Sexual Violence Against Young Women and Police Response


“[The police should] make us feel more safe and do more to make the community aware they are taking abuse seriously.” (Youth Alliance Report, p.14)

These are not my words, but I understand them.

Imagine if you filed a police report about the sexual abuse or other form(s) of sexual violence overwhelming your life and you did not receive the support you expected. Support from the men and women we are all taught to trust from the time we are small children because it is the job of the police to protect us from bad things and bad people.

A police officer once asked me why I had waited so long to file a report about the sexual abuse I had experienced in my youth. As an adult, that question shocked me and for a moment, it made me feel as if there was something wrong with me for not coming forward sooner. That question still haunts me today because I know it should never have been asked.

Imagine my sadness a few months ago when I began working to raise awareness about the Youth Alliance Report, and learned that young women in Toronto are experiencing barriers to accessing real support from the police. Young women in Toronto report feeling blamed for being victimized by sexual violence. Young women in Toronto feel re-victimized when they report experiences of sexual violence to the police. Young women in Toronto feel uncertain that they can trust the police to follow through when they report incidents of sexual violence, especially if the perpetrator is someone they know.

No young woman in Toronto – no young woman anywhere – should ever feel any of this.

The Youth Alliance is a group of five young women leaders in Toronto who came together to address policing, sexual assault, and gender-based violence against youth. The group was supported by the Toronto Police Service’s Sex Crimes Unit to review police policies and procedures from a youth perspective. The Youth Alliance also engaged in community-based research.

The end result is the Improving the System: Police Policy and Practice on Sexual Assault against Young Women, a report developed with support from METRAC (The Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children).

The report identifies strengths, challenges, and gaps in Toronto Police Service policies and procedures and proposes recommendations in five key areas of concern:

  • policy and procedures
  • youth leadership
  • training
  • communications
  • accountability

As adults, even when we have a vague understanding of our rights, the workings of the justice system, and the people in place to support and protect us, we struggle. We struggle with the trauma of having to re-tell our stories of sexual abuse and other sexual violence to multiple sources to get them to see us as credible people who have survived and deserve the benefit of justice. We struggle to understand the existing policies and practices that re-victimize rather than protect us.

Young women should never experience these struggles.

One Toronto Police Service officer who participated in the development of the report stated, “Public and/or victim feedback is the best feedback the service can receive” (Youth Alliance Report, p.13).

It is important for everyone this report reaches to read the report and give feedback.

If you have concerns about what is detailed in the Youth Alliance Report contact Toronto Police Service:

Phone: 416-808-8000
Email: William.Blair@torontopolice.on.ca
Mail: Chief William Blair, Office of the Chief of Police, Toronto Police Service, 40 College Street, Toronto, Ontario M5G 2J3

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Leaving 2011 Behind


2011 was a hard year.

We were triggered by an endless stream of situations in which survivors were blamed for their abuse. We endured as members of the media, law enforcement and the criminal justice system perpetuated myths about sexual violence. We witnessed institutional cover-ups of sexual abuse that protected the abusers while ignoring the needs of society’s most vulnerable. We were reminded that power, in all its forms, is the tool used by abusers to victimize, avoid detection, and to escape punishment.

But, we were encouraged by the countless survivors who chose to break their silence to name abusers, hold abusers accountable, and make abusers powerless.

Now we must look ahead to 2012. In the year ahead, we will continue to focus on healing. We will widen the scope of information about resources and support services available to survivors across Canada; and we will share stories from survivors about how they have coped in the aftermath of sexual abuse and sexual assault and what has helped them in their individual healing journeys.

We wish everyone the best for the New Year as we move forward together in our search for healing.

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Always remember that you may have been victimized by sexual violence, but by searching for help you have started your healing.

Survivors Guide

Penn State’s Biggest Failure


This past week we watched – with horror – as individuals attempted to use their positions of power and fame to broker deals to save their careers and reputations amidst the ruins of the lives of little boys. The sexual abuse of nine little boys was cited as the root of a scandal that has toppled the sterling reputation of Penn State in the happy valley of University Park, Pennsylvania.

