International Women’s Day

Honouring the Courage and Activism of Sexual Assault and Abuse Survivors and Advocates

International Women’s Day came out of the activism and mobilization of women workers fighting to improve women’s rights and to create safety and autonomy for all women.  Today Avalon Centre celebrates the continuation of this movement and how survivors of sexualized violence and abuse are breaking barriers and silence.

Over 160 young women surviving abuse at the hands of Dr. Larry Nasar testified in court and the judge did not blame them. This judge, the honourable Rosemarie Aquilina, supported the survivors and their families in their access to justice. Her consideration has the potential to build healing connections and solidarity between survivors, families, young women, and the justice system. These powerful acts of testimony and sentencing set a precedent connecting more than 160 families, at least 500 people, impacted by one predator. The scale of the violence impacting victims shows the enabled monstrosity of systemic silence as well as the tolerated entitlement of individual predators. What will emerge, as the headlines fade, is the shuffling of accountability: superficial changes in institutional leadership in the sport associations, scripted commitments to screening and training, and the grim tendency to return to business as usual. Time is up.

For more that 150 years, there has been a national project of invasion resulting in acts of destruction targeted at indigenous communities – through both individual and collective violation. The results of decades of grassroots struggle, as well as ongoing demands for transparency and sexual justice, give us a clearer picture of how the systemic avoidance of accountability operates here in Mi’kma’ki and across Turtle Island. The formation of Equity Watch[1] in Halifax is one example of how we can take action and document commonplace injustice and colonial corruption. Time is up.

At Avalon Sexual Assault Centre, we develop and apply a range of responses to sexualized violence. We know adequate therapeutic counselling and advocacy services are but one part of a move towards justice. These in-demand services operate with a focus on the individual who has been victimized by sexualized violence and stigma. Judge Aquilina addressed the ongoing needs of survivors with affirmation and dignity throughout their process of seeking justice in the courts. This caring welcome is unfortunately rare, as, in addition to direct assault, survivors often face legal bureaucracies and the betrayal of re-traumatization from our families, partners, health care providers, coaches, teachers, bosses, lawyers, coworkers, party members, leaders, and officers who claim to care for our health, our well-being, and to serve and protect us. Time is up.

Betrayal transforms our untrustworthy ‘unfounded’ reality into “allegations” and precariously funded “violence prevention pilot programs” – never ceasing to test us for dishonesty while presumed “good guys” trusted with providing public safety, healthcare, mentorship or intimate care, emerge as perpetrators themselves. How can a minister of sport be responsible for standards and procedures which could ensure protection of athletes from institutionalized sexualized violence as he is telling women advocating for health care that their valid demands sound like the unimaginable accountably of asking a man “When did you stop beating your wife?”?[2] How can a military or police security apparatus that sexually violates its own members by the hundreds be a source of legitimacy or reassurance in domestic or in international interventions?[3][4] Why are political leaders telling us to wait or reframe this as “not a political issue?” Why are musicians who have been named as perpetual abusers of young women fans belittling their actions as “rock and roll cliches”? Time is up and we are no longer willing to tolerate violence against cis women, non-binary, and trans people of all genders. People of all races.

Those impacted by harassment and sexualized violence hold on to some hope and often hope feels impossible. When we see this hope, we point it out. We hold space for it, as well as the grief and anger. On International Women’s Day we pay tribute to all women and people of all genders who take that hope and turn it into action and systemic and social change.

On March 2, 2018, Avalon Centre hosted workshops on leadership and action in addressing gender-based violence at the Mount Saint Vincent University Girls Conference.  We held space for two groups of 35 young women to explore their leadership skills, and the issues they want to see changed in our society, culture, and world.  They identified important issues, such as gun violence, climate change, and racism. Notably, these groups of young women have already experienced the issues that have led to sexual justice movements, and are working towards a world free of misogyny and sexualized violence.  They are saying “Times Up” and “Me Too” and this gives us hope.  Avalon’s Feminist Speaking tour is engaging youth and young adults to explore consent and challenge rape culture.

As a non-profit that provides individual and group counselling, Avalon also trains organizations and individuals to prepare and respond to incidents of sexual violence and harassment. We work together to transform institutional cultures to provide support and stop silencing survivors. The suggestion that workshops, training, or policy revision, along with accessible therapy, is enough to address what abusers with power are doing to the most vulnerable people in our communities is terrifying. We demand tangible justice. We invite cis women, trans people of all genders, and non-binary survivors to access our services. Non-offending parents can be involved in our survivor support strategies and we work with all genders in our Community/Legal Education and Training Program and the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) Program.

At Avalon we have a counselling team, Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners community educators and professional trainers, and a sexual assault navigator role, and we work with a range of community advocacy groups addressing the intersections of sexualized violence and other forms of oppression. These options, along with a growing sexual justice movement supported by young women, trans, and non-binary changemakers, are some successes to build on. With further support and involvement, we can empty the seats of power occupied by predators and their sympathizers. We will move forward to justice, healing, and affirmation when together we say, Start By Believing! Times Up! No More!

[1] Fighting for equity in the workplace

[2] Sport Minister Kent Hehr resigns from Trudeau cabinet amid sexual harassment allegations

[3] Former RCMP doctor declines interview as sexual assault allegations reach 40

[4] RCMP’s recent history of harassment, abuse and discrimination