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January 2021: Stay Home, Stay Safe: An Oxymoron Worth Investigating
Stay Home, Stay Safe: An Oxymoron Worth Investigating
Written By: Alana Couvrette, WISE Board Director
Since the very start of the COVID-19 outbreak, the directive “stay home, stay safe” has guided the lives of Canadians from coast to coast. In a time of great uncertainty, these four words provided a sense of comfort and assurance: home is where you are the safest and staying home is how you can best protect yourself from harm. But what if home is where you are the least safe? What if staying home meant increasing your exposure to abuse and your likelihood of experiencing violence? The truth is that for many women around the world (including Canada), home is the most dangerous place to be. This was the case well before the pandemic began and lockdowns and curfews precipitated by COVID-19 only serve to exacerbate violence against women (VAW) by empowering perpetrators.
After the pandemic's onset, Women and Gender Equality Canada consulted various frontline organizations, provinces, territories and Members of Parliament from across Canada to better understand the impact of the pandemic. Their efforts revealed a 20 to 30% increase in rates of gender-based violence, especially intimate partner violence, in certain regions of Canada. As of March 31, 2020, Vancouver-based organization Battered Women's Support Services noted a 300% increase in crisis calls compared to pre-lockdown call levels. In a similar vein, the Native Women’s Association of Canada, through a survey of more than 250 Indigenous women, found that one in five reported they have been a victim of physical or psychological violence over the past three months. Preliminary results of the survey and two additional consultation efforts also revealed that more of these women were concerned about intimate partner violence in the midst of the pandemic than they are about the virus. Similarly, Black-led shelter Imani’s Place – which focuses primarily on serving the Black, Indigenous and persons of color community – witnessed a 40% increase in calls since the pandemic began. Specific to LGBTQI2S people, although data relevant to the Canadian context is still emerging, extensive research has demonstrated that the incidence of intimate partner violence among lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) couples is the same or higher than that among heterosexual couples. It is reasonable to deduce that LGB people may be at an increased risk for domestic violence during the pandemic, with the potential effects on Transgender, Queer, Intersex and Two-Spirit people largely understudied.
While there is a wealth of information documenting the widespread and longstanding issue of VAW in Canada, there is limited evidence on how the drivers of violence change during a pandemic, how different forms of violence against women are heightened and how different types of women experience violence. Crises, unrest and disasters have long been linked to a multitude of risk factors for increased VAW (see Enarson 1999; Fraser 2020 or Palermo and Peterman 2011) however our understanding of the mechanisms linking these dynamics remains limited. Unlike other types of criminal activity and violence where data is more readily accessible, VAW is often underreported due to (among many reasons) fear, shame and stigma – a reality further compounded by structural, historical and systemic injustices known to racial and ethnic disparities. In addition, as of now, most data finds its base in police reports, media reports, anecdotal evidence and evidence from communities or organizations working with survivors.
The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the gaps in our understanding of the current VAW and intimate partner violence crisis. While immediate measures are needed to support organizations working at the frontlines of the crisis, these informational gaps must not be forgotten in the process. Thought should be given to defining a research agenda that would help elucidate the pathways by which pandemics can exacerbate different forms of VAW - evidence essential to crafting responsive policy interventions. Governments, post-secondaries and research organizations must demonstrate intellectual humility and work more collaboratively with service providers like Women’s Initiatives for Safer Environments (WISE) who, by virtue of their work, have insights into which questions need to be asked and answered. Engaging with stakeholders at the onset of the research process can help build allyship and trust, potentially mitigating some of the ethical and methodological challenges in obtaining data.
There is concern that our standard policy ‘toolbox’ will be insufficient in addressing the additional and unprecedented challenges faced by women experiencing violence in a pandemic setting. Indeed, overwhelmed crisis lines, strained health-care services and at-capacity women’s shelters seem to evidence this conclusion. While the transfer of federal emergency relief funds to organizations providing services to women experiencing violence is critical, it is nevertheless a Band-Aid solution. A more nuanced understanding of the different forms of VAW in a pandemic and how different types of women experience it would ensure that programs and services are altogether more responsive and meet a more diverse set of needs. Likewise, clarity on the pathways or drivers of VAW during a pandemic could help inform prevention strategies in mitigating stressors and triggers.
Ultimately, it is only once we begin to make what has been dubbed an ‘invisible pandemic’ more visible that we can we begin the real work: acting on the evidence.
May 2020 - Job Searches and Personal Safety
Job Searches and Personal Safety
By Christine Johnson
Thinking about personal safety may not be something that is top of mind for everyone when applying for a new job but it is important to consider for job seekers.
Late last year, the media warned the public of human traffickers using “job postings” as a way to meet potential victims. As someone who works with youth and frequently supports them when looking for employment, I felt it was necessary to not only warn those who I work with directly of these dangers but also my greater community.
The following tips have been shared by Consumer Services of Ontario and Employment Ontario (the links can be found at the bottom of this post) about how to keep yourself safe while looking for work.
