PART 2: Improving Sexual Assault Response in PEI

April 11, 2017

Recent events have focused the attention of many Canadians on sexual violence and how survivors of sexual violence are treated in the justice system. A review of how sexual assault cases are handled must go beyond determining what cases were labelled “unfounded” (baseless) and under what circumstances. We need to examine how sexual assault of adults is treated from the time of reporting all the way through to sentencing and learn what can be done better.

Much discrimination and pain results from widespread belief in rape myths. There are many examples of harmful myths: that women often lie about sexual assault out of spite or revenge or to get attention; that only young or “sexy” women are sexually assaulted; that women are most likely to be assaulted at night, in dark places, and by strangers; that men don’t get sexually assaulted. These myths are false, but, what’s more, they are barriers to justice for survivors of sexual violence.

What are some practical things we can do to battle these myths and improve sexual assault response?

Police officers of all genders and all backgrounds need to be well trained to respond to sexual violence. From the first contact between a victim and a first responder, the victim needs to feel believed and the next steps need to be trauma-informed. A trauma-informed response in the justice system means that all persons who work with victims or survivors understand the science of how violence, abuse, and trauma affect the brain and behaviour. As trauma expert Dr. Lori Haskell explains, the effects of trauma on the brain “interfere with the way… victims seek safety, process information, and remember details.”

Victims who go to hospital for treatment need to have access to nurses, nurse practitioners, or doctors who are trained in sexual assault response, such as Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners. Timely and respectful service by well-trained healthcare workers could go a long way to improving outcomes for victims.

There is clearly a need for better training for all people working in the justice system, including for judges. This should include education on the evidence that refutes rape myths, as well as the science on how survivors process assault and how trauma affects memory. Recently, federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould praised a project in the U.S. that invites external advocates to help with reviews of sexual assault cases. There are also precedents in many U.S. courts for including expert witness testimony in sexual assault cases.

In the courts and among the general public, there is a clear need for better definition and better understanding of what constitutes sexual consent. This education needs to begin with children and youth, so they learn about healthy relationships and respecting themselves and others.

As members of the public, we can counter rape myths when we hear them repeated. We can stand up against the stigma sexual violence survivors face and stand up against victim-blaming. We can practice consent in our own relationships and model healthy relationships for children and youth.

Most of all, we can believe survivors when they tell us they have been harmed. We can listen without judgment. We can say that what happened to them was not okay. We can tell them that the violence is not their fault. We can help connect people with services and supports if they want them. We can advocate for more resources and supports for front-line services for sexual assault response, through sexual assault nurse examiners, Victim Services, and the Rape and Sexual Assault Centre.

We can all play a role in helping survivors of sexual violence achieve justice.

Mari Basiletti is the Chairperson and Jane Ledwell is the Executive Director of the PEI Advisory Council on the Status of Women.

Journal Pioneer article, April 11, 2017

PART 1 – Justice for Survivors of Sexual Assault

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PART 1: Justice for Survivors of Sexual Assault

April 10, 2017

A number of recent developments have brought sexual assault into the headlines, and little of it has been good news. A Globe and Mail investigation showed that, on average, 19% of sexual assaults reported to police in Canada get classified as “unfounded,” meaning baseless. Here in PEI, the police forces that reported their statistics had an even higher rate of cases coded “unfounded”: 27%, more than a quarter of all reported cases. Sexual assault cases are declared “unfounded” at a far greater rate than any other crime.

In Nova Scotia recently, a Halifax taxi driver was acquitted after a judge ruled that “clearly a drunk can consent” to sex. Last month in Newfoundland, a police officer was acquitted of sexually assaulting a woman he was driving home while he was on duty. Both cases brought to light rape myths that persist in society and the justice system, including understanding the laws and the meaning of consent.

In better news, Justice Robin Camp recently resigned and apologized before being removed from the bench. During a sexual assault trial in his court in 2014, he had asked the complainant why she didn’t keep her “knees together.”

It’s reasonable for women to expect that a judge will examine their evidence without their judgment being clouded by victim-blaming and prejudice. It’s reasonable for women to expect that they will get home safely in a taxicab or a police vehicle. It’s reasonable for women to expect that their reports of sexual violence will result in thorough investigations as often as other crimes.

Sadly, blaming victims for sexual violence is rampant not only in courts, but across society: so much so that we have to talk about rape culture and all the attitudes and myths that contribute to it.

