Sexual violence is one of the most under-reported and hideous crimes in the world. The stigma and shame associated with disclosure and the fear of rejection from immediate family creates many insurmountable barriers for women for accessing help and healing.
Based on the statistics reported by The Justice Institute of BC an alarming rate of sexual assault cases in Canada is very concerning. One in 17 women in Canada is sexually abused in her lifetime, 70% of the rapists and perpetrators are known to the victim. 62% of the women who are sexually assaulted are also physically injured and severely beaten, and 9% are disfigured.
The recent unfortunate gang rape in India has affected all of us and was a catalyst to self -evaluate our roles as responsible members of society and motivate us to create a safer community.
The Shakti Society and Battered Women Support Services collaborated to present an interactive and informative Community Café to address the issue of sexual violence. The four panelists were Ms Helen Griffiths, Provincial Nurse Coordinator at BC Women’s Sexual Assault Services, Dr. Nazia Niazi, Family Physician, Mr.Harpreet Singh, renowned Journalist, and Sgt. Rabinovich from Vancouver Police Department Sex Crimes and Child Abuse Unit.
All the panelists spoke about sexual violence within the context of their respective professional expertise and experience. The presentations focused on how sex crimes are dealt with in the existing system, the role of law enforcement, how women are assisted in navigating the system. In addition, the vital role of media and how it shapes our social responses in dealing with violence against women and sexual violence in particular. It was greatly encouraging to see the audience deeply engaged with the issues and the intention and desire to stop sexual violence.
Many valuable and interesting themes emerged from the conversations held on each table after the panel. All the topics discussed in smaller groups were moderated by professionally trained facilitators and captured the multiple and complex dynamics of sexual violence. Participants shared their wisdom and vision about the impact of media on our mind set, the role and responsibility of religious organizations in addressing sexual violence, the role of culture in shaping our beliefs about gender equality, and safety planning for women with mental health issues. Other discussions focussed on the issues around blaming the rape victim and education regarding the prevention of sexual violence.
More than 150 people attended the event from all walks of life with varying age groups and ethnicities. They appreciated a safe space to discuss their thoughts without any hesitation and fear of being judged. People freely spoke about their small and solid individual commitments as a step towards making a collective difference.
The organizers were very humbled and grateful to all the attendees and dignitaries including, M.L.A Sue Hammell, M.L.A Harry Bains, and M.P Jinni Sims. Councilor Barinder Rasode expressed her whole-hearted support for the cause. Representatives from Brookside and Dukh Niwaran Gurdwaras, W.S.O,Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Fiji Business Association, and BC Muslim Association attended the forum.
We are very encouraged and hopeful about engaging the Community in such worthy, productive and meaningful conversations on a regular basis. Shakti Society will compile a detailed report and identify action items emerging from this forum. The date for a follow-up forum will be announced soon.
Member of Shakti Society
Board member of Battered Women Support Services