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The Story Behind Saskatchewan’s First Ever Violence Against Women Advocate Case Review

In Phildelphia, during the late 90’s, controversy sparked over how the Philadelphia Police Department was mishandling sexual assault reports following the death of Shannon Schieber. Shannon became a victim of a serial perpetrator, sexually offending with impunity, because the Philadelphia PD were immediately dismissing numerous reports of sexual assault crimes by women, and classifying them  as “ unfounded”, or “no crime was attempted or occurred”.  As a result, numerous women were assaulted as the serial predator operated undetected for years, and eventually escalated their sexual violence to homicide. 

The murder of Shannon Schieber was seen as preventable. The Philadelphia Police had numerous reports indicating a sexual predator was active in the area, but the survivors’ reports were dismissed, and unbelieved.

An investigation into the city’s police force, its mishandling of sexual assault, and the Police Chief’s desire and commitment to “do better” would later bring to life what is known as the “Philadelphia Model” whereby front-line, local sexual violence experts partnered with the police force to help them establish a comprehensive reporting, and oversight process for sexual violence. 

Read more: Investigating rape in Philadelphia: how one city’s crisis stands to help others

Twenty years on, sexual violence advocates in Philadephia continue to directly review all sexual violence police files once per year to ensure proper procedure was followed, help restore the public’s trust in police, and foster transparency.  The positive impacts of these reviews would eventually spread across the United States. 

In Canada, sexual violence expert, and violence against women justice advocate, Sunny Marriner was investigating what was happening to sexual assault files which did not result in charges. What happened to the investigations and cases which did not meet police charging requirements? Did these uncharged cases have something in common?  

In answer to the above inquiry, Marriner was discovering the revolutionary happenings in Philadelphia, and saw the tremendous potential for survivors and their sexual assault cases. As such, Marriner sought to develop  an iteration of the “Philadelphia Model” in Canada, avoiding its shortcomings and building upon its successes. Thus, the Violence Against Women Advocate Case Review (VACR) was born, and is currently operating in almost 20 jurisdictions across Canada.

Sexual Assault Services of Saskatchewan partnered with Marriner to bring VACR to the province through its member agencies and other subject matter experts. The first Saskatchewan implementation of VACR was launched in Regina, in October 2019 through collaberation between the Regina Police Service and Regina Sexual Assault Centre. To date, 3 successful reviews have taken place. 

Read More: Globe & Mail investigative series “Unfounded” where journalist Robin Doolittle investigated how Canadian police services were handling sexual assault reports, and how many complaints were being immediately dismissed by police at the reporting stage of the criminal justice process.

How does Victim Advocate Case Review differ from the Philadelphia model?

In Philadelphia, advocates review all sexual assault files, both ongoing investigations and closed cases, giving feedback and recommendations once per year to the Philly PD. In contrast, VACR conducts quarterly reviews every three months; focuses on case files “cleared” or closed without charges laid; where complainants are 16 years of age and older; and the alleged perpetrator is over the age of 18 in accordance with Canada’s Youth Criminal Justice Act. The quarterly reviews act as a safety mechanism, ensuring that after a survivor reports, and their case is cleared without charges, the longest the case would sit closed prior to review is three months. This allows for further investigative potential in cases, a reduced review load for advocates, and real-time information sharing between frontline agencies and police regarding the state of sexual violence in their community.

The fundamental goal of VACR is actually quite simple: to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of police investigations in sexual assault cases by leveraging the trauma-informed lens and expertise of local front-line sexual violence advocates, so police can catch cases which have previously fallen through the cracks of the justice system– cases that have been dismissed during the reporting, investigation, and charging stages.  

We know that only around 5% of sexual assaults are reported to police (according to statistics Canada data in 2014) . The VACR review process helps ensure that everyone who reports is given the same opportunity to access the justice system, be treated with dignity, and can expect their report to be fully investigated, in the hopes of reducing case attrition, the retraumatization of survivors, and potentially fostering trust in the community by policing agencies’ willingness to increase transparency in sexual assault files.

What is VACR?

When asked what VACR is in its most basic sense, our VACR Provincial Coordinator, Kristina explained:

 “It’s frontline violence against women and sexual assault advocates/experts going into the police station to review all sexual assault files “cleared”, or closed without charges on a quarterly basis. It allows advocates to give feedback on what the police are doing well, what they could do better, and specific case recommendations.”

When delving deeper into VACR the role of community support becomes vital to the process. Community involvement and support, through local sexual assault centres and sexual violence experts, is important to ensuring survivors are believed, survivor’s cases are investigated fully, as well as fostering the creation of healthy, safe communities where everyone has access to the reporting process, and other supports should they choose. 

