21st Sexual Assault Awareness Month

April 2022 marks the 21st anniversary of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

SAAM is part of a broad herstory of anti-violence work and was founded by the National Sexual Violence Resource Centre in the US to educate, call for political and legal reform and to end sexual violence against women.

BWSS recognizes that the herstory of Sexual Assault Awareness Month is rooted in decades of feminist advocacy work and can be dated back to the advocacy of Black women before and during the civil rights movement.

For over a decade before her well-known role in sparking the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott, Rosa Parks was active with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) as an organizer and an investigator.

One of her many roles within NAACP included organizing against sexual violence and supporting Black women who had been sexually assaulted by white men. She played a lead role in drawing public attention to the 1944 sexual assault of Recy Taylor, a young Black woman in Alabama. Parks’ advocacy led to the case receiving national attention and shifting public opinion towards equality for Black women.

Left out from herstory, Rosa Parks’ lesser-known role as an organizer against sexual violence towards Black women in America’s south paved the way for other women and organizations to take action against the failure of the justice system to protect women, including BIPOC women, from sexual violence.

Advocacy specific to gender-based violence and sexual violence prevention and response began through peer-based community building with and for survivors.

For decades, survivors and allies advocated for awareness, law and policy reform and community support.

Drawing on these decades of work, the first Take Back the Night march in the US was held in 1978 and led to an increased awareness of sexual and intimate partner violence.

It didn’t take long for the movement to gain more traction and grow. In Canada, the first rape crisis centre was opened in 1981 and its creation paved the way for further anti-violence organizations in Canada.

BWSS remains committed to working to combat sexual violence and is announcing its new Sexual Assault Response team.

The Sexual Assault Response team is a specialized team that will respond to sexual violence at the community level, with particular focus on survivors of sexual assault on the DTES. Building off existing peer-based community safety work, BWSS’ Sexual Assault Response team will begin rolling out in April 2022 and will be available 24/7.

BWSS recognizes that sexual violence is pervasive in our society and that individuals, institutions, and political and social structures perpetuate sexual violence against women and femmes.

States are accessories to individual acts of violence through their silence and their lack of willingness to sentence perpetrators according to the severity of their actions. Lenient sentences do not serve as deterrents and the legal system often functions to retraumatize the victim and to protect the perpetrator.

In Canada, the legal system aids and abets perpetrators by weaponizing the recent R v. Jordan framework. Originally intended to uphold the right of a defendant to be tried within a reasonable timeframe the Jordan framework is used instead as a tool to further victimize women by being invoked tactically to favour perpetrators of gender-based violence. For more information on the Jordan framework, see our recent blog post here.

BWSS stands with women and femmes the world over and honours the incredible work done over the decades to shed light on and combat sexual violence against women.

The work to prevent sexual violence continues both on the local and national levels in recognition of the fact that women’s bodies are sovereign, that BIPOC women are particularly vulnerable and that sexual violence is a human rights and social justice issue that demands our attention.

International Trans Day of Visibility

Rachel Crandall, a U.S.-based transgender activist, founded the International Trans Day of Visibility to raise awareness of the incredible burden of discrimination the community faces in every setting imaginable.

The need to bring a day of ‘visibility’ for the transgender community is indicative of the oppression trans people face in many sectors of life.

Crandall wanted to highlight the fact that the only transgender-centric day that is internationally recognized is Transgender Day of Remembrance, which is in mourning of members of the community who had lost their lives, and that there was no day to pay homage to living transgender people.

By 2014, the day was observed by activists in Ireland and Scotland while, in 2015, many transgender people took part in the event by participating in social media campaigns. They successfully made the day go viral by posting selfies and personal stories.

For Trans Day of Visibility 2022, BWSS has updated our safety plan guide for trans women, transfeminine people, femmes and women with trans experience.

Our updated safety planning guide includes:

Transfeminine, often abbreviated to transfem, is a term used to describe transgender people who generally were assigned male at birth and identify with a feminine gender identity to a greater extent than with a masculine gender identity.

