Violence Prevention and Intervention Training Spring Cohort 2024

As we welcome the beginning of Prevention of Violence against Women Week, we are dedicated to garnering support to end gender-based violence in all its forms including intimate partner, domestic and sexualized violence. 

Throughout this week, we invite you to be engaged with BWSS as we continue to release resources and action steps on the prevention of violence against women.

Today, we share that our Violence Prevention and Intervention Training Spring Cohort 2024 will be start on Friday, May 17th and continues until August 2nd.  

For 45 years, BWSS Violence Prevention and Intervention Training Program has been at the forefront of providing highly esteemed ending violence education and volunteer training to individuals who are driven to make a genuine impact by supporting survivors of intimate partner, domestic and sexualized violence.

In this comprehensive and inclusive program, you will gain essential knowledge and skills that form the foundation of BWSS’s mission. You will develop theoretically advanced trauma and violence informed crisis intervention, safety assessment and planning, support group facilitation, criminal and immigration law, and more. 

Moreover, you will explore intersectional feminist, decolonizing, and anti-racism practices, fostering a deep understanding of the far-reaching impacts of colonization and residential schools.

Following the training participants complete a nine month practicum of least one four-hour shift weekly. This has proven to be an empowering opportunity to actively contribute to the effort against gender-based violence by supporting survivors on our crisis line, facilitating a support group, participating in community events, fundraising activities and more. 

By participating in this cohort, you take a significant step towards effecting positive change within our communities. For those of you who joined the Violence Prevention and Intervention Training program Spring cohort 2024. Your unwavering dedication and commitment to making a difference serve as an inspiration to us all.

Information about the training and volunteer commitment can be found here.

Applications are received on our website at this link here.

Violence Prevention and Interventions Training Spring 2024 Cohort

Couples Counselling is not the Answer if Your Partner is Abusive

Couples Counselling is not the Answer if Your Partner is Abusive

In recent years, there’s been growing awareness surrounding the importance of mental health support within relationships. From communication issues to trust concerns, couples therapy has been a beacon of hope for many struggling partners. However, it’s crucial to recognize that there are limits to its efficacy, especially when a partner is abusive. 

Intimate partner violence is a harrowing reality for far too many women. It encompasses a range of behaviours aimed at gaining power and control over a partner, including physical, emotional, and psychological abuse. In such situations, seeking couples therapy is not just ineffective; it can be dangerous. 

Despite the well-intentioned efforts of therapists, the dynamics of abuse present unique challenges that traditional couples counselling cannot adequately address. In fact, attempting therapy in such circumstances may inadvertently enable the abusive behaviour or put the victim at further risk. 

It’s essential to understand that abuse is not a product of relationship issues that can be resolved through communication and compromise. It’s a deeply ingrained pattern of behaviour rooted in the abuser’s need for dominance and control. Couples therapy, which often focuses on mutual understanding and compromise, can inadvertently minimize the severity of the abuse and place undue pressure on the victim to “fix” the relationship. 

Instead of couples therapy, victims of abuse need specialized support tailored to their unique circumstances. BWSS provides wrap-around support and supports survivors to address the trauma and regain a sense of safety and freedom.  

It’s crucial that we recognize the signs of abuse and provide avenues for intervention and support. This includes educating ourselves and others about the red flags, healthy relationships, and dismantling societal norms that perpetuate power imbalances and gender-based violence.  

As we approach Violence Prevention Week, We are dedicated to garnering support to end gender-based violence. This is an excellent opportunity to engage with BWSS as we release resources and action steps on violence prevention. Please follow us on Instagram @EndingViolence and subscribe at www.bwss.org

Couples Therapy Is NOT the Answer if Your Partner is Abusive

Resources to Support the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

On this significant day, March 21st, as we commemorate the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, we reflect on the interconnectedness of global struggles against racial injustice. The tragic events of the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre in South Africa, where the police opened fire on hundreds of South Africans protesting Apartheid’s passbook laws, killing 67 and wounding 186, serve as a stark reminder of the devastating impact of systemic racism and oppression. 

Despite the geographical distance, the repercussions of such acts resonate profoundly even here in Canada. It’s imperative to recognize that the apartheid laws enforced by the South African government were not isolated policies but were, in fact, influenced by colonial practices implemented in Canada. The reserve system, pass system, and Indian Act—tools of colonial control and oppression—served as blueprints for apartheid legislation, illustrating the transnational nature of racial discrimination. 

Canada’s own history is marred by settler-colonial genocide, the enslavement of Black individuals, and discriminatory treatment of migrants. These injustices underscore the pervasive and enduring nature of racial discrimination within our society. By acknowledging the connections between global and local struggles against racism, we reaffirm our commitment to dismantling systemic oppression in all its forms. 