Kristina spoke to the importance of police recognizing that there are local  front-line trauma and sexual assault experts  who understand how sexual violence manifests uniquely in their communities. Front-line, sexual violence subject matter experts support both the 5% of survivors that do report to police, and the 95% that don’t. This allows police to leverage the skills and abilities of their community members. “As more people begin to understand the problematic way ‘we’ve always done things’ regarding the investigation of sexual assault files, they create room for these conversations and a system of transparency”.

How does VACR benefit police?

Implementation of VACR is not only beneficial to survivors. Kristina outlined the positive impacts it can have for police as “the potential to foster trust between the police and the broader community by opening  themselves up to the feedback and showing the community that they know they can do better and are willing to do so.” It also allows advocates to see the police process from the inside and advocate for police, and the tools they need in order to complete thorough sexual assault investigations; this could be anything from policy changes, specialized personnel dedicated solely to sexual violence cases, or increased space or resources to address barriers affecting police ability to collect their best evidence, including private and comfortable interview spaces for survivors. 

If police are able to ensure investigations are able to incorporate known aspects of sexual violence, such as power dymanics, neurobiology of trauma, etc,  it allows them to search out and find their best evidence, improving the quality of their investigations, and thus empowering police to lay charges where their burden of proof is met.

We commend the Regina Police Service for recognizing the gaps in the sexual assault reporting, and investigative processes, as well as their willingness to partner with the Regina Sexual Assault Centre to impliment VACR.  This is a very important step towards creating a future where every person in Saskatchewan is free from threat, fear, and experience of sexual violence. 

How does VACR benefit survivors?

While the review process benefits all those involved, the main focus is on supporting the survivors who choose to access the justice system, and report sexual violence to police. 

When asked how VACR supports survivors the most, Kristina stated that the “benefit to all survivors is that cases don’t continue to disappear over and over again. VACR is a safety net. If someone reports to police, and charges are not laid, they will know that their case will be reviewed by someone with a sexual violence lens, who ensures that their case was investigated to the fullest extent.” 

Furthermore, VACR reviews remove the burden on the individual survivor to fight for their individual case at every step of the criminal justice process, as they can be assured advocates are doing so with every review. Kristina says the Violence Against Women Advocate Case Review “stops survivors from having to take on the whole justice system by themselves.” Because the advocates are experts in how sexual violence affects their community specifically, these reviews also serve as a way to ensure marginalized individuals have the same access to system protections as those with greater resources to self-advocate.

Perhaps most importantly, VACR  establishes a culture of accountability between police, sexual violence advocates, and the communities they serve –ensuring that all those who report can trust that their case will result in thorough and complete investigations. With VACR Kristina states that “these cases won’t just disappear and nobody would know.”

How is it being implemented throughout Saskatchewan?

It is important to note that Saskatchewan is the only province in Canada that has a Sexual Violence Action Plan developed primarily by sexual violence experts and advocates from across the province. Action #19 states the need for “integrated advocate case reviews of police services sexual violence files”.  

Saskatchewan has become a national leader in its implementation of VACR. The support of the Government of Saskatchewan means Regina is the only implementation of VACR where advocates are being compensated for their expert knowledge, and time spent outside of their centres and away from clients. This funding success is eagerly being watched by other provincial governments and advocates, and is being touted as the exemplar for how VACR could be implemented in other jurisdictions. SASS commends the Government of Saskatchewan for its commitment to survivors of sexual violence, and the concrete action made on SASS’ Call #19 of the Sexual Violence Action Plan. 

The next step for VACR in Saskatchewan is to look at how it can be implemented in other provincial jurisdictions.

For more information on Violence Against Women Advocate Case Review in Canada follow them on twitter @SA_CaseReview. For Saskatchewan specific information contact Kristina Kaminski at vaw.sass@sasktel.net or  (306) 757-1945

BREAKING THE BINARY: Working Towards an Inclusive Understanding of Sexual Violence

Sexual violence is a complex issue that goes beyond the common heterosexual understanding. Heterosexual approaches and assumptions of sexual violence can further marginalize members of the LGBTQ2S+ community unintentionally invalidating, discrediting, and ignoring their experiences. Many abusive behaviours are common across all relationships regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity, but the unique circumstances and prejudices against the LGBTQ2S+ contribute to specific needs and additional barriers to accessing relevant supports and services.