Usually transfeminine people try to appear stereotypically feminine in terms in their gender expression in order to create social recognition of their dominant feminine identity. The genders that can fall under transfeminine include:

  • Transgender women
  • Demigirls
  • Multi gender people whose strongest gender identity is a feminine one
  • Genderfluid people who are feminine most often
  • Any other non-binary gender who views themselves as significantly feminine
  • Transfeminine can also be used as a gender identity in its own right. Although they have feminine gender identities, transfeminine people may prefer not to conform to stereotypical feminine gender expression or gender roles and may not try to appear more feminine.

The masculine equivalent of transfeminine is transmasculine.

Transfeminine flag by Pride-Flags on DeviantArt

Transfeminine flag by Pride-Flags

Transfeminine flag by vriskaZone on Twitter

Transfeminine flag by vriskaZone

Transfeminine flag from Wikimedia Commons

Transfeminine flag from Wikimedia

The intersections of race and gender

Exploring the intersections of race and gender on International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

Examining the intersections of race and gender:

International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

March 21, the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, marks the anniversary of the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre in South Africa when police opened fire on hundreds of South Africans protesting Apartheid’s passbook laws, killing 67 and wounding 186.

Though largely unknown, it is important to remember that the apartheid laws introduced by South African governments were adapted from Canadian colonial policies, including the reserve system, pass system, and Indian Act.

Mi’kmaw scholar and lawyer Pam Palmater writes,

“The oft-repeated mantra of ‘we are not a racist country’ provides comfort to many Canadians that racism and white supremacy are uniquely American problems. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Canada’s very inception and living history is one marked by settler-colonial genocide targeting Indigenous women and two-spirit people, the enslavement of Black people, and mass migrant exclusion since the Chinese Exclusion Act and Komagata Maru.

Every day during the pandemic, we have been witnessed to escalating racism against Indigenous, Black, Asian, Muslim, and other racialized communities, especially racialized women and gender-diverse people.

 

Our work to eliminate gender-based violence and promote gender equity

We, at Battered Women’s Support Services, provide education, advocacy, and support services to assist survivors of violence. For over forty years, we have been working towards ending violence against women, girls, femmes, LGBTQ2S, and non-binary survivors of violence. We work from a decolonial, intersectional, feminist perspective to eliminate gender-based violence and promote gender equity. The founding women at BWSS recognized that gender-based violence does not only take place between two individuals in isolation but, rather, in a social context and a world view that systemically reinforces the power of some people to oppress others.

Responding to gender-based violence through working to end racism is challenging, but necessary.

Multiple forms of oppression are simultaneous and cannot be separated from one another; ending gender-based violence requires dismantling racism and all structural oppression.

 

Colour of Violence report

Next month, BWSS will be launching our first report as part of our multi-year Colour of Violence project examining the intersections of race and gender for Indigenous, Black, newcomer immigrant/refugee, and racialized women and gender diverse people experiencing gender-based violence in British Columbia Violence.

Drawing on the foundational work of INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence, our Colour of Violence project explores the extent to which gender and race influence system-based responses to gender-based violence, specifically examining the adequacy and accessibility of anti-violence services, elements of the police and criminal legal responses, as well as the intersecting involvement for survivors of colour with child welfare, immigration, mental health, income, housing, and other systems.

We wish to make visible the experiences of Indigenous, Black, newcomer immigrant/refugee, and racialized survivors so that anti-violence service provision, advocacy, and government policy center these unique realities.

Canada is a country that has extreme difficulty recognizing how deep and profound racism is, and how racism is instrumental in compounding the impact of gendered violence for survivors who are Indigenous, Black, newcomer immigrant/refugee, and racialized.

Indigenous, Black, newcomer immigrant/refugee, and racialized survivors face numerous barriers to accessing justice when they experience gender-based violence, such as lack of access to culturally safe services; mistrust of the legal system and other state systems; and being minimized or disbelieved. Indigenous, Black, and newcomer immigrant/refugee survivors face heightened barriers to justice as survivors of gender-based violence, including often being criminalized for reporting violence, having their children apprehended, or facing deportation. This is further magnified for those who are low-income, single parents, and/or working in criminalized or under-the-table economies such as sex work or garment factories.

