SSP's Letter to Mayor and Council
Mayor Lisa Helps & Members of City Council
City of Victoria
1 Centennial Square
Victoria, BC V8W 1P6
April 7, 2021
Dear Mayor and Council;
RE: Addressing Rape Culture and the Need for Resources
We wish so very much that we could be there in person, addressing you directly; but, given our current circumstances and safety concerns requiring our absolute anonymity, that is far from possible.
We must first address the topic of rape culture. We have spent the better part of two decades as youths and adults assessing the risks of every single situation at every hour of day. Don’t walk alone at night. Don’t wear headphones while you walk or run. Don’t wear your hair in a pony tail. Don’t wear that. Don’t get an apartment on the first floor. Don’t drink too much. Don’t leave your drink unattended. Carry keys between your fingers in case you need to use them. The list is extensive. The responsibility of avoiding an assault rests solely on our shoulders. We are taught that if we do not take these measures, we are partially to blame for our assault and it prevents us from stepping forward. You may hear from our peers that the line of questioning by the police and in the courts reiterates this rhetoric and divides the accountability to the point that it is a system that revictimizes each and every time. Rape culture is ingrained in our society.
As the co-founder of SSP, I would like to take this opportunity to address why we feel the need for services like ours to exist. Our origins began in an apartment in James Bay where several girlfriends were getting ready for a night out at one of the many bars and clubs downtown. Over a few glasses of wine and laughs and experiences shared, one of our group shared a sexual assault that had occurred a few years earlier. While the group offered immediate sympathy, all I could offer was a tearful apology to a dear friend. You see, the man who had assaulted her had raped me in my own home some years before. I didn’t speak out. I didn’t seek help. I blamed myself for having too much alcohol and not saying NO enough times and not kicking and not screaming. I blamed myself because I had limited resources available in my teens and twenties that taught me about consent, and I had no idea where to turn, other than the police. I could have prevented her assault but I didn’t know how. We stayed in that apartment for the next several hours and shared our stories: between four women we had a combined twelve instances of sexualized violence.
A few years later, in early 2020, while we were learning to adapt to a new world of connecting virtually to one another, a shift in social culture developed with more people speaking openly about their struggles with loneliness, depression and trauma, and along with it, experiences with sexualized and domestic violence. In fact, you may recall the many viral videos that taught us to tuck our thumb to our palm and wrap our fingers around it as a signal for help. We saw comments from survivors of domestic violence that stated quite simple “I wish this was around when I needed it”.
A couple of months later, a group formed to bring attention to historical and on-going sexualized violence in the tattoo industry in our very city. As the survivors banded together to give space to and amplify the voices of many, apologists and enablers hunted them down, harassed them at their places of work and sought to silence them. Often, the conversations that followed continued with “why didn’t they report it?”, and we delved further into discussions around the many failures and distrust of the judicial system itself – peeling back the layers to an unjust system for survivors. Several weeks later, charges were finally laid against one man.
This sparked something for us. A movement. As each survivor stepped forward and said “me too”, hundreds of community members encouraged them with three simple words:
“WE BELIEVE YOU”.
As we began to work through the early stages of SSP, we tried to piece together what we know about the system at the local level: what services are available, what is the process, where do we go for this, who do we turn to for that. In the aftermath of an incident, a lack of readily available information can create significant stress and overwhelming despair at a time of considerable anguish, confusion and trauma. We know the law; we have studied it, we have participated in it and we have witnessed its function in society. Shockingly, there is no one source of information, and not one of the processes we have engaged in as individuals or as professionals has been consistent with another. As a small group of volunteers, with regular 9-5’s, families and responsibilities, we have amassed a volume of information about how the system should work, and how it is really working in your jurisdiction.
For the moment, we will refrain from speaking in statistical data, those are readily available and we have no doubt that our peers will speak to same in their address to you. Here is what we have learned about the local system:
Forensic nurse examinations are provided by one hospital in the outskirts of Victoria. It is a $30 cab ride in either direction from the city core; many of us did not know this service existed but they are invaluable. The physical location to access such service is beyond your jurisdiction.
Anonymous Third-Party Reporting is available for those wishing to remain anonymous, even to police. This service, provided by Victoria Sexual Assault Centre, has a current waitlist of up to 6 weeks for the first appointment with a qualified reporting officer. When a survivor feels safe and ready to report, a wait of this magnitude is disheartening and discouraging.