There are extensive gaps in research regarding the unique barriers faced by the LGBTQ2S+ community. Without a more comprehensive understanding of how sexual violence impacts the queer community and the complexities influencing reporting rates, it is incredibly difficult to understand the magnitude and prevalence of the issue. In our recent research report, Sexual Assault in Saskatchewan, we aimed to examine this issue in our province and serve as a jumping off point for future research. 

THE ISSUE 

According to national research on reporting, gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals are six times more likely to experience sexual violence than people who are heterosexual. LGBTQ2S+ individuals experience unique circumstances that create additional harm and prevent access to supports and services in addition to the barriers faced by heterosexual and cis-gender individuals.  

LGBTQ2S+ individuals experience homelessness or transience at a much higher rate making them more vulnerable to sexual violence and exploitation by others. In Saskatchewan, queer and transgender youth lack safe community spaces, and the few that do exist become more difficult to access if the individual is homeless. Stigmatization, and a lack of non-binary services, results in individuals feeling excluded from supports and programs targeted towards only men or women; this is especially true in rural areas of Saskatchewan where services are limited or non-existent. A lack of inclusive services creates barriers for LGBTQS2+ individuals when seeking the help and support they need after experiencing sexual violence. 

Other research has found that perpetrators will often threaten to reveal the survivor’s sexual or gender identity to others if they report the assault to the authorities. In other instances, the survivor may not report because doing so would force them to reveal their  sexual and/or gender identity to the police and, should the case move forward, the public.

Many services operate under heterosexual assumptions that can prevent same-sex partner violence from being fully investigated and identified. For example, men admitted to the hospital with physical injuries are less likely to be questioned about potential abuse than women, influencing the likelihood of necessary intervention.

Although many organizations provide inclusive supports and services, there is a lack of understanding and awareness surrounding the importance of using inclusive language when communicating their services to the public. The absence of inclusive language in communications and marketing isolates these individuals as they feel excluded from these services. The use of inclusive language provides a clear indication for these individuals that they will be treated with respect, their experiences will be believed, and their needs will be understood and addressed appropriately. 

Although society has progressed significantly in our acceptance of the LGBTQ2S+ community, these individuals still experience social and societal exclusion. Therefore, when they experience sexual violence, a crime where victim blaming and shaming is so prominent by society and the justice system, their very identity can be unfairly used as a reason not to believe them, and to not take them seriously. 

With a few important considerations, support services and criminal justice institutions can contribute to a necessary shift in social attitudes towards the LGBTQ2S+ community. Together, we can work towards a collaborative, comprehensive, and inclusive approach to responding to and preventing sexual violence. 

WHAT YOU CAN DO

There is a clearly demonstrated need for the development of more culturally competent services across all sectors responding to sexual violence. Here are some ways that organizations can guide the development and implementation of inclusive programs and services:

  • Consider the following questions to ensure the provision of a safe, inclusive space for LGBTQ2S+ survivors:
    • When we currently talk about sexual violence, who benefits from the conversation? What are the consequences of this, both intentional and unintentional?
    • What is the individual context, demographic location, and social context of the person telling their story?
    • How can we move our work outside of the gender binary system?
    • What would a framework of intersectionality bring to those impacted by the work that we do?
  • Create programming especially for LGBTQ2S+ individuals, focusing on their specific needs and circumstances.
  • Have staff participate in educational workshops to expand their understanding of LGBTQ2S+ terminology and experiences. Many LGBTQ2S+ organizations offer resources, information, and workshops. 
  • Create policies and guidelines for addressing discrimination in your organization, and ensure that non-heterosexist, inclusive language is in place in communications and marketing campaigns to let individuals know that they are a safe, welcoming space for LGBTQ2S+ identifying people to receive support services.
  • Seek out and establish partnerships with LGBTQ2S+ organizations to create resources programs, and referral networks that connect the LGBTQ2S+ community with relevant services, and resources.
  • Consider the need to provide advocacy and establish culturally competent contacts, including police, lawyers, and other advisory experts in order to prepare those within the LGBTQ2S+ community for potential systemic barriers they may face in the process of healing and seeking justice. 

