The B.C. government kicked off International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on Nov. 25 with a message: “Stopping gender-based violence, domestic violence and sexual violence is everyone’s business. If you see something is wrong, if you hear something is wrong, speak up.
“Everyone deserves to feel safe in our province.”
Grace Lore, parliamentary secretary for gender equity, followed that up with action that is helping organizations such as the Alberni Community and Women’s Services Society (ACAWS) battle gender-based violence in community.
In 2020 ACAWS received funding to create a sexual assault response team, which helps women who have been assaulted get help. They work with forensic nurses at West Coast General Hospital, and will also help women who have not reported their assaults.
The sexual assault response team received funding from the initial $20 million released to address gender-based violence in the province.
“With our program we’re able to offer wrap-around services in less than 24 hours,” said coordinator Celine Sauve.
“This is a critical example of what that (provincial) funding did,” Lore said, adding that it is critical to have support for survivors after an assault when and where they need it.
The provincial government has developed a multi-year action plan to address gender-based violence by the end of 2022. Focused engagement is planned for the beginning of the new year. The multi-year, cross-sector plan is designed to build on initiatives already underway, such as the ACAWS sexual assault response team.
Lore could not commit to new funding for ACAWS’ program, but said provincial support is coming. “This was a sector of services that were cut and then neglected for a long time,” she said. “This $20 million (already paid) is about building and supporting and protecting services that were for a long time abandoned.”
Getting programs such as ACAWS’ response team off the ground was the first focus, and funding them for longer than a one-year pilot project was equally vital, Lore added. “We recognize the ongoing need.”
Sauve said community response from volunteers was swift: she is already training the second group of volunteers, mostly from a grassroots group that began on the west coast. “They’re looking for education right now,” Sauve said.
The program has only been operating for four months and already they have doubled the number of calls they have attended. “We just got our 18th call. In the last year we had nine calls.”
The milestone comes near the beginning of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, a global campaign that began Nov. 25 with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. The campaign ends Dec. 10, which is World Human Rights Day.
To mark the 16 Days of Activism, ACAWS affixes purple ribbons in a tree outside its office on Third Avenue—each one signifying a reported incidence of domestic violence against youth or women in the Alberni Valley over the past year.
If you find yourself in an unsafe situation, there are people you can call for help. If in immediate danger, call 911. Port Alberni Transition House—250-724-2223 or text 250-206-1011. To reach someone from the Sexual Assault Response Program, which is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, call 250-731-5284.