Statistics suggest only one in ten sexual assault cases is reported to police in the first place. Charges are laid in only one-third of cases reported, and, when charges are laid, only one in ten cases results in a conviction.

To achieve justice for survivors of sexual violence in PEI will take concerted action. The province has called for all police services to review the cases they labelled “unfounded” from 2014 to 2016. This is a good first step, but a review of police services by police themselves is not enough. Who will clarify how the cases got labelled “unfounded” and by whom? Will the same officers that handled the cases be reviewing them? What are the benchmarks for an objective review? At a minimum, these reviews should seek input from community services that work with victims and survivors, such as the Rape and Sexual Assault Centre or provincial Victim Services.

The Globe and Mail investigation showed that police services with more female officers had fewer unfounded cases. Working towards gender parity and greater diversity in PEI police forces is also very important, so that survivors see themselves reflected back in the services meant to “serve and protect” them, and so that police officers with a greater variety of backgrounds and life experiences – including experience of sexual violence – can spread compassion and understanding for women and diverse groups’ experiences.

There are many ways the response to sexual assault could be improved in Prince Edward Island. Tomorrow, we will suggest some additional specific ways to achieve justice for sexual assault survivors.

Mari Basiletti is the Chairperson and Jane Ledwell is the Executive Director of the PEI Advisory Council on the Status of Women.

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Women in Canada: 50 Years of Change

final-revised-women-in-canada-study-group-posterPlease check back for any updates/bi-weekly reminders.

Final Study Group Next Week:  

Thursday, April 27, 2017
12:00 noon to 1:00pm
Discussion of the years 2007-2017
and Closing Ceremony

Fifty years ago, on February 16, 1967, the historic Royal Commission on the Status of Women was launched. Using this landmark Royal Commission as a starting point, the Advisory Council on the Status of Women and the Aboriginal Women’s Association will host a study group on women in Canada. The group will meet bi-weekly in March and April to consider women’s equality decade by decade, from 1967-2017.

The study group will ask: What was particularly relevant for women during each 10-year period? How has women’s equality advanced in the last 50 years? Which women were left out of consideration and remain underrepresented in decision-making today? 

 

DSC_7433

Organizers and participants pose for a photo at a recent Study Group at the Confederation Centre Public Library.

The group will launch Thursday March 2, from 12:00 noon to 1:00 pm. The first session will focus on the years 1967-1977. The study group will be held at the Confederation Centre PublicLibrary in Charlottetown. Kendi Tarichia will bring the perspective of Black Islanders to the first study group discussion.

 

Mark the dates March 16, and 30; and April 13 and 27 for future study groups in the series. Hosted by Aboriginal Women’s Association of PEI, PEI Advisory Council on the Status of Women and the PEI Public Library Service.For more information, contact 902-368-4510 or info@peistatusofwomen.ca or visit https://peiacsw.wordpress.com

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Community Notices

Welcome to our Community Events and Notices E-News for Thursday, April 20, 2017

New listings this week:

1) Next Thursday: Final Study Group on Women in Canada
2) Key Messages for Minister Responsible
3) Achieving Justice for Sexual Assault Survivors
4) PEI Raises Income Limit for Home Energy Program
5) Atlantic Green Expo at UPEI
6) Pinch Penny Fair
7) Macphail Woods Calendar of Events
8) Chronic Pain Management Workshop
9) What a Wonderful World!
10) Bonshaw Ceilidh
11) Making It Home: A Remembrance
12) IT’S BINGO TIME AGAIN FOR CITIZEN ADVOCACY!
13) Birchwood Poetry Cafe

The current and past issues of our Thursday E-News with upcoming community events and notices are available at the following links:

_______________________________

Previous listings by title

To view the e-newsletter with specific details about an event, click on the title link. Lots of things happening next week…

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Key Messages from the Council

Members of the PEI Advisory Council on the Status of Women are meeting this week in Charlottetown for a regular meeting and to participate in Women in Canada Study Group.

PEIACSW Members February 2017

At the Council’s last meeting, in February, members had a visit from the Minister Responsible for the Status of Women, Hon. Paula Biggar, and the director of the Interministerial Women’s Secretariat, Michelle Harris-Genge. Council members were very pleased to share some key messages with Minister Biggar from the members’ planning and discussion.