These overlapping realities influence how Indigenous, Black, newcomer immigrant/refugee, and racialized survivors are impacted by Canadian legal systems and experience barriers to anti-violence services.

Our first report, Colour of Violence: Race, Gender & Anti-Violence Services, focuses on how gender and race influence the accessibility and adequacy of anti-violence services in British Columbia for Indigenous, Black, newcomer immigrant/refugee, and racialized women and gender-diverse survivors.

We aim to better understand and raise awareness on the experiences of Indigenous, Black, newcomer immigrant/refugee, and racialized survivors accessing formal, institutional responses to gender-based violence. Based in anti-oppressive, anti-racist, decolonial, and feminist principles, this report positions Indigenous, Black, newcomer immigrant/refugee, and racialized survivors accessing safety and justice at the very center of our anti-violence work. The goal of this report is to both shift our collective analysis of gender-based violence, as well as offer concrete anti-racist and intersectional best practices in developing anti-violence interventions. As we heard from one participant, “Understand that racism exists and survivors experience it.”

We are thrilled to release and share our Colour of Violence: Race, Gender & Anti-Violence Services report with you next month. In our work at BWSS, we know that safety changes everything. Our upcoming report is motivated by the urgency of our moment and the absolute necessity of placing Indigenous, Black, newcomer immigrant/refugee, and racialized survivors at the center of our anti-violence work.

To sign up to receive a copy of our report when it releases in April 2022, please email us at [email protected]

BWSS Engagement on Proposed Provincial Race-Based Data Collection

The founding women at BWSS recognized that violence against women and gender-based violence does not only take place between two individuals, in isolation, but in a social context and is rooted in world view which systemically reinforces the power of some people to oppress others.

As an organization, that grounds our work in intersectional and decolonizing feminism we continue to advance critical race feminism in our service provision, training programs and advocacy. Tracing this work back to the 1990’s it is extensive and ongoing.

Responding to racism through working to end gender-based violence is challenging. Canada is a country that has extreme difficulty recognizing how deep, profound racism and racial discrimination is, and how it is compounding the impact of domestic, intimate partner and sexualized violence for victims and survivors who are Black, Indigenous, racialized, immigrant and/or refugee.

Through our frontline work and advocacy on gender-based violence and femicide experienced by Indigenous, Black, racialized, immigrant and/or refugee women, girls both trans and cis, there’s a political and intentional denial of racism by government and related systems. Moreover, police, child welfare, government system players have routinely told us, that if racism exists, (and that’s a big “IF”) it could not be a factor in the cases BWSS has presented.

BWSS sits on the International Decade for the People of African Descent Advisory Committee (IDPAD).  When the BC provincial government announced it was developing legislation in race-based data collection we joined a provincial coalition of members of the Black and African diasporic communities. To make visible how racism and specifically anti-Black racism is in effect in BC and what government needs to do to address it, in 2021, we met with provincial Ministers representing housing, public safety, mental health, education, finance, social development, women and gender equity attended and topics for discussion included:

  • Recognizing IDPAD and addressing anti-Black racism in legislation
  • Addressing anti-Black racism in education
  • Addressing anti-Black racism in justice and community safety
  • Addressing access to health and mental health services
  • Addressing access to adequate housing Wednesday
  • Addressing Black ownership and generating Black wealth, employment mobility
  • Arts and culture and Black identity
  • Migration and Inclusion
  • Dialogue with Black Youth
  • Dialogue with Black Women

When those meetings concluded the provincial government invited community organizations, including BWSS, to host engagement sessions and provide input on this proposed legislation. Up until January 31, 2022, the public was able to provide feedback on the legislation through a survey.