1. Be suspicious
Always look into companies that are hiring. A quick look on your favourite search engine will let you know if the address, email or phone number connected to the job posting is correct or if it is phony. Don't be scared to call the company and verify that they've posted a job on whatever job searching site you've chosen. An employer won't be upset with someone for being proactive and protecting themselves.
2. Don’t meet potential employers offsite
If you're unaware of the location the hiring personnel is asking you to meet them at, or you know the location and don't feel safe attending a meeting there, let them know and ask if there's a different, perhaps more populated location for the two of you to meet. Physical safety is always important; think of what time of day you're meeting; is there proper lighting; is there transit or parking nearby so your vehicle is close; is it highly populated or a frequently attended location (will there be other people near)? These are all important questions to ask ourselves when meeting new people in general.
3. Never share personal information without doing your research and signing a contract
Things like your mother's maiden name, your SIN number and your birth date can be used by scammers to access your personal information, including banking information. Keep that information private until you're sure this is a safe and viable work opportunity.
Finally, two additional tips from Consumer Services of Ontario:
- Be wary of anyone guaranteeing or promising you money.
- Don't sign a contract until you fully understand it and have a personal copy for your records.
It is my hope this article has been helpful and useful for your future job searches. Please check out the links below for more information on different types of fraud and how to report a fraudulent experience:
February 2020 - Campuses need to do more to prevent sexual and phyiscal assaults
Campuses need to do more to prevent sexual and physical assaults
By: Kristy-Lu, WISE Direcotor
It’s that time of year again for post-secondary students as they head back into classes after Winter Break. And as more and more students complete their term this year, campus becomes increasingly deserted, leaving many walking to bus stops alone after a final exam or late night of studying. While post-secondaries try their best to keep campuses safe, we are still seeing physical and sexual assaults on campus. In fact, 63 per cent of people in a recent survey have experienced sexual harassment on campuses in Ontario. Clearly, there is still much more to do. This issue is not new and something women in particular have always had to be cognisant of – receiving advice on how to protect themselves from a variety of different sources. It is thus an even more appropriate time as we look back on Take Back the Night and the December 6th vigil, city marches aiming to keep our streets safer for all women We have these events to remind us how far we've come and just how far we have yet to go. This is especially true for university/college campuses.
Most of the advice out there about sexual assault on campuses is focused on what YOU, the individual, can do to protect yourself. While there are many things out there that can be good to know and in the worst cases, utilize, more emphasis should be placed on the campuses themselves on how to protect their students. What can a campus do to protect their students? There are many options. They can utilize educational campaigns such as social media, peer educators, and bystander training. Campuses are doing more partnerships and studies, such as OCTEVAWs campus safety campaign, #JustGotWeird.
How do campuses physically lay everything out? Are there spaces people can easily hide? How are campus safety staff trained? How do they respond to sexual assaults? How are investigations done? Do they cooperate with the police? Do they discourage you from going to the police? What are the consequences for those commit assaults? What kind of counseling services do they offer? The list goes on.
Until post-secondaries change the environment, assaults will not end. Until post-secondaries are willing to put themselves in the spotlight, to show the mistakes they have made and be willing to fix it, change won’t happen.
WISE’s program Community Safety Audits help people evaluate safety concerns in an area to identify changes that could be made to render it safer for not just women, but for all. How does it work? Participants walk around a designated area, like a campus, pathway, tunnel or bus stop and identify possible safety concerns from the criteria on their checklist. This is one part of larger solution to help post-secondaries make the campuses safer for women and for all.
Just last year, WISE took part in an outside campus-wide safety audit of Carleton University. We gathered volunteers, students, staff, faculty and safety officers around the campus and hear stories of potential assault areas and the steps Carleton is taking to remedy them (increasing the lighting in the area and creating paths where students have created their own to detour around buildings to reach their classes and residences.
Want to know about our community safety audits or how we can help? Email us for more information.
December 2019 - The work to end violence against women goes beyond the 16 Days of Activism
The work to end violence against women goes beyond the 16 Days of Activism
By: Nasreen Rajani, WISE Communications Chair
December 6th, 2019 marked 30 years since the horrendous attack against 14 women engineers at Montreal’s L’École Polytechnique. This date also marked the final day of the16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence and the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. On that Thursday evening, hundreds of us gathered first at Minto Park to commemorate all 14 of them along with other women and girls who have been murdered since. Downtown, both the University of Ottawa and the National Arts Centre projected and displayed the names of all 14 women who were killed on this day 30 years ago on the outsides of their buildings. During the outdoor candlelit vigil, one-by-one, volunteers read the names and short stories about the women and girls who have been murdered. Together, alongside the drumming from our Indigenous leaders, we marched with our candles from Minto park to the National Arts Centre. There we took a break from the cold weather, enjoyed some snacks donated by Three Sisters and listened to a panel of brilliant Indigenous women discuss the final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) and the need to push our Prime Minister to consider the over 200 calls to justice directed at all Canadians. Thank you to all of the volunteers involved.
