[4].

 

We still need the 16 days of activism to end gender-based violence

Awareness about gendered violence and prevention efforts can help to address gender-based violence. The 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence is an annual international campaign that kicks off on 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and runs until 10 December, Human Rights Day. It includes commemorating December 6.

This year’s theme is: Invest to Prevent Violence against Women & Girls.

This theme refers to addressing economic hardship for women, girls and gender-diverse people. Having limited resources like income or affordable housing can make people more vulnerable to gendered violence. It can also make it impossible to escape situation of violence, or potentially unsafe situations at home, work or school. In recent years, the pandemic worsened pre-existing social and economic vulnerabilities. Women, girls and gender diverse people, for example, faced risks “including sexual exploitation and abuse, unequal access to assistance, discrimination in aid provision…and violence”[5],[6]. Racialized communities, impoverished families “and other groups that have traditionally been marginalized, tend to be harmed by a disaster more”[7], and have less access to resources[8]. Ontario sexual assault centres have seen these realities reflected in support-seeker food insecurity, sexual exploitation, and increasingly complex survivor needs: in a 2022 survey, 96% of Ontario sexual assault centre respondents said that survivors in their community are facing increased income insecurity, or food insecurity (85%)[9].

The theme also refers to the importance of investing in community organizations that have a role in addressing gender-based violence. Expertise exists in community-based organizations in Ontario, such as sexual assault centres and other community supports—as well as with survivors of violence. Community agencies dedicated to gender-based violence response bring particular expertise about survivors in local communities: for example, when survivors express a need for safe housing, face local trends in targeted victimization, or increase calls to our crisis line, community-based sexual assault centres are the first to know this. Many survivors choose not to engage in the criminal justice system, or do not see positive outcomes when reporting sexual assault[10]. Given this, community organizations like shelters and sexual assault centres often work with hidden populations of victims that other organizations do not. These populations include racialized survivors of violence; survivors from the 2SLGBTQ+ community; survivors with complex safety or confidentiality issues such as victims of human trafficking; and sexual assault survivors.

For these reasons, community-based sexual violence support services need intentional investment. A strong gender-based violence response plan in Ontario also requires intentional investment in Indigenous organizations supporting women, girls and gender diverse people.

 

What can you do to help end gender-based violence?

We all have a role in addressing gender-based violence, including sexual violence. You can:

  • Learn more about violence and its root causes
  • Interrupt sexist and other discriminatory language
  • Interrupt victim-blaming when you hear it
  • Learn about resources for people affected by violence
  • Create safe spaces to discuss gender-based violence, and how to support survivors.
  • Resist gender stereotyping and gender role expectations; these have negative impacts on all of us
  • Push back against racial stereotyping and discriminatory attitudes
  • Remember that violence is a choice, and it is preventable
  • Be supportive and believe women, girls and gender-diverse people who talk about their experiences of discrimination or violence
  • Be a good bystander: Learn how to safely intervene to support survivors, and prevent gender-based, including transphobic, violence (the Draw the Line campaign is a good resource for this)
  • Support your local gender-based violence support organizations, including Ontario sexual assault centres
  • Support your local Indigenous organization supporting women, girls and gender diverse people
  • Ask those in leadership to support these organizations, and push for sustainable, adequate funding for them.

 

Violence in all its forms is an expression of intolerance, inequality and fear.  The best way to prevent violence is to work with others for change.

On December 6, we remember all women, girls and gender diverse people who have experienced violence.

Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres (OCRCC) is a network of community-based sexual assault centres in Ontario. Member centres have been supporting survivors of sexual violence and offering prevention education.  If you or someone you know has experienced sexual violence, go to https://sexualassaultsupport.ca/get-help/

 

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[1] Smith, Marie-Danielle for The Canadian Press. August 3, 2022. Sexual assault rate in 2021 highest since 1996, violent crimes up: Statistics Canada. Online: https://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/sexual-assault-rate-in-2021-highest-since-1996-violent-crimes-up-statistics-canada-1.6010840

[2] Ontario Association of Interval Houses (OAITH). November 2023. For Immediate Release- Annual Femicide List 2023. A year of system failure: The lives of 62 women and children taken, While 93 charges have been laid against 57 men in relation to these femicides. Online: https://www.oaith.ca/assets/library/Annual-Femicide-List-2022-2023-Press-Release-OAITH.pdf

[3] National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG). Report released June 2019. Online: https://www.mmiwg-ffada.ca/

[4] Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres (OCRCC). 2022. Sexual Violence In Ontario: Trends in Survivors Seeking Support infographic. Online: https://sexualassaultsupport.ca/sexual-violence-in-ontario-trends-in-survivors-seeking-support/

[5] Global Protection Cluster GBV Protection and Response and Inter-Agency Standing Committee.  Last updated: 6 April 2020. Identifying & Mitigating Gender-based Violence Risks within the COVID-19 Response. Online: https://gbvguidelines.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Interagency-GBV-risk-mitigation-and-Covid-tipsheet.pdf: 10.

[6] Ibid

[7] International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Geneva, 2015. Unseen, unheard: Gender-based violence in disasters. Online: https://www.ifrc.org/Global/Documents/Secretariat/201511/1297700_GBV_in_Disasters_EN_LR2.pdf: 16

[8] Tasker, J.P. for CBC News. March 10, 2021. More racially diverse areas reported much higher numbers of COVID-19 deaths: StatsCan: Black Canadians in particular have been far more likely to succumb to the virus than others. Online: https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/racial-minorities-covid-19-hard-hit-1.5943878

[9] Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres (OCRCC). 2022. This information was compiled by Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis

Centres in 2022, with data provided by 26 of our member centres. OCRCC includes over 30 community-based sexual assault centres in Ontario.

[10] According to Canadian research, just 33 out of every 1,000 sexual assault cases are reported to the police[10], and just 29 are actually recorded as a crime See: Patel, A. October 30, 2014. for Huffington Post Canada. 460,000 Sexual Assaults In Canada Every Year: YWCA Canada. Online: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/10/30/sexual-assault-canada_n_6074994.html

 


 

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