As we observe this day and continue our work at BWSS (Battered Women’s Support Services) and in our daily lives, let us honour the memory of those who have suffered and perished due to racial discrimination. Let us stand in solidarity with all those fighting against racism and injustice, striving to create a more equitable and inclusive world for future generations. 

Why our Anti-Violence Work is Centered Around Anti-Racist Practice

The founding women at BWSS understood that gender-based violence does not only involve individual acts in isolation, but it’s deeply rooted in systemic structures that perpetuate oppression based on race, ability, citizenship, sexuality, and more. 

To effectively end gender-based violence, we must simultaneously support individuals while taking action at the root of the cause by dismantling racism and all structural oppression. Individual acts and systemic structures cannot be separated from one another. 

This is why our work to ending gender-based violence is grounded in an intersectional, anti-racist, decolonial, and feminist perspective. 

Addressing the intersection of gender-based violence and racism presents significant challenges, yet it is a necessary endeavor in our commitment to justice and equity at BWSS. 

We recognize that racialized survivors of gender-based violence often face systemic barriers in accessing support and services. Systemic racism shapes our understanding of gender-based violence, perpetuates harmful narratives such as the “perfect victim” stereotype, and reinforces exclusions within anti-violence programs and services. This reality is further compounded for Indigenous women, whose experiences are often overlooked by mainstream gender-based analyses, as highlighted by the Native Women’s Association of Canada.

This means that survivors of gender-based violence who are racialized often face exclusion from essential institutional supports and services, hindering their access to justice and healing. 

According to our “Colour of Violence: Race, Gender & Anti-Violence Services” report, a staggering 78 percent of racialized survivors whom we surveyed said they felt never comfortable, almost never comfortable, or only sometimes comfortable contacting anti-violence services after experiencing gender-based violence. These survivors often found informal networks of friends and family to be more supportive, with the police system being identified as the least helpful anti-violence response. 

Indigenous, Black, newcomer immigrant/refugee, and racialized survivors encounter significant barriers to accessing justice when they experience gender-based violence. These barriers include limited access to culturally safe services, distrust of the legal system and other state institutions, and being marginalized or disbelieved. Moreover, Indigenous, Black, and newcomer immigrant/refugee survivors face heightened obstacles, including the risk of being criminalized for reporting violence, separation from their children, or deportation. 

At BWSS, we’ve consistently observed that an overemphasis on a criminal justice response to gender-based violence, while neglecting underlying social structures, can inadvertently reinforce systemic oppression. 

The conventional model of intimate partner violence service provision, largely shaped by a white, able-bodied, heterosexual, middle-class perspective, is often encouraged to diversify by adding multicultural components. However, true inclusivity requires a fundamental shift away from the perspective from which anti-violence services were historically developed. 

In our commitment at BWSS, we know that safety changes everything. We are driven by the imperative to dismantle racism and recognize the vital importance of centering Indigenous, Black, newcomer immigrant/refugee, and racialized survivors in our anti-violence efforts. 

Resource Spotlight for the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

Last year, BWSS launched the Gender Equity Learning and Knowledge Exchange, serving as a centralized hub housing over 300 resources addressing Gender-Based Violence sourced from organizations throughout British Columbia, alongside significant national and international contributions. 

Today, to commemorate the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, we are spotlighting 10 resources from the Gender Equity Learning and Knowledge Exchange. 

International Women’s Day 2024

This captivating image beautifully captures the unwavering support shared among women, girls, and femmes, symbolizing the strength and unity within our community. Now imagine yourself in this room – can’t you sense the profound support, unconditional love, and the feeling of safety and freedom? Yet, for many, that feeling of safety and freedom is not the reality experienced by some women in this country and across the globe.

Today, as we commemorate International Women’s Day, we honour the remarkable strength, achievements, and unity of women, girls, and femmes worldwide. It’s a day to celebrate their resilience in the face of adversity but also to confront the harsh realities of gender-based violence, misogyny, and oppression that continue to plague our communities.

On average, every 48 hours, a woman is killed in Canada by her intimate partner.

Recent statistics from the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability paint a grim picture of the challenges many women and girls still face. In 2023 alone, 189 women and girls were violently killed in Canada, with 145 cases involving primary or sole male accused (88%), marking a horrific 19% increase from 2019.

Shockingly, 76% of women and girls are being killed in the very places all people deserve to call safe—their homes (own home, home of the accused, or in homes shared with the accused). Trapped in environments of violence, many women find themselves navigating a housing crisis exacerbated by the very places they should feel secure.