We learned that for nearly a decade senior staff and university administrators at Penn State knowingly turned a blind eye to the sexual abuse of children in their athletic facilities. After receiving an eyewitness report of an attack on a 10-year-old boy, no one notified the police. Instead, the known offender was allowed to continue to run an organization that gave him unlimited access to children who became his victims.

No action was taken until 2009 when one of the victims disclosed the abuse and filed a report with police. The courage of this child led the Pennsylvania Attorney General to launch an investigation that uncovered more victims and placed a spotlight on the adults that failed to protect them – the adults that failed in their duty to report the known and suspected sexual abuse of children to the authorities.

An equally tragic aspect of this scandal has been the rallying and rioting of Penn State students in support of their “heroes”. A group of men who – through inactivity and agreed upon silence – collaborated in a cover up and enabled brutal violence against children. These students are worried about the lucrative careers that have ended in disgrace instead of the lifetime of healing ahead for each abused child. They have failed to recognize the terror these children experienced at the hands of a predator because people who had the power to keep them safe chose to stay silent.

The offender has been charged. The negligent staff and administrators at Penn State have been fired and some face criminal charges, but we know the harm to the children cannot be processed as swiftly or neatly. This investigation may be ending, but the children at the center of this case will need the support of their families and communities for years to come.

Now, in the wake of Penn State’s biggest failure, the question remains: what does it take for adults to put the welfare of children first?

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Always remember that you may have been victimized by sexual violence, but by searching for help you have started your healing.

Survivors Guide

The Collision of the Personal and the Professional


Someone once told me that at some point our personal and professional lives are bound to collide. I chose to believe that it is possible – although often times difficult – to keep the two separated. My personal and professional lives collided recently, and I am forever changed.

Last Sunday evening I was talking with a person that I have long considered a close friend. I endured the displeasure of listening to him speak words that enraged me and caused feelings of physical illness with the hope that I might be able shift his thinking. However, the impossibility of sparking any change became evident when he made statements that revealed the distance that exists between our core values.

Here is some of what he said:

  • Children are sexually abused because of flaws in their characters that are targeted by sexual predators
  • Children are sexually abused because they are not strong, grounded individuals
  • Children are sexually abused because they come from families that are not strong or stable and the parents of these children are ultimately responsible for the abuse
  • Children must bear a share of the responsibility when they are sexually abused, and that responsibility is increased when they choose not to disclose the abuse immediately
  • Studies need to be conducted to determine the “type” of child that becomes a victim of sexual abuse

The shock of these words coming from someone I held as a friend has still not worn off. No matter how much evidence I offered to counter his arguments he continued to assert his beliefs – his very dangerous beliefs. He shamelessly minimized the criminal responsibility of anyone who harms a child. As a parent, he refused to recognize the fact that any child – according to reported statistics 1 in 6 boys and 1 in 3 girls by the time they are 18 years old – could become a victim of sexual violence. Moreover, he displayed the weakness of his character when he repeatedly stated that the most vulnerable in our society should be held responsible when they are sexually abused.

Children are sexually abused because they are vulnerable. The people children trust and love abuse them. People in positions of trust, power, and authority abuse children. Family members abuse children. Family friends abuse children. Strangers abuse children. The trauma of sexual abuse has lifelong effects and sexually abused children are NEVER responsible for the abuse.

I know this because I am a sexual abuse survivor.

The person I had this conversation with did not know that I am a survivor because it is not information I often disclose in my personal life. In my personal life, I talk around the edges of sexual abuse. This collision between my personal and professional lives has made me realize that hiding behind my work while shrouding my personal life in secrecy are no longer options. I cannot truly advocate on behalf of survivors of sexual violence if I cannot be truthful about who I am in all areas of my life because I choose to do this work because I am survivor. Unfortunately, as this experience shows, a part of this work is trying to eliminate the misinformation and myths that exist about sexual abuse and sexual abuse survivors.

Because of this person’s beliefs I can no longer maintain our friendship, but I am walking away with renewed purpose and the knowledge that I am stronger without it.

