Purple ribbons aim to bring awareness

Alberni's ACAWS recognizes 16 Days of Activism with purple ribbon campaign on Stamp Avenue

Alberni Community And Womens Services Society (ACAWS) staff and volunteers gather purple ribbons to put them on Stamp Avenue last week to show the number of domestic violence calls the RCMP have answered between Oct 2015–16.

ELENA RARDON

ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS

Purple ribbons line the roadside along Stamp Avenue, marking the start of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. The number of purple ribbons corresponds to the number of gender-based acts of domestic violence in Port Alberni that RCMP responded to between Nov. 1, 2015 and Nov. 1, 2016.

This year, there will be 219 ribbons, which is a significant increase from the 118 ribbons of last year.

“That’s significant,” said Marla Kjernsted, an Alberni Community & Women’s Services Society (ACAWS) youth support worker, of the number. “It tells me we’re not doing enough to keep things peaceful.”

Kjernsted was just one of the ACAWS volunteers putting up purple ribbons on Thursday night. She chose to see the act as a momentary beacon.

“I think it’s amazing when women come together like this,” she said.

The 16 Days of Activism is an international campaign that began on Nov. 25, the International Day Against Violence Against Women, and ends on Dec. 10, International Human Rights Day. The idea is to symbolically link human rights and women’s rights.

ACAWS has been working in Port Alberni for 37 years, and they have a long history of participating in the 16 Days of Activism. Port Alberni has put up purple ribbons for a few years, but seeing the numbers increase so dramatically in one year is sobering.

“ACAWS has a long history of being active against gender violence,” said Ellen Frood, the executive director. “There are so many statistics we have to pay attention to.”

Numbers, for example, like the fact that one in three women will experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime-—most likely from an intimate partner, according to a report from the World Health Organization. Or a more recent report from Canada’s chief public health officer, which says that in 2014 almost 58,000 girls and women were victims of family violence.

As Frood pointed out, Port Alberni has the highest rate of child poverty in the province. “Poverty and domestic violence go hand in hand,” she said. “Not to mention homelessness.”

“It’s really serious. We can choose to see it in a positive way, in that more people are coming forward,” Kjernsted said. “That being said, it’s still a huge number.”

ACAWS is currently raising money to put together a video called “Witness.” The video is aimed at victims of domestic violence who are anxious about reporting their assault. It’s an informational video meant to help demystify the process of giving evidence in court.

“People don’t understand the system, and are kind of afraid of it,” said Frood. “This is using everyday language, and we’re making it widely available.”

The script of the story follows one character overcoming her fear of reporting her assault. A three-minute promo is currently available to watch on YouTube. ACAWS is approximately halfway to their goal for raising money, thanks in part to a donation from the Lions Auction this weekend.

Kjernisted suggested a few ways that people can make a difference in their community when it comes to ending violence against women. “Guys can be good mentors to younger men,” she said. “We need to create a culture of consent.”

“We all have a responsibility in ending violence,” added Christine Anacleto, who provides coaching and counselling at ACAWS. “It’s not somebody else’s problem.”

“Talk to your friends,” Kjernisted said. “Talking about domestic violence will reduce the stigma. We’re part of the solution.”

Human Service Workers at North Island College will be holding a remembrance for the Polytechnique Massacre on Dec. 5 on the Port Alberni campus starting at 4 p.m. The event will feature a ceremony and candlelight walk.