BWSS was pleased to host several engagement sessions on this issue. Below we share some of the brilliant insights we heard from Black, Indigenous, and racialized women and gender-diverse people, including BWSS volunteers, staff, and our partners.

Along the way, we took the opportunity to announce BWSS Colour of Violence project. The multi-year Colour of Violence in British Columbia initiative responds to an expressed need among Indigenous, Black, and racialized survivors for comprehensive gender and race disaggregated data on government and service provider responses to gender based violence. As part of Colour of Violence, we hosted a public survey focusing on issues of accessibility, safety and the structural barriers of anti-violence services in BC for Black, Indigenous, immigrant/refugee, and women and gender-diverse survivors of colour, and are in the midst of analyzing and researching the data. We also hosted focus groups to assess how gender and race influence the accessibility and adequacy of anti-violence services and responses to gender-based violence, and we organized two public events on ‘Youth Survivors and Dating Survivors’ and ‘Colour of Violence: Gender, Race and Anti-Violence Services.’

 

So, what is Race-Based Data Collection? That is a good question…

Unlike aggregated data, which groups all information together, disaggregated data provides sub-categories of data – for example by race – to research and reveal inequalities between categories. The information that is collected is anonymized and de-identified, so stripped of personal information like name or date of birth, and then used in statistical analysis to determine if there is a difference or disparity between the sub-categories of data.

Ideally, disaggregated data sheds light on the experience of Indigenous, Black and people of colour to ensure that government or institutional policy, solutions and actions effectively redresses systemic inequities. For example, the Aboriginal Homelessness Steering Committee and the Black Peoples Homelessness Strategy in Vancouver has pushed for better-disaggregated data on Black and Indigenous peoples experiencing homelessness. Similarly, the British Columbia First Nations’ Data Governance Initiative and Hogan’s Alley Society Vaccine intentions among Black communities in British Columbia is an approach led by First Nations governments and the Black community to not only collect the power of data for their communities’ wellbeing, but to fully self-determine and affirm data sovereignty as Indigenous and Black communities.

The BC Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres has collaborated with BWSS Indigenous Women’s Program in a by and for Indigenous women lead research project to learn how Indigenous women’s experience of Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) during the COVID-19 pandemic and how easy or difficult it is for them to access culturally safe services and resources. A “by and for” approach to disaggregated data collection affirms the centring of communities who are routinely researched.

Many have also warned about how race-based data collection can perpetuate racial harm especially if the process is invasive or weaponized to entrench negative racial stereotypes. For example, in response to Indigenous nations’ calls for data about COVID in their communities, the First Nations Health Authority began releasing specific data about hotspots and clusters. In one widely-reported instance, the Cowichan Tribes faced a wave of anti-Indigenous discrimination after a COVID cluster was announced in their community. First Nations band members were explicitly denied or threatened with denial of access to services, stores, medical appointments, and employment in the local town of Duncan. “Our members have a right to services, have a right to shop, have a right to employment,” said Stephanie Atleo.

Similarly, Data for Black Lives notes: “Tools like statistical modeling, data visualization, and crowd-sourcing, in the right hands, are powerful instruments for fighting bias, building progressive movements, and promoting civic engagement. But history tells a different story, one in which data is too often wielded as an instrument of oppression, reinforcing inequality and perpetuating injustice. Redlining was a data-driven enterprise that resulted in the systematic exclusion of Black communities from key financial services. More recent trends like predictive policing, risk-based sentencing, and predatory lending are troubling variations on the same theme.”

Keeping in mind both the potential benefits and harms of race-based data collection, the BC Human Rights Commissioner has made a number of recommendations in Disaggregated Demographic Data Collection in British Columbia: The Grandmother Perspective for using disaggregated data to leverage systemic change while minimizing risks to racialized communities.

As the report states, “This approach centres the importance of a strong relationship between government or other researchers and the affected community. It envisions a shift from data as a tool of control to a tool of care. It is grounded in the concept of data sovereignty, where communities lead decision-making as much as possible and all processes centre community needs, experience and knowledge throughout the stages of data collection, storage, use (including analysis and interpretation) and distribution.”