The Victoria Police Department has a total of 6 full-time Special Victim Unit staff members that are tasked with investigating and completing cases. While they advise that they are able to pull resources from other departments when necessary, this staffing level tasked with directly facilitating investigations of a sensitive nature, is not only inadequate to support even the current and small percentage of survivors that are reporting directly to police, but it requires a specialized skillset of empathy and trauma-informed care that many other officers do not possess.
On the judicial process itself, Island wide:
Survivors are not updated on the court appearances of the accused. In fact, several survivors have only learned of court appearances via our page – Victims Services, Crown Counsel, Court Service Coordinators are not updating survivors. We provide that.
Some survivors meet Crown Counsel for the very first time on the day of trial. They have not been prepared, they have not received support, they are lost in the system with no personal legal support system that explains the process, the meaning of legal terms or court expectations and likelihood of conviction etc. We provide that.
Survivors are waiting several months for access to Victim Services or counselling. Survivors wait even longer for application approvals under the Crime Victim Assistance Program (CVAP) for on-going funds and resources to the extent that the approvals are being received after court has completed. We connect survivors with our trusted counselling and support services wherever possible.
This is not a call for more law enforcement, this is a call for more resources. We do not believe the current system has any capacity to support the volume of cases that are in existence. Our team alone receives dozens of messages of requests for assistance and peer support, and heartbreaking stories from survivors each and every day. Some do not know where to turn; others are seeking an ear to listen; and more often than not, many connect to warn the community of a perpetrator to protect others from the very same harm they endured. Many have no desire to engage in a long and emotionally draining legal battle before the courts. Many are disheartened by the seriously limited number of cases brought to justice. We continue to be dismayed and outraged at the number of perpetrators that walk free.
Despite Councillor Andrew’s characterization of “justice by mob” and the reminder that we should not have to turn to social media to seek justice, respectfully, we wish we did not need to exist. Yet, we have been able to provide a service to many that you simply cannot. The bandwidth, funding, capabilities and urgency in creating such a space would have been caught up in bureaucracy and would not have been practicable, but we hope that you can learn from our experiences. In the last several months, something powerful has happened: Survivors are connecting with other survivors; Survivors are feeling inspired to speak out; Survivors are finding community; Survivors are given safety; Survivors are receiving support; Survivors are discovering resources; Survivors are being believed.
The community is listening; we have their attention. We are finally engaging in some of the most important discussions around practicing and participating in a consent culture, promoting allyship and the prevention of sexualized violence, and acknowledging the prevalence in each and every level of our community. We are recruiting allies and teaching others how to help us navigate a new normal where survivors are believed and supported, and where they are given a safe space to speak their truth. The stories are harrowing. It causes us immense sorrow each and every time we open our inbox to learn of another survivor, just like us. There are so many just like us.
While we are enormously proud of our work, it comes with great personal sacrifice. We put our lives and the lives of our families at risk each and every day. We are publicly naming dangerous and powerful members of the community who may very well cause us harm. We receive hate mail, threats to our lives, vitriol and other messages of an abusive nature which we intended to share those with you to highlight the risk; instead, we share this (with consent):
“Thank you for this page. You have made me realize that I have been holding on to my trauma alone for all these years. I am not alone!”
“Seeing all of these stories has inspired me to share mine and speak out.”
“I just want you to know that you have given me the space to heal. I reported my abuser yesterday, because of your page.”
“SSP has given me validation. I am finally believed. I had no idea how much those words meant to me, even from total strangers it means more than you’ll ever know.”
“I wish this platform existed when I was younger. You are saving lives”
“Thank you. I have learned so much in the last few weeks that I didn’t really think about as a man, but my eyes are open and you are appreciated.”
Many may not understand or agree with what we do, we are not here to change their minds.
We are here because survivors need us.
We are encouraged by the proposal put forward by Councillors Potts and Loveday in 2019, in a call to action to local nightlife venues in participating in and creating safety and awareness a preventative measure. This is a tremendous first step, and one that we believe would have saved many survivors from traumatic experiences if implemented when proposed. Please take this as an opportunity to learn from our peers, and our experiences. The lack of information and the limitation of resources has been failing our ability to seek justice, our ability to feel safe, and our ability to heal for far too long. We implore you to help us. We implore you to listen.
Survivor Stories Project