The power to initiate change exists not only within larger institutions, but within all of us as individuals part of a greater community. Here are a few simple ways you can be an ally and advocate for change within your community: 

  • Familiarize yourself with LGBTQ2S+ terminology. Out Saskatoon’s Queer Terms page is a good place to start
  • Educate yourself on LGBTQ2S+ experiences and history to understand the impacts oppression and anti-LGBTQ2S+ can have on sexual violence
  • Be an advocate. Raise your voice and your platform for the LGBTQ2S+ movement and fight for equality. This could be educating friends, family members, and strangers, or volunteering with an organization that is pushing for change

For more information about this topic, read the sources of our information:

Sexual Violence in Saskatchewan: Voices, Stories, Insights, and Actions from the Front Lines

Relationship Violence in Lesbian/Gay/ Bisexual/Transgender/Queer [LGBTQ] Communities Moving Beyond a Gender-Based Framework 

Anti-Racism Resource Guide

As an organization that advocates for the issue of sexual violence, we recognize the role institutions and societies play in acts of violence and the importance of intersectionality when analyzing these acts.

This resource guide is a starting point for educating yourself and others on the way racism impacts our societies, communities, and families while being the root cause of violence against racial minorities around the world.

If you are feeling triggered by the recent devastation in the news, we have included mental health and support resources to help you in this time. If you want to become an ally this is a great place to start. 

This document will continue to be updated as new resources are discovered or created.

PETITIONS

FIND SUPPORT

  • Basic and Immediate Sexual Violence Resources for Somali Canadians: Crisis intervention, mental health resources, basic needs and legal resources.
  • Black Youth Helpline Toll Free: 1-833-294-8659
  • Online Therapy Unit: offers adults free Online Cognitive Behaviour Therapy for a number of mental health concerns. Online Cognitive Behaviour Therapy involves reviewing educational material online with the support of a therapist or a guide. The approach is found to be effective and is a convenient way to receive care.
  • Afircan Canadian Resource Network: ACRN is an action-oriented, resource organization dedicated to supporting the capacity development of the African-Canadian Community in Saskatchewan in strategic areas such as public and business leadership.

BE AN ALLY

LEARN:

Anti-Racist Resource Guide by Victoria Alexander MEd

Anti-Racism for Beginners and White People

75 Things White People Can do for Racial Justice

Robyn Maynard’s Black Lives Matter Syllabus: a collection of educational resources for self-education.

5 Black Women Talk About Their Lives In Canada–Past, Present And Future

Q&A: Author Robyn Maynard on Anti-Black Racism, Misogyny, and Policing in Canada

Books:

  • How to be Antiracist by Ibram X Kendi
    •  In How to Be an Antiracist, Kendi takes readers through a widening circle of antiracist ideas—from the most basic concepts to visionary possibilities—that will help readers see all forms of racism clearly, understand their poisonous consequences, and work to oppose them in our systems and in ourselves.
  • Black Feminist Thoughts by Patricial Hill Collins
    • In Black Feminist Thought, Patricia Hill Collins explores the words and ideas of Black feminist intellectuals as well as those African-American women outside academe. She provides an interpretive framework for the work of such prominent Black feminist thinkers as Angela Davis, bell hooks, Alice Walker, and Audre Lorde. The result is a superbly crafted book that provides the first synthetic overview of Black feminist thought.
  • Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad
    • Based on the viral Instagram challenge that captivated participants worldwide, Me and White Supremacy takes readers on a 28-day journey, complete with journal prompts, to do the necessary and vital work that can ultimately lead to improving race relations.
  • White Fragility: Why it’s So Hard For White People to Talk about Racism by Robin DeAngelo
    • In this “vital, necessary, and beautiful book” (Michael Eric Dyson), antiracist educator Robin DiAngelo deftly illuminates the phenomenon of white fragility and “allows us to understand racism as a practice not restricted to ‘bad people’ (Claudia Rankine).
  • The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colourblindness by Michelle Alexander
    • The New Jim Crow is a stunning account of the rebirth of a caste-like system in the United States, one that has resulted in millions of African Americans locked behind bars and then relegated to a permanent second-class status—denied the very rights supposedly won in the Civil Rights Movement.
  • White Rage: The Unspoken Truth Of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson
    • Anderson pulls back the veil that has long covered actions made in the name of protecting democracy, fiscal responsibility, or protection against fraud, rendering visible the long lineage of white rage. Compelling and dramatic in the unimpeachable history it relates, White Rage will add an important new dimension to the national conversation about race in America.
  • The Skin We’re In by Desmond Cole
    • Month-by-month, Cole creates a comprehensive picture of entrenched, systemic inequality. Urgent, controversial, and unsparingly honest, The Skin We’re In is destined to become a vital text for anti-racist and social justice movements in Canada, as well as a potent antidote to the all-too-present complacency of many white Canadians.
  • Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present by Robyn Maynard 
    • Delving behind Canada’s veneer of multiculturalism and tolerance, Policing Black Lives traces the violent realities of anti-blackness from the slave ships to prisons, classrooms, and beyond. Robyn Maynard provides listeners with the first comprehensive account of nearly 400 years of state-sanctioned surveillance, criminalization, and punishment of black lives in Canada.
  • 21 Things You Didn’t Know About the Indian Act by Bob Joseph
    • Based on a viral article, 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act is the essential guide to understanding the legal document and its repercussion on generations of Indigenous peoples, written by a leading cultural sensitivity trainer.
  • Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death and Hard Truths in a Northern City by Tanya Talaga 
    • Using a sweeping narrative focusing on the lives of the students, award-winning investigative journalist Tanya Talaga delves into the history of this small northern city that has come to manifest Canada’s long struggle with human rights violations against Indigenous communities.
  • The Inconvenient Indian: A curious Account of Native People in North America byThomas King 
    • The Inconvenient Indian is at once a “history” and the complete subversion of a history—in short, a critical and personal meditation that the remarkable Thomas King has conducted over the past 50 years about what it means to be “Indian” in North America.
  • In My Own Moccasins by Helen Knott
    • In My Own Moccasins is an unflinching account of addiction, intergenerational trauma, and the wounds brought on by sexual violence. It is also the story of sisterhood, the power of ceremony, the love of family, and the possibility of redemption. With gripping moments of withdrawal, times of spiritual awareness, and historical insights going back to the signing of Treaty 8 by her great-great grandfather, Chief Bigfoot, her journey exposes the legacy of colonialism, while reclaiming her spirit.
  • Toss Under Midnight Sun by Paul Seesequasis
    • A revelatory portrait of eight Indigenous communities from across North America, shown through never-before-published archival photographs.
  • 31 Children’s books to support conversations on race, racism and resistance