 

What We Heard about Proposed Provincial Race-Based Data Collection

Across all the sessions that BWSS hosted about the proposed race-based data collection, there were a lot of concerns about whether race-based data would meaningfully advance racial equality. Here is a snapshot of some of what we heard from Black, Indigenous, and racialized women, femmes, and gender diverse people who participated in the engagement sessions:

As long as the knowledge system which creates public policy doesn’t change, this data will just entrench whiteness and eurocentrism. Unless this belief is dismantled, the data collection will not help.”

“No matter what principles we may want in there or that the government puts in there, there is still the overarching principle of white supremacy and that negates whatever protective mechanisms are implemented.”

“Is race-based legislation helpful when the institutions are systemically racist, like police?”

“What are the ramifications of releasing this data without anti-racist education if it continues pathologizing racialized communities?”

“I don’t understand why the collection of this data is necessary. Our communities are already over-researched, and have and continue to speak out around experiences with MCFD, the criminal legal system, systemic poverty etc. All these statistics on the overrepresentation of certain racial groups already exists in so many reports.”

“I have zero belief that the provincial government will do anything to help. We are halfway into the International Decade for People of African Descent, and we have lip service but no action yet.”

“I want the government to provide the services I need without intruding on my life.”

“To be heard, why do I have to share everything about myself? These things are already available to privileged people in the system.”

“I find the provision and collection of race-based data collection to be Othering.”

 

We also heard concerns about the process and method of race-based data collection, including:

  • How does the government and this proposed legislation understand and define race? Race is constructed and is experienced differently across various locations, and race can be inclusive of but is much more than one’s cultural, linguistic, ethnic, or national identity.
  • How accurate will the data be? Who is collecting, analyzing, and interpreting the data and what is their background and training? Will the conclusions drawn from the data be grounded in critical race theory and in a commitment to divest from whiteness?
  • Can data capture everything? Data collection can miss the important socio-political context within which the data exists. There will inevitably be some stories and experiences that the data will not be able to appropriately convey or tell, especially if we replicate the colonial methodology of ticking category-based boxes and filling out forms.
  • Will the data also capture geographic-specific race-based data collection? Many research methodologies are focused on urban areas and urban solutions, to the particular detriment of Indigenous and rural communities in the interior and north.
  • How safe is this process of data collection for women and survivors who are extremely vulnerable, and already deal with so much abuse including from government systems?
  • Who is comfortable providing race-based data and will the process of collecting race-based data truly reflect everyone? There is already high anxiety and mistrust for many people in accessing government websites and government systems. As one participant put it: “The people who need to benefit the most from race-based data collection are the ones who are the most vulnerable and least likely to provide their information. The people who are more likely to provide their information are least likely to be the ones who are the most traumatized and have less barriers, especially around class.” Another participant noted: “People need to be met where people are at, so data needs to also be collected where people are at, for example the agencies that unhoused people access.”
  • What safeguards and protocols will be in place to ensure that race-based data collection is done in a way that is truly consensual, voluntary, culturally appropriate, provides information accessibly and through multiple mediums and in multiple languages, so that individuals and communities’ own and control our own data?

 

Importantly, we also heard that any proposed race-based data collection should ensure an intersectional approach, considering how race is experienced differently if you are a woman, queer, trans, poor, criminalized (especially those in prisons), neurodivergent, have disabilities, don’t have full immigration status, or are from caste-oppressed or minority communities within racialized communities.

As we heard, “the most privileged like middle class men within racialized communities should not be the ones to benefit from eligibility to funding opportunities; this data needs to capture intersectionality otherwise it will perpetuate inequities.”

 

Finally, we heard that if race-based data is being collected, it should result in meaningful and positive ACTION in tackling systemic racism by creating new meaningful funding opportunities, and new systems rooted in anti-racist and decolonial practice.