When fleeing domestic abuse, securing temporary housing becomes a critical step towards safety. Yet, 75% of women remain unable to find affordable accommodations, leading some to return to their abusers because they can’t find affordable housing.

How is BWSS challenging this cycle of violence?

At Battered Women’s Support Services (BWSS), we refuse to let this cycle of violence go unchallenged. For 45 years, we’ve stood alongside survivors, providing crucial support and advocating for their safety. Our latest initiative, opening 10 second-stage housing units in May 2024, represents a significant step towards empowering survivors on their journey to independence and healing.

In these safe spaces, survivors receive comprehensive wrap-around support, including counseling, mother-child reunification services, and community-building activities. It’s not just about securing physical shelter; it’s about providing a bridge from crisis to a life free from violence—a journey marked by stages of crisis management, stabilization, and, ultimately, healing.

As we reflect on International Women’s Day, we draw inspiration from the resilience and solidarity demonstrated by women within our communities. Together, we reaffirm our commitment to ending femicide and gender-based violence. We invite you to join us in this crucial endeavor, standing shoulder to shoulder and hand in hand with survivors, just as depicted in the inspiring photo, as we strive to create a world where every woman, girl, and femme can live free from fear and oppression.

Today and every day, let us celebrate the strength, unity, and unwavering resilience of women everywhere. Together, we can build a future where every woman’s right to safety and dignity is not just recognized but fiercely protected.

To donate or to learn more about our housing campaign – A Safe Home Changes Everything.

Image of a key in a lock. A Safe Home Changes Everything.

BWSS Response to the Expansion of Legal Aid in BC

BWSS Response to the Expansion of Legal Aid in BC

Last week, there was a significant development in legal aid for survivors of intimate partner violence who are navigating the family law system. The Government of BC announced an expansion of legal aid, with an infusion of $29 million towards family law services for survivors of violence in intimate relationships. 

The new tier of services which consists of a new clinic model is long overdue, and results from a charter challenge launched in 2017 by three plaintiffs; two individual plaintiffs, Nicole Bell and a woman known as AD, and an organization plaintiff, the Centre for Family Equity (then known as the Single Mothers’ Alliance) which upheld public interest standing in the case as a member-based organization of low-income mothers impacted by gender-based violence. The plaintiffs were represented by a large and mainly pro bono team led by West Coast LEAF. A constitutional challenge is when someone argues that a law or government action violates the rules in the Constitution. This case argued that BC’s legal aid system violates women’s constitutionally protected rights to equality, life, and security of the person, as well as access to justice, by increasing their risk of exposure to violence. Nicole Bell and AD had to withdraw from the charter challenge. The settlement agreement was reached with the Attorney General and Legal Aid BC by the sole remaining plaintiff, the Centre for Family Equity.

For background, in 2002, the BC provincial government cut legal aid funding for family law by 60%, disenfranchising women, single mothers, and other survivors of intimate partner violence. These funding cuts and policy changes had a profoundly negative impact on women survivors of violence. Consequently, survivors of intimate partner violence were compelled to navigate the legal system as an additional barrier to escaping an abusive partner, protecting their children, and achieving a just result in their family cases. 

What We See in Our Frontline Legal Advocacy

There is a troubling belief that once an abusive relationship has ended, so has the abuse. Through our work, we know that women reporting their experiences of intimate partner or domestic violence in family court all too often are not believed by system players, including police, lawyers, court service personnel, and judges. Even if they are believed, the extent of the violence and its impact is often minimized. Furthermore, they are often told that the violence they experienced had nothing to do with the children or parenting. All too often, if there is a recognition of the violence, the system will tell survivors, in both subtle and overt ways, that it is their responsibility to “move on,” “get over it,” put the relationship “behind them,” and focus on “the best interest of the children,” co-parenting with their abusive ex-partner. Unfortunately, we have seen that this prioritization of preserving a relationship with a father over safety concerns for the mother and children can have devastating consequences, including the killing of children and women. It is deeply troubling how frequently legal services personnel advise the survivors we work with not to bring up their experiences of violence. 

All areas of the legal system tend to place the bulk of the responsibility on the ‘non-offending’ parent, often the mother. This means women survivors of relationship violence feel pressured to center the system and the abusive partner in order to avoid being perceived as ‘vindictive,’ selfish, or contributing to ‘parental alienation’. 

What’s in the Settlement Agreement?