Here are some of the messages members shared with Minister Biggar in February:

  • The need to empower girls within their own communities and schools to have a healthy sense of self-worth. Their sense of self-worth is affected by a culture that still values boys more than girls and in turn affects their relationships and their prospects for public leadership.
  • Information on abortion and sexual health services and other reproductive services must be freely available and must be clear, comprehensive, and non-judgmental and accessible. This means both on-line and in navigation supports. The search functions that lead to sexual and reproductive health services should be based on the real way people look for information online, especially young people, knowing that they may begin and end their search at Google.
  • The urgent need to bring the pilot project on a Basic Income Guarantee for Prince Edward Island. Council notes the recent unanimous motion of the Legislative Assembly in support of the Province working with the federal government to bring about this pilot project.
  • We need strategies to find and allocate funding for programs and services and supports to find services when we need them and navigate through these systems. A health system navigator role has recently been created. Similar navigations are needed for many services and circumstances. For example, a woman leaving a situation of violence needs navigation that connects her with community and government services without her needing to tell her story multiple times. Some examples of programs and services Council discussed today include the following:
    • Legal aid
    • Youth addictions
    • Mental health
    • Seniors’ supports
    • Relationship breakdown
    • Women’s NGOs (for example, Women’s Network)
    • Anderson House and family violence outreach
    • Caregivers (mostly women)
    • Sexual assault
    • and many others
  • Real inclusion in government and public life of all genders, ethnicities, and geographical areas, to improve our Island community. This includes ensuring rural communities have equal access to services; development of all regions of the province is important.
  • We want government to address the need for advocates in roles independent of government. An independent child advocate is one example of this kind of independent advocate, but not the only possible kind of advocate. Independence from government systems is important to us.
  • Ensure that survivors of sexual violence and gender-based violence are met at their first point of contact with services with a trauma-informed, “believe survivors” mentality. For example, we want PEI to ensure local police services address the high rate of “unfounded” cases of sexual violence and ensure resources and training are available to have police and others follow best practices.
  • Council wants to feel part of meaningful consultations that ensure the wisdom of the community about needs and solutions reaches decision-makers and is used to bring about pro-active change and make lives better for women and all Islanders.

PEIACSW members meet with Min. Biggar, February 2017 PEIACSW members meet with Min. Biggar, February 2017

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Community Notices

Welcome to our Community Events and Notices E-News for Thursday, April 6, 2017

New listings this week:

1) Next Thursday: Study Group on Women in Canada
2) PEIBWA Activities
3) Macphail Woods One-Question Survey
4) Art of Host Training
5) Reading Town P.E.I. Returns
6) Yoga Benefit for P.E.I. Humane Society
7) Overcoming Sleep & Fatigue Syndrome Workshop
8) Youth Awards to Recognize Literary Excellence
9) Learning Network Newsletter on Femicide of Women Who Are Older
10) Handbook Helps Provincial Government Support Employees Affected by Family Violence

The current and past issues of our Thursday E-News with upcoming community events and notices are available at the following links:

_______________________________

Previous listings by title

To view the e-newsletter with specific details about an event, click on the title link. Lots of things happening next week…

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Community Notices

Welcome to our Community Events and Notices E-News for Thursday, March 30, 2017

New listings this week:

1) Tomorrow: Meags Fitzgerald to Present in Winter’s Tales Series
2) PEIBWA Activities
3) Draught for Dogs Fundraiser
4) PD Day Space Camp
5) Women Spark Creativity
6) The Real Story Behind Vimy Ridge
7) Open Mic to Mark Poetry Month
8) Pinch Penny Fair
9) Mom 2 Mom Sale
10) Friends of Confederation Centre Arts Scholarships
11) Town of Cornwall Spring Program Information Guide
12) Online Survey on Resilience of Victims of Violent Crime

The current and past issues of our Thursday E-News with upcoming community events and notices are available at the following links:

_______________________________

Previous listings by title

To view the e-newsletter with specific details about an event, click on the title link. Lots of things happening next week…

 

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Believe Survivors by Dima Mreesh – December 2016

Dima Mreesh arrived in Canada as a refugee from Syria. She told her story as a guest speaker at the 2016 Charlottetown Montreal Massacre Memorial Service hosted by the PEI Advisory Council on the Status of Women. The theme of the service was “Believe Survivors,” including survivors of war and all forms violence against women.

View Dima’s story at this link: https://vimeo.com/196461458

2017-02-28-08_05_39-believe-survivors-december-6-2016-on-vimeo

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