LISTEN:

Podcasts:

  • Culture Clinic by Saskatoon Open Door Society
    • Listen to hosts Anita Ogurlu and Michael Afenfia share stories that will inspire, teach and strengthen the bonds of friendship between newcomers and Canadians.
  • Colour Code by The Globe and Mail
    • If there’s one thing Canadians avoid, it’s talking about race. This podcast is here to change that. Join hosts  Denise Balkissoon and Hannah Sung for a new conversation on race in Canada. We won’t have all the answers but we do ask bold questions.
  • 1619 by The New York Times
    • In August of 1619, a ship carrying more than 20 enslaved Africans arrived in the English Colony of Virgina. America was not yet America, but this was the moment it began. No aspect of the country that would be formed here has been untouched by the 250 years of slavery that followed. On the 400th anniversary of this fateful moment, it is time to tell the story.
  • About Race with Reni Eddo-Lodge
    • From the author behind the bestselling Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race comes a podcast that takes the conversation a step further. Featuring key voices from the last few decades of anti-race activism, About Race with Reni Eddo-Lodge looks at the recent history that lead to the politics of today.
  • Code Switch by NPR
    • What’s CODE SWITCH? It’s the fearless conversations about race that you’ve been waiting for! Hosted by journalists of color, our podcast tackles the subject of race head-on. We explore how it impacts every part of society – from politics and pop culture to history, sports, and everything in between. This podcast makes ALL OF US part of the conversation – because we’re all part of the story.
  • Intersectionality Matters! Hosted by Kimberlé Crenshaw
    • Intersectionality Matters! Is a podcast hosted by Kimberlé Crenshaw, An American civil rights advocate and a leading scholar of critical race theory.
  • Scene on Radio (Season 2: Seeing White)
    • Just what is going on with white people? Police shootings of unarmed African Americans. Acts of domestic terrorism by white supremacists. The renewed embrace of raw, undisguised white-identity politics. Unending racial inequity in schools, housing, criminal justice, and hiring. Some of this feels new, but in truth it’s an old story. Why? Where did the notion of “whiteness” come from? What does it mean? What is whiteness for? Scene on Radio host and producer John Biewen took a deep dive into these questions, along with an array of leading scholars and regular guest Dr. Chenjerai Kumanyika, in this fourteen-part documentary series, released between February and August 2017. The series editor is Loretta Williams.
  • Coffee With My Ma (Host Kaniehtiio Horn)
    • My radical activist mother Kahentinetha Horn tells me stories of her very long adventurous life, always with the sense of humour that carried herthrough.
  • Missing and Murdered (CBC)
    • Sparked by a chilling tip, season one is an eight-part podcast investigation that unearths new information and potential suspects in the cold case of a young Indigenous woman murdered in British Columbia in 1989. 
  • Secret Life of Canada (Co-hosts Falen Johnson and Leah Simone Bowen)
    • The Secret Life of Canada is a history Podcast about the country you know and the stories you don’t.
  • Red Man Laughing season 5 (Created, written, and hosted by Anishinaabe comedian Ryan McMahon)
    • An entire season dedicated to conversations, explorations, and investigations into reconciliation.
  • The Truth Sharing Podcasts (Eagle Vision)
    • The Truth Sharing Podcasts is a project inspired by the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, that gives life to the truth and creates a living legacy of commemoration. This series of podcasts visited five Canadian communities to seek out and give voice to those who have experienced loss, examine the ways in which those affected are trying to heal, and shine a light on those trying to bring about positive change.⁣⁣