As a result of this constitutional challenge, the settlement agreement with the province of BC and Legal Aid BC will establish the first government-funded family law legal aid clinics since 2009. These clinics will employ full-time, salaried lawyers with the primary responsibility of handling cases approved for legal aid and for those specifically impacted by family violence. This specialization could significantly enhance knowledge and expertise within the system regarding issues of family violence. It’s important to note that the clinics won’t eliminate the current certification model for legal aid but rather serve as another key component of available legal aid coverage for survivors.

In terms of available legal aid coverage for lawyers, we were very encouraged to see that the settlement agreement included an increase in the maximum hours available for lawyers, from 35 hours of preparation to a maximum of 60 hours. Much of our work at BWSS has involved filling the gaps created by the lack of legal aid coverage, which has been one of the most depressing parts for the survivors we work with. This single change in legal aid is remarkable because it will also help address the systemic barriers preventing lawyers from taking on family law cases in their practice and from having to refuse family law legal aid cases due to the significant amount of unpaid labor these cases would require. It is our hope that the increase in hours will attract more lawyers to take on legal aid cases. The increased 25 hours will be available to all new Legal Aid BC clients who qualify as of April 1st, 2024. 

For Survivors Who Access BWSS

We are truly encouraged by this advancement and what it could mean for the survivors we exist to serve. Approximately 80% of survivors accessing BWSS identify at least one legal issue where they require information in their family law cases, which often intersects with other areas of law – criminal, immigration, and child welfare law. These cases are intensified by an abusive partner who seeks to use the legal system to maintain domination and control. Unfortunately, the family justice system has struggled to recognize the impact of intimate partner violence in family law, often viewing the situation through a patriarchal lens, which further intensifies the experience for survivors. 

BWSS provides frontline legal advocacy to help survivors navigate the Canadian legal system, filling the gaps where legal aid is lacking through representation, legal aid advocacy, workshops and clinics, public legal education, and training for lawyers, along with legal research. As we enter our 45th year, we remain committed to supporting survivors and holding institutions accountable. We strive to promote racial and gender justice, including for immigrant/refugee survivors with precarious immigration status where immigration law intersects, for Indigenous survivors navigating child welfare and all survivors who are navigating the criminal legal system and how all these areas of law intersect with family law. 

Big congratulations to the plaintiff and its members through BC, who persevered through an eight-year lawsuit and survived multiple attacks on their public interest standing as a grassroots organization of survivors, their legal team led by West Coast LEAF, and all who have lent their voice and effort to making this moment happen. We are truly very grateful for all the mothers and women who continue to stand in their power and use their voice through the family justice system. The settlement is an important step in the struggle for access to justice for survivors of intimate partner violence in BC. We are celebrating this moment and looking forward to furthering the impact of this announcement and funding.

Why I March? Women’s Memorial March by Angela Marie MacDougall

An image with a Black woman looking intently holding their hands in front of them with a flame above her. It is showcasing a workshop for Black women.

Why I March on February 14th at the Women’s Memorial March by Angela Marie MacDougall, Executive Director of BWSS

Trigger Warning: The following passage contains descriptions of violence, abuse, and exploitation. Reader discretion is advised. 

It has taken a while to write this, and even now, as the words hit the electronic page, it is uncertain if this is the time or the format to share some of the reasons why I march on February 14th at the Women’s Memorial March. Ultimately, it is about my own experience as a bi-racial Black girl growing up in Metro Vancouver, where all the memories from childhood and youth are shared by a day-to-day experience and witnessing of misogynist and racist violence against women and girls.  

The violence experienced by the mothers from the fathers of my grade school and high school mates. The stories shared by my friends of incest by their fathers and/or brothers. The casual victim blaming infused in the Monday morning stories of weekend gang rapes committed by classmates against classmates, casually and laughingly shared at the smoke pit at my high school. Or witnessing my step-father abuse my own mother and later my experience of sexual exploitation as a fifteen year old ‘runaway.’ I developed a profound sensitivity to how misogynist violence infused with race and class was…is widespread and regular occurring. Yet rendered invisible within a toxic cloud of victim blaming.  

An image with a Black woman looking intently holding their hands in front of them with a flame above her. It is showcasing a workshop for Black women.

Nearing the end of the experience as a sexual exploited youth, navigating the extreme potential for violence and lethal violence as a continuous practice united us as sex workers with genuine camaraderie. It was jarring when Elaine Allenbach went missing. My memory tells me it was raining the night I learned that Elaine had gone missing and a few days later, two Vancouver Police detectives approached me while I stood at the corner of Helmcken and Seymour streets in the Vancouver neighbourhood, now known as Yaletown, to ask me about the last time I had seen her. I shared with them what I remembered and what I knew about her regulars. That was March 1986, and 38 years later, and Elaine is still missing, presumed a victim of femicide. 