Upon reflection of this evening, I couldn't help but wonder if much has changed in the last 30 years in terms of the violence experienced by women and girls in Canada. The most recent Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability report stated that at least 118 women and girls have been killed this year alone in Canada. You can read the full report here. This number only reflects the cases that police have ruled as (murdered) killed, but not cases that are deemed suspicious, are currently open or where the victim is still missing.
Although December 6th has now passed, WISE urges us all to continue the fight to prevent and end violence against women and girls in our communities. This needs to be an ongoing topic of conversation for not only us community members but our political leaders.
How can we continue to push our political leaders to take violence against women and the report on MMIWG more seriously and take bigger steps to protect our women and girls beyond the yearly statements of supports during the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence?
WISE offers workshops aimed at personal safety, workplace safety, and engaging boys (ages 8-12) about gender norms and their relation to violence against women. Check out the list of programs we offer and contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or give us a call at 613-230-6700.
November 2019 - ByWard Market Safety
ByWard Market Safety
By: Chloe Watt, WISE Chair
The ByWard Market has many attractions for all ages both during the day and at night. During the day, you’ll see the busy hustle and bustle of a vibrant market with many independent stores and restaurants, and tourists exploring our beautiful city. When the sun goes down, the nightlife comes alive and often, you’ll be able to see buskers performing during the summer or some interesting night life. The general sense of comfort however seems to fall as the night progresses largely due to the recent increase in violent crimes in the area. We should not live in fear or feel uncomfortable going out with our friends but we should always remain vigilant.
As someone who has worked in the ByWard Market for a long time, I have often been asked if anything has happened or if I feel safe walking back to my car late at night. I’ve been lucky so far and aside from a few scares, nothing serious has happened to me. Do I feel comfortable? No, not always, but there are a number of things that we can do to keep our community safer for all:
- Report unsafe areas to WISE to conduct a community safety audit and/or let your city councillor know. Take photos or videos of the area.
- Let someone know when you’re leaving and when you’ll be back: I always let someone know when I’m leaving and when I get back. We send so many text messages in a given day but this one could make a huge difference in determining that there is a problem if I don’t check in.
- Walk with friends or a co-worker if possible: It’s always safer to travel in groups so when this is an option I always take it. Going into the garage we will walk to one car and then drive to the other person’s car.
- Is it an emergency? Call 9-1-1-. If not, think twice before involving the police: Did you know that police are called in more instances where there are racialized or Indigenous people involved when no police are actually necessary? In some cases, police presence aggravates situations of distress and conflict. If you see a crime, you can report it online at www.ottawapolice.ca/onlinereporting, by calling the non-emergency number at 613-236-1222, ext. 7300.
- Trust your feelings: if I feel like something is off I don’t just brush it off. I will either pick another route or reassess if I should find another way of getting home like calling a friend or a taxi service.
Many community initiatives are working towards keeping us safer in the Market but we all have a role to play starting with practicing community safety and not turning away when we see a problem.
Learn more about WISE can support you and your community safety needs. Email us at email@example.com or give us a call at 613-230-6700.
August 2019 - Immigrant women facing intimate partner violence: A view from the frontline
Immigrant Women Facing Intimate Partner Violence: A view from the frontline
By: Kewei Xiao, WISE Board Member
Intimate partner violence exists in every country and community. However, education programs and prevention strategies for violence against women (VAW) can vary. Some countries, like Canada, place emphasis on this pervasive issue while others tolerate or ignore the problem. Culture has a great impact on how women are perceived and respected.
As a law enforcement officer, I deal with intimate partner violence disputes on a nearly daily basis; ranging from verbal arguments to physical assault causing bodily harm. On the frontline, I hear first-hand the stories and am able to help women who are suffering from physical and psychological abuse in their relationships. In many cases, women are isolated from their friends and families. In other cases, women are unable to leave abusive relationships because they are newcomers to Canada without any support to rely on. Intimate partner violence can have a huge impact on children who witness it on an ongoing basis. The abuse can lead to serious physical injury to women and can be fatal. Yet, the number of reported domestic violence incidents does not accurately reflect reality. Why is that?
From my experience, there seems to be a number of reasons why women, women who have immigrated to Canada in particular, are less willing to report instances of abuse:
Women are fearful that they may lose their immigration status. Often they are dependent on their partner who may be earning their household income. Fears of being deported are always a strong motivator to remain silent.
Women may not have the training or experience to enter the workforce when they first arrive. This further increases dependency on their partner.
Women are fearful of losing financial support. Laying complaints against an abuser can leave them vulnerable, often isolate them from their cultural community and leave them with no means of support.
Mistrust of the police because of previous experiences and interactions with them either here or abroad.
Community or cultural norms often create huge pressure on women which discourages them from airing issues frowned upon by ethnic community leaders.
As more and more immigrant families arrive in Canada, it is imperative that we provide more education and prevention programs that can help break down such barriers for immigrant women and create support systems for when they choose to leave an abusive situation. We need to do more to support these women until the violence stops.
At WISE, not only do we offer our Personal Safety Workshops to everyone in the city of Ottawa, including immigrant women, but we also offer a Legal Education Workshop to help all women know what their rights are here in Canada. If these workshops are of interest to you or to your community, or you simply want some more information, send us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.