As one person explained “I have experienced both the positive and negative outcomes of race-based data collection. The industry I work in is white and male dominated, and in the data that was available I started to see that women of colour were not being hired. Through the data, we were able to change hiring practices and ensure women of colour were being hired. Not performative action, but systemic change that included new programs and funding opportunities to support this change.”

 

We heard that if race-based data is being collected it should lead to meaningful changes in some of the following areas of government programs and services:

  • Data should be used to ensure there is equality and action for racialized and immigrant women and mothers, for example, in the courts during divorce or disputes over custody.
  • Data should be collected and analyzed to make the strong case for the inclusion of critical race theory in all K-12 school curriculum.
  • Race-based data collection should result in more funding for community groups to provide culturally appropriate and multilingual information such as on physical and mental health, food security, and maternal/ reproductive health initiatives.
  • Race based data collection should consider the relationship between race and economic security and should support meaningful action on economic justice. We heard: “Racialized people are most represented in low wage work, so when we say the minimum wage needs to be higher, that will mostly benefit racialized communities.”
  • Data should improve the lives of people who are facing the most inequities especially in the criminal legal system and by police and in prisons. “There are horrible outcomes for people who are in the criminal legal system cycle. This is an area of a lot of inequities, and this is an area where the government is perpetuating racism. We need programs to serve people who are the most hard-hit and are at the lowest rung,” as one person said.

 

We were thrilled to host such generative and brilliant engagement sessions through BWSS, and we are deeply grateful for those who offered their time and insights. We invite you to join the conversation!

To keep in touch with BWSS’s work on Colour of Violence and our upcoming report on Gender, Race and Anti-Violence Services, follow us on social media and subscribe to our email list.

International Women’s Day 2022

When will Canada and BC say enough is enough when it comes to femicide?

As we celebrate the achievements of women, girls, and femmes all around the world today on International Women’s Day, we must also recognize that women, girls, and femmes still face gender-based violence, misogyny, and oppression every day.

A girl or woman is killed in Canada every day.

Canadians and British Columbians and their leaders ignore everyday misogyny as a motivation for many killings.

Despite our efforts to bring a visible and a focus to femicide in Canada and British Columbia, our political and social leaders have ignored racist/misogyny as an everyday reality for women, girls, and femmes and an underlying motivation for many/most of their killings.

There is some evidence that COVID-19 may have led to an increase, particularly in 2021, as shown by the most recent Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability statistics.

 

For the past two years, there has been a gradual rise in the number of girls, women, and femmes killed, mostly by men, in Canada.

Compared to the pre-pandemic year 2019:

  • 2020:  17% increase
  • 2021:  26% increase

In 2021, 18 women were killed by their sons and this represents 69% of women killed by family members.

So far in 2022, 11 women and girls have been killed in BC.

It doesn’t matter if it is correlated with or caused by the COVID-19 pandemic what is most important is what we plan to do about it?

Similarly, those groups of women, girls, and femmes that have been made most vulnerable to violence, including femicide, also largely remain unchanged. For example, women and girls remain at most risk from men they know, primarily male partners and sons.

Indigenous women and girls, women and girls who live in rural, remote, and Northern regions of our country, and women aged 18 to 54 years also remain at greater risk of femicide. And elder women remain at very high risk and over-represented.

Through our Colour of Violence project, we are learning more about the risks experienced by Black, South Asian, and other racialized women, girls, and femmes and we are learning more about how intersecting identities such as race, age, sexuality, disability compound the vulnerability to violence and femicide.

We asked the question in 2021 and we will ask it again – when will BC say enough is enough when it comes to femicide?

And for every woman, girl, or femme that is killed there are thousands more who live in fear.

You Can Just Walk Away, Some Women Can’t

So at BWSS, we stay on the frontline – our crisis line continues 24/7/365 receiving an average of 50 calls daily.

Our crisis line volunteers, support workers, legal advocates, and counsellors work tirelessly 7 days a week responding to tens of thousands of requests for service annually

This International Women’s Day help keep BWSS on the front line and give the gift of safety.

Thank you from the BWSS Team.

International Women's Day 2022; a woman or girl is killed every day