WATCH:

National Film Board of Canada

  • A series of videos and documentaries on anti-racism

ACT:

Ways You Can Help:

https://blacklivesmatters.carrd.co/

  • Includes who to donate too, petitions to sign, and link to #BlackLivesMatterCanada

Donate:

  • George Floyd Memorial Fund
    • This fund is established to cover funeral and burial expenses, mental and grief counseling, lodging and travel for all court proceedings, and to assist our family in the days to come as we continue to seek justice for George.  A portion of these funds will also go to the Estate of George Floyd for the benefit and care of his children and their educational fund.
  • Minnesota Freedom Fund
    • The Minnesota Freedom Fund pays criminal bail and immigration bond for those who cannot afford to as we seek to end discriminatory, coercive, and oppressive jailing.
  • Federation of Black Canadians
    • The Federation of Black Canadians advances the social, economic, political and cultural interests of Canadians of African descent.
  • Black Women in Motion
    • Black Women in Motion is a Toronto-based, youth-led organization that empowers and supports the advancement of black womxn and survivors of sexual violence.
  • Black Health Alliance
    • The Black Health Alliance is a community-led registered charity working to improve the health and well-being of Black communities in Canada.
  • Black Visions Collective
    • Black Visions Collective envisions a world in which ALL Black Lives Matter. We use the guidance and brilliance of our ancestors as well as the teachings of our own experiences to pursue our commitment to dismantling systems of oppression and violence. We are determined in our pursuit of dignity and equity for all. 
  • Campaign Zero
    • Funds donated to Campaign Zero support the analysis of policing practices across the country, research to identify effective solutions to end police violence, technical assistance to organizers leading police accountability campaigns and the development of model legislation and advocacy to end police violence nationwide. 
  • Unicorn Riot
    • Unicorn Riot is a decentralized, educational 501(c)(3) non-profit media organization of artists and journalists. Our work is dedicated to exposing root causes of dynamic social and environmental issues through amplifying stories and exploring sustainable alternatives in today’s globalized world.
  • Know Your Rights Camp
    • Their mission is to advance the liberation and well-being of Black and Brown communities through education, self-empowerment, mass-mobilization and the creation of new systems that elevate the next generation of change leaders.

 

The Power of Believing The Stories of Survivors

During our research work, we traveled across the province of Saskatchewan and listened to many survivors’ share the reality of their experiences with sexual violence.

One of the recurring themes in our conversations was that many survivors never told anyone about their experience for fear of not being believed. They shared with us that it was one of the main reasons that they didn’t report it or tell a family member or friend what had happened to them. 

Right now, I want you to reflect upon a time in your life when you went through something that was really difficult. Imagine if you didn’t have anyone to share that experience with? Or even worse, the person you told didn’t believe that it happened to you? 

Many survivors of sexual violence are denied the truth about their experience. 

For those of us who have not had a direct experience with sexual violence, it’s hard to comprehend how this could happen to someone. Often, this can lead to developing a stigma or bias about the reality of sexual violence, because we haven’t learned how to support someone through a traumatic experience. 

The thought of sexual violence is fearful in itself so it’s much easier for us to avoid having conversations about it, to ignore the reality that someone we love has experienced it, or to pretend that it isn’t happening at all. 

But it is happening. 

And when we stay silent, we are allowing the stories of survivors’ to remain silent too. 

So now, it is our time to stand with survivors. To be courageous with them in the face of what feels like the unimaginable, because when we do, something powerful happens. 

We raise the voices of those who have long been silenced and we remind them that their power has always been theirs to hold even in the moments when it feels like it has been completely taken away. 

We validate the truth about their experiences and we let them know that it was never their fault, that they are loved, that they are worthy, and that despite it all, they have survived. 