T. Bennett
Founder,
Survivors Guide

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Always remember that you may have been victimized by sexual violence, but by searching for help you have started your healing.

Survivors Guide

Annual Reports of the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime


On September 19, 2011 the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, the Honourable Rob Nicholson, tabled the 2008-09 and 2009-10 annual reports of the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime.

The reports provide information about the progress and accomplishments of the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime. The Office was created in 2007 as an independent resource to ensure the federal government meets its responsibilities to victims of crime in Canada by addressing their needs, promoting their interests, and making recommendations to the federal government about issues that affect victims negatively. According to the reports, there was a continued rise for its services in the Office’s second and third year of operations.

Sue O’Sullivan, Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime stated, “The Office has made tremendous progress in the few short years since it opened its doors and I am proud to share those accomplishments with Canadians. Our dedicated staff work everyday to effect positive change for victims – whether it’s helping victims one-on-one or talking to the decision and policy makers in this country about what needs to change to make the system work for victims. I look forward to continuing this good work in collaboration with victims, the federal government, and various victim-serving organizations across Canada.”

The 2008-2009 Annual Report overviews the following issues and recommendations:

  • A Voice for Victims – working closely with victims, victim service providers and other federal government departments to push for change and to build an office where victims’ voices matter
  • Awareness and Partnership Building – reaching out to stakeholders at conferences and other forums that helped to raise further awareness of victims’ rights and concerns in Canada
  • Progress towards positive change
    1. Making offenders convicted of child sexual exploitation ineligible for accelerated parole
    2. Expanding the network of Child Advocacy Centres in Canada
    3. Notifying victims of the deportation status of offenders
    4. Making offenders accountable to harm done to victims
    5. Providing support to victims of crime through Bill C-550
  • Updates on 2007-08 recommendations

The 2009-2010 Annual Report overviews the following issues and recommendations:

  • A Voice for Victims – providing victims of crime with a voice and to ensure that the Government met its commitments to victims
  • Privacy Laws and Victim Referrals – providing an opportunity for RCMP officers to provide proactive, active and passive referrals, depending on the circumstances to victims of crime
  • Sexual Violence and Harassment in the Military – recommending the Minister of National Defence consider the unique challenges that some recruit victims face in reporting sexual violence and to ensure that existing support and services available were meeting victims’ needs
  • Missing Persons Index – recommending the Minister of Public Safety develop a Missing Persons Index (MPI) for victims to be given high priority
  • Victims of Hate Crime – recommending that the Government consider amending the Criminal Code to allow for community victim impact statements, since hate crimes attack an entire community based on a certain characteristic that ultimately define their identity as a member of a particular group

You may read the full reports on the web site for the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime:

2008-09 Annual Report

2009-10 Annual Report

If you have questions or concerns about the reports contact the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime:

Telephone (toll-free): 1-866-481-8429
TTY (Teletypewriter): 1-877-644-8385
Outside of Canada: 1-613-954-1651
Email: victimsfirst@ombudsman.gc.ca
Fax: 613-941-3498
Mail: Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, P.O. Box 55037, Ottawa, Ontario K1P 1A1

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Always remember that you may have been victimized by sexual violence, but by searching for help you have started your healing.

Survivors Guide

 

Suspected Abuse and the Duty to Report


“Be careful of Clive.”

That was the warning to a young girl from her aunt who suspected that it might be unsafe for her to spend time alone with the man who had already been sexually abusing her for months. Her aunt did not confront the man. She did not discuss her suspicions with other family members. She did not report her concerns to the police or a child protection agency. She told the young girl to be careful, but did nothing more to ensure her safety.

This person did not fulfill her duty – the duty of an adult to protect a child – and that young girl became a survivor.

