337 purple ribbons flutter in the wind along Stamp Avenue, a moving reminder that gender-based violence hits close to home.
Representing reported incidents of violence against youth and women in the Valley over the past year, the number has more than tripled since 2015.
Ellen Frood, the executive director of Alberni Community and Women’s Services Society (ACAWS), believes the numbers reflect a trend in violence reporting rather than an increase in violence.
“What I’m seeing is that more people are willing to come forward and report violence to the RCMP and that means they’re being supported,” Frood said, listing a range of community services available to victims of violence.
Each year, ACAWS organizes local activism as part of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, an international campaign that starts Nov. 26 and continues to Dec. 10, Human Rights Day. Half a dozen students and instructors in the educational assistant/community support worker program at North Island College weathered wind and rain Friday morning to plant the ribbons on stakes along the boulevard.
While the campaign is global in scope, the idea of the ribbons is to remind people that gender-based violence is also a local issue that destroys families and tears at the fabric of communities, Frood said.
Kelly Johnsen, an instructor with the support worker program, said the street-level activism ties into classroom instruction around gender-based violence.
“It’s something we’ve been thinking about as a class for several weeks,” she said.
The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence have been observed for almost three decades, but they come this year with additional publicity fuelled by the #MeToo movement over the past month. Sparked by celebrity and high-profile cases of sexual harassment, the movement is helping to encourage more reporting of violence, Frood said.
“What it does, it creates another layer of awareness,” she said. “It’s a pretty brave thing to step forward and tell your story.”
A new educational video produced by ACAWS explains the judicial process and is designed to overcome some of the intimidation factor around reporting on violence. The film, Witness, will premiere this week at an invitation-only screening hosted by students in the college program. They also host a college screening and raise funds as part of their activism.