Transitioning into “square” life (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26577882/) and continuing my formal education, by 1988, I was studying Counselling Psychology and doing a practicum with child and family service organization and facilitating groups for sexually exploited youth. That was an extraordinary peer facilitation experience that was transformative in so many ways. 

At the time, I reconnected with my childhood friend Patricia Ann MacPherson, one of my dearest friends who I had known since grade six. We were both young mothers and spent a weekend together catching up and having fun. I hold fond memories of that weekend because it was the last time, I would see her alive.

On December 9, 1988, Trish was killed while on a date with a man we both knew. It is horrifying to think about what she went through during the last moments of her life. I attend the trial of the man who killed her but really…so much of learning about her death became a dissociated memory fragment that is always recalled with tears. Part of that grief and rage journey of reckoning with the violent way Patricia Ann MacPherson died and that she had left this world became a politicizing moment dramatically changing the trajectory of my personal and professional life. 

An image with a Black woman looking intently holding their hands in front of them with a flame above her. It is showcasing a workshop for Black women.

Inspired by the writing of Judith Herman and her brilliant book Trauma and Recover: The Aftermath of Violence – From Domestic Violence to Political Terror in the 1990’s, professional counselling and feminist organizing spaces started to integrate a trauma-informed approach to understanding social problems and how people can heal. Delayed by the Canadian context by the time I got access to Kimberlé Crenshaw’s influential writing Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color, I was highly motivated to apply these ideas that validated the lived experiences of so many around me and myself

In 1994, I was employed at a women-serving organization located in the Downtown Eastside neighbourhood in Vancouver doing frontline work supporting women navigating the impacts of colonization, child welfare, residential school, incest, racialized and gender violence, sexual assault, intimate partner violence, police brutality, and homelessness. Women were going missing…some women were being found murdered and of the missing and murdered women, I had met either through work or through my lived experience.  

I heard about a women’s march that was held on February 14th to honour women who had gone missing or who were murdered and that there was a committee of people who organized the march…so I joined. The committee became a way to be part of change. And participating in the march was a way to honour my friends and women I knew, while making visible the racialized gender violence that has been baked into the making of Canada as a nation grinding down in the lives of women and girls and with attention to the violence experienced by Indigenous and Black women.

An image with a Black woman looking intently holding their hands in front of them with a flame above her. It is showcasing a workshop for Black women.

And the violence didn’t stop instead and the result of the broader community that ignored women who were pushed to the margins of public concern and during the 1990’s there were at least three serial killers abducting and killing women mostly from the Downtown Eastside in Vancouver.  

My friend Tracy Olajide was killed, and she was found in mountains near Mission in the Fraser Valley in 1995. I hadn’t seen Tracy for a few years and remember her beautiful smile and always quick to crack a joke and make people laugh. It is still shocking to know that she had passed. I remain in contact with her mother and watch the brilliance of her beautiful and very accomplished son.  

I met Mary Lidguerre in 1995, tall and beautiful, warm, and kind, thoughtful, and considerate. The last time, I saw Mary, we shared some jokes and some laughs and that is my memory of Mary who went missing that same year and was discovered deceased on Mount Seymour in August 1996 

Both Tracy and Mary are linked to the Hemlock Valley Murders. Many people may not recall the Hemlock Valley Murders (https://youtu.be/Sfuqkaodkgk?si=NZyTekr3Hlha94rU). 

And we kept marching, every year on February 14th 

An image with a Black woman looking intently holding their hands in front of them with a flame above her. It is showcasing a workshop for Black women.
An image with a Black woman looking intently holding their hands in front of them with a flame above her. It is showcasing a workshop for Black women.

Through the 1990’s to the 2000s and to 2010s there have been trials and inquiries and trials and inquiries, and the entire time February 14th Women’s Memorial March in Downtown Eastside Vancouver continues to honour the lives of our beloved sisters and to highlight the systemic nature of the killings and deaths, to visible the intersections of gender, race, poverty all the result of colonialism. 

I march for Elaine, for Trish, for Tracy, for Mary, for Kathleen Watley, for Janet Pelletier, for Tina Fontaine, for Stephanie Forster, for Cindy Gladue, for the hundreds of women, girls and gender diverse people who have been killed in the Downtown Eastside and neighbourhoods just like the downtown Eastside across the territories and all the girls and women who reach out to BWSS seeking safety from violence. 

Their spirit lives within us… 

An image with a Black woman looking intently holding their hands in front of them with a flame above her. It is showcasing a workshop for Black women.