Right now, imagine that the survivor you have chosen to stand with is your mother, your father, your daughter, your son, your sister, your brother, your partner, or your best friend. 

Imagine that they are standing in front of you and you are looking in their eyes and you say, “I believe you.” 

You have the power to change the story about sexual violence by saying those three words. 

Will you?

Here’s how you can create a safe space for a survivor to share their story: http://sassk.ca/how-to-respond-to-a-sexual-assault-disclosure/

Why Survivors’ Stories Aren’t Getting The Attention They Deserve

We’ve heard this story over and over again.

A survivor speaks out about their experience with sexual assault or abuse and isn’t believed. 

They aren’t believed by their family or friends.
They aren’t believed by the community they live in.
They aren’t believed by law enforcement.
They aren’t believed by medical professionals. 

There is a long line of disbelief that is often attached to a survivor’s story. 

What we’ve learned from our research is that it’s not that survivors’ stories aren’t being told, it’s that when they are told, a blanket of disbelief is thrown over them in efforts to cover up the truth and keep the survivor’s experience hidden, silent, and non-existent. 

This blanket of disbelief is made up of barriers. Barriers are people, places, systems, and environments that either indirectly or directly affect the validity of the survivors’ experience. 

It takes what is already a traumatizing experience and layers on even more trauma that comes along with the grief, shame, and guilt many survivors carry with them because they are denied the support they need to heal themselves from a sexual assault or abuse incident. 

Many of these barriers are deeply rooted in systems and institutions that work against individuals who don’t have access to safe and inclusive spaces that are able to provide them with trauma-informed care. 

Eliminating these barriers will take a great deal of change. The kind of change that can only be made by large groups of people and communities coming together to demand that action be taken on what we know isn’t working and hasn’t been working for a very long time. 

When we think about ending sexual violence, it feels as though it has become such an overwhelming and at times impossible challenge. Survivors, advocates, and front-line workers are exhausted from carrying the weight of an issue that is often dismissed, ignored, and not believed. 

That is why it is so important for us on the sidelines to step in, to help out, and to contribute. 

One of the main barriers that survivors experience is a lack of access to free or affordable counselling that is provided by sexual assault centres or multi-service organizations that offer sexual-violence related counselling. 

Many of these organizations in Saskatchewan are currently experiencing waitlists that are up to 6 months long due to a lack of funding that would provide the resources needed to keep up with the demand for sexual violence counselling in our province. 

The simplest contribution you can make right now is to donate to one of these organizations or volunteer your time to help out with crisis call lines. 

Out of all the barriers that exist, one of the most significant is not having a safe space to share stories about sexual assault and abuse with someone that will believe the survivor. 

By giving back to the organizations that provide safe spaces for survivors, we can all do our part in changing the story about sexual violence and help raise the voices of survivors who have been denied the truth. 
Here’s a list of organizations to donate to or volunteer for across Saskatchewan:

For more information about the barriers that exist for survivors, read our research here: http://sassk.ca/

No Story Left Untold: A Sexual Assault Awareness Campaign Sharing Voices, Stories, Insights, and Actions from the Front-Lines.

This week is Sexual Assault Awareness Week. 

A week dedicated to raising awareness for sexual violence through public education recognized and proclaimed by the Ministry of Justice. 

This year’s theme, “No Story Left Untold” focuses on sharing voices, stories, insights, and actions from the front-lines. 

Everything that will be shared with you throughout the week is a reflection of the work captured in the research report released on April 29 in partnership with SASS, CUISR, and FSIN.  

A focal point of the research was the stories shared from survivors across Saskatchewan that shed light on the reality of their experiences with sexual violence. 

Over the course of this week, through the theme “No Story Left Untold”, we will share voices of survivors, speak to the importance of believing their stories and advocate for the removal of barriers that limit stories from being told. 

It is our hope, that raising awareness for sexual violence through survivor stories, will help you better understand the complexities of sexual assault and abuse by showing you that survivors are people like you. Although their experiences may be different than yours, we have all gone through something in our lives that has been difficult or devastating. 

Speaking up for and taking action against sexual violence is not an easy thing to do. It is much easier to pretend that it’s not happening and avoid having the uncomfortable conversations and interactions with others about sexual violence. 

The truth is, we really don’t want people to be in pain, but we spend a lot of time keeping people in painful circumstances and situations because we think we can’t do anything about it. 

But we can. 

The first step is having the courage to say, “I am willing to help and I am willing to believe.” 

The second step is having the courage to do something about it, in whatever way you can. 

Throughout this week, we will be sharing what we have learned through our research with you in hopes that it will inspire you to move, to take action, and to call for change.