In Canada, each province and territory has a Child Protection Act* because children cannot protect themselves. According to each Act, if a person has “reasonable grounds” to suspect that a child is in need of protection that person must report the suspicion and all information to the local police or child protection agency. This responsibility extends to all adults. Even if, wrongly, we choose to believe the responsibility falls more heavily on the shoulders of anyone who performs professional or official duties involving children. Even if, in some cases – because of the nature of the job – a child may feel safer disclosing abuse to professionals such as:

  • Health care professionals including doctors, nurses, dentists, psychologists, and family counselors
  • Educational professionals including teachers, school principals, guidance counselors, early childhood educators (ECE), daycare staff, and youth and recreation staff
  • Religious officials including ministers, rabbis, and other members of the clergy
  • Law enforcement professionals including peace and police officers
  • Social workers
  • Lawyers

Every person has the duty to report if he or she suspects the abuse of a child. There are no exceptions.

So, what are some of the things from which a child requires protection?

  • Neglect: the failure to provide adequate care and/or supervision
  • Emotional and Psychological Abuse: revealed in children as anxiety, depression, withdrawal, self-destructive or aggressive behaviour, and/or delayed development
  • Physical Abuse: injury inflicted by a parent/caregiver or another person; or resulting from neglect or lack of supervision
  • Sexual Abuse: when a child is sexually molested, sexually assaulted, or sexually exploited by her or his parent/caregiver or by another person; or the parent/caregiver knows that there is a risk of sexual molestation, sexual assault, or sexual exploitation and fails to protect the child

The Child Protection Act of Ontario states that if you suspect a child requires protection, to fulfill the duty to report you must make the report directly. You cannot rely on another person to report abuse on your behalf. In fact, anyone who fails to make a report is guilty of an offence.

We know that children cannot protect themselves. The key principles of each Child Protection Act – the promotion of the best interests, protection, and well-being of children – are there to remind us of this. Therefore, if you suspect abuse, fulfill your duty: report it. You may protect a child from becoming a survivor.

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* Written with excerpts from the Child and Family Services Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. C.11

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Always remember that you may have been victimized by sexual violence, but by searching for help you have started your healing.

Survivors Guide

Support for Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse


The province of Ontario has recognized the need to provide services tailored to male survivors of sexual abuse. The government’s plan includes a 2-year investment of $2.2 million to establish dedicated services for male survivors of sexual abuse.

Starting in early summer 2011, male survivors of sexual abuse will have access to an integrated network of services and support through 45 agencies across the province. The agencies will work together to provide training, public education and other professional development services to ensure male survivors of sexual abuse receive the supports they need.

These agencies will co-ordinate the delivery of specialized services for male victims including:

  • individual and group counselling
  • peer support
  • residential services
  • telephone and e-counselling

You may see the complete list of Service Providers here: http://www.attorneygeneral.jus.gov.on.ca/english/news/2011/20110413-male-bg.asp

Survivors will also have access to a new 24 hour, toll-free phone number that will provide crisis and referral services.

The government emphasized that this initiative complements a wide range of existing services that male survivors of sexual abuse can access, noting that The Men’s Project in Ottawa will receive funding to continue to work in the area of men’s services to male survivors of sexual abuse in the Cornwall and Ottawa areas.

A provincial advisory committee of experts is in place to ensure services across the province are rolled out smoothly and effectively, and are responsive to the needs of survivors. Members of the provincial advisory committee include:

  • Dr. Fred Mathews, psychologist and research and quality assurance project lead, Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth
  • Arthur Lockhart, professor of justice studies at Humber College and founder of The Gatehouse
  • Dr. Peter Jaffe, professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Western Ontario
  • A representative from Findhelp Information Services and a representative from each of the four regional partnerships
  • A member of the Office for Victims of Crime
  • A representative from the Ontario Victim Services Secretariat

If you have questions or concerns about these services for male survivors of sexual abuse, you may contact the office of the Ontario Attorney General

Toll-free: 1-800-518-7901
Toronto: 416-326-2220
Teletypewriter (TTY) toll-free: 1-877-425-0575
Teletypewriter (TTY) Toronto: 416-326-4012
Email: attorneygeneral@ontario.ca
Mail: Ministry of the Attorney General, McMurtry-Scott Building, 720 Bay Street, 11th Floor, Toronto, ON  M7A 2S9

 

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Always remember that you may have been victimized by sexual violence, but by searching for help you have started your healing.

Survivors Guide

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