Together, we can make a difference in the lives of those who have experienced sexual violence. 

Please join us in spreading the message of #nostoryleftuntold from May 11-15 to stand with the voices of survivors and take action to help change the story about sexual violence. 

Government of Saskatchewan proclaims Sexual Assault Awareness Week

Proclamation Certificate

SEXUAL VIOLENCE IN SASKATCHEWAN: VOICES, STORIES, INSIGHTS, AND ACTIONS FROM THE FRONT LINES

Three years ago, we partnered with the Community-Institute for Social Research to conduct an extensive study of sexual violence in Saskatchewan. On April 29, 2020 the report, Sexual Violence in Saskatchewan: Voices, Stories, Insights, and Actions from the Front Lines, was released to the public in collaboration with the Community-University Institute for Social Research at the University of Saskatchewan, Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Women’s Secretariat, and the Saskatchewan First Nation Women’s Commission.

The research aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of sexual violence in our province through individual esperiences and an examination of the strengths, gaps, and barriers in services. We thank all those who participated in this study for their strength, resilience, compassion, and determination for change. 

Below is an overview of some of the key findings from the report including who is being assaulted, who they perpetrators are, and barriers that exist for reporting and support: 

Who is being assaulted?

Statistics Canada states that one in three women and one in six men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. However, Saskatchewan currently has one of the highest rates of sexual violence across the country. Our research findings reinforce that women are more likely to experience sexual violence (88.35%) and suggest that the majority of assaualts occurred between the ages of 13 and 23. 

Populations including Indigenous youth, 2SLGBTQ+ individuals, and those living in rural and remote communities are significantly more vulnerable to sexual victimization.

Who are the perpetrators?

Survivors under the age of 18 years were most likely to be assaulted by someone they knew such as a family member, an acquaintance, or a friend. These assaults happened most frequently in their homes and schools.

Adults reported being assaulted most often by intimate partners, acquaintances, and intimate strangers. 

Reporting and Supports

Over 70% of participants told someone about the assault, however, only 23% reported to police. Instead, survivors sought support primarily from friends, family members, and counsellors. If a disclosure was not made within three days following the assault, survivors often did not disclose for at least two years.

The reasons given for not formally reporting to police or RCMP included:

  • fear of not being believed 
  • fear of being blamed for the assault, shame and embarrassment
  • fear of retaliation from perpetrator or perpetrator’s network
  • anonymity concerns 
  • lack of understanding that the violations were crimes
  • lack of trust of law enforcement’s ability to handle sexual assault cases
  • fear of the criminal court process

Survivors were most satisfied recieving support from sexual assault and mental health counsellors and were least satisfied following experiences with police and the justice system. 

Survivors also identified various barriers to accessing services including:

  • anonymity concerns 
  • previous negative experiences with service providers
  • lack of transportation 
  • poverty 
  • shame and being blamed for the assault
  • homophobia and lack of inclusive services
  • lack of support from friends and family
  • lack of services for minors and youth
  • lack of Indigenous services
  • internalized beliefs
  • mental illness
  • being told that the assault was not legitimate
  • fear of retaliation
  • limited operating hours for services

If you or someone you know is in need of support, visit our website to find counselling and support services in your community. 

Press Release

Executive Summary

Full Report

*This study has been funded by the Women and Gender Equality Canada’s Women’s Program.

3 Short Videos From The Holistic Psychologist That Will Help You Heal At Home

As we transition into the new normal of staying at home during this time of global crisis, we are also being given an opportunity to practice new ways of healing.

We know there are many of you out there who are feeling unsure of how to heal without the regular support of counseling services or group programs as many have had to close their doors or limit their availability during this time.

If you are seeking alternative ways to heal at home, here are three different videos from The Holistic Psychologist to help you begin or continue your self-healing journey.

  1. 3 Important Tools For Healing

In this video, Dr. Nicole LePera shares three tools for healing that focus on observing your thoughts, making intentional choices, and developing a consistent practice.

In this video, Dr. Nicole LePera reminds us that our emotions are a mind and body experience that are valid and offers three practices that will help you move through emotional triggers.

In this video, Dr. Nicole LePera talks about the Vagus nerve that controls your nervous system and how you can develop a practice that helps you shift out of a constant state of stress and into a state of resting and healing.

To learn more about self-healing practices, subscribe to The Holistic Psychologist on YouTube or follow her on Instagram @the.holistic.psycholigist.

Remember: Wherever you are and whatever you’re feeling, know that you are not alone.