Thank you, Madam Chairwoman.
Thank you for inviting me to speak to you this afternoon.
Sexual assault in Canada is an issue of great concern to me. I hope that our government will take this opportunity to improve the lives of women.
You've received my brief, so I will get directly to the point: what I see as the core problem of responses to sexual violence, both on and off campus, because campus is a mirror of the broader society. I have a few other ideas to share on how these problems might be addressed.
The core problem is acknowledging sexual violence as a social fact. At the core of my research on both sexual and domestic violence—which routinely overlap, even on campuses—sits the disavowal of sexual violence as anything more than a few rotten apples, rather than a cultural phenomenon.
Some may elect to call this “rape culture”. I'm agnostic on this term. We can refer to it as such if that makes sense and if it's helpful, but I also recognize that this term has come to carry a great deal of political weight and has constituted its own battleground, so I am electing to talk about sexual violence as a social fact, with the proviso that what we call it is far less important than recognizing that it exists.
Recognizing sexual violence as a social fact does not mean that all men are rapists. I can't state that emphatically enough. Such a recognition acknowledges instead that we live in society that shames, blames, and dismisses survivors' experiences of sexual violence on one hand, while on the other hand tacitly or explicitly permitting and, in some cases, encouraging sexual violence.
To acknowledge that we live in a culture saturated with sexual violence today is no different from past recognitions of other social ills such as racism and homophobia. Today we can own the fact that both systemic and overt racism and homophobia have been and continue to be unfortunate features of our society, and in that admission, in naming these problems head-on, we have been and continue to be able to take steps legislatively, socially, and systematically to address these problems. However, until we own that the problem exists, there's very little we can do to address it and to meaningfully make things better for the lives of women and girls.
Sexual violence is a reality on campus. It is embedded in frosh week activities, fraternity and varsity initiations, and, sadly, sometimes even in public statements made by university leaders. Survivors of sexual violence on campus, and indeed women in general, feel the brunt of a culture of sexual violence. They have difficulty accessing services, they are disbelieved or dismissed when they speak up, and almost invariably the outcomes of formal reporting mechanisms leave them feeling unprotected and silenced.
Much of this is driven by a strong ethic of institutional risk management on the part of universities. The university, any university, does not benefit from keeping accurate records of incidences of sexual violence, from encouraging survivors to report, or—as I would argue is the most important task at hand—from implementing an aggressive sexual violence prevention strategy. To do any or all of these things is to have the institution admit that sexual violence is a reality on its campus and in its community. University leaders are loath to admit that their campuses are so-called “rape campuses”, and I use this in scare quotes because this is a term that is embraced by the student movement to express the gravity of the problems they are encountering on their campuses. The risk of liability is most easily mitigated when the problem does not exist, so it comes as no surprise that, in our research, universities routinely denied that there was a problem with sexual violence on their campuses, even as students and survivors told us exactly the opposite.
Okay, that's the problem, so what do we do? Let's say that in my perfect world, we're able to admit to sexual violence as a cultural aspect of our society that manifests on campuses. We've named the problem, so what can we do about it? How do we fix it?
Of course there's no magic bullet, but since I have the attention of some of the top decision-makers in this land, at least for the next six minutes or so, let me build on some of the work that this committee has already done and make a few suggestions. I'm particularly interested in this committee's attention to a national action plan focusing on prevention, continuity of care, and safe reporting mechanisms.
Sexual violence, as you are all aware, is not just a criminal issue. It impacts access to education and health, and at its core, it's about human rights. In terms of sexual violence, this means gender equality.
Sexual violence impinges on the human rights of women in Canada. If Canada is to become a truly gender-equal society, we need to act now to address gender-based violence.
The federal government could take leadership and work in coalition with the provinces to develop a national strategy for colleges and universities that would ensure impactful prevention initiatives, largely in the form of ongoing education. This is the key to addressing sexual violence. This is what we did with racism and homophobia. People learned that these things were not okay. Canada is a different, and, I would assert, better country because of it—a world leader, in fact.
After an incident of sexual violence, survivors need care. I know governments and institutions are focused on the numbers and insist on developing frameworks around accurate reporting. I understand that need, but coming from a survivor-centric perspective, survivors often are uninterested in reporting and instead want services. They need health care, academic accommodation, safety on campus, and, most of all, to be believed. Again the federal government could play a pivotal role here, not just in funding but by ensuring that there is a basic standard of care for survivors across the country.
If we want survivors to report, we have to make reporting safe and survivor-friendly. Policing and prosecutorial services routinely deny survivors even the opportunity for adjudication, much less, given the current tests in law, any real chance of securing a conviction. Survivors who do come forward must tell their stories over and over again. Their believability is called into question. They are called liars or sluts. Their characters and previous behaviours are interrogated, including their sexuality, and all to reach the very unattainable goal of securing a finding of guilt. The threshold of reasonable doubt is very difficult to cross in the case of sexual violence, because almost all sexual assaults happen in private, with no witnesses. This is even more difficult in what we now call the “post-Ghomeshi era”, in which you will be hard pressed to find any survivor who is willing to put herself through a criminal process.
The same can also be said for internal university and college reporting processes. These are piecemeal and typically involve gag orders that direct survivors not to discuss their cases with anyone except on the vaguely defined need-to-know basis. This is a clause that many survivors read as a threat against them for seeking support, advice, or counselling, alongside advocacy.
Alongside law reform, which is under the purview of the federal government, a national action strategy could also include bringing the provinces together to ensure they have a uniform reporting and investigatory regime that is supportive of survivors. This does not mean an erasure of due process, but it does mean that we can implement protocols for reporting and investigating that are more friendly for survivors. Gender-based violence should be, needs to be, and must be a top issue for the , the, and the .
Finally, none of this is of any use without oversight and transparency. Circling back to my earlier assertions regarding university risk management, universities and colleges ought to have oversight bodies that are charged with reviewing not only reported cases but also service provision and prevention strategies on campuses. Here again the federal government could take the lead in order to offer a uniform oversight mechanism that would hold universities accountable if they fall short of national standards. I think they could set the bar very high.
The United Nations' safe cities strategy might be a good place start. Could this government implement the spirit of the UN's initiatives but think in terms of safe campuses? It could start with pilot projects on specific campuses that target innovative safety initiatives, such as anonymous reporting and mandatory and ongoing rape culture education. There could be policies that put the onus on the respondents to rearrange their work and study lives in order to make campuses safer for women, instead of on survivors, who, in my research, told how they had to move out of dorms, drop classes, miss out on employment opportunities, and even leave the university altogether in order to ensure their safety.
I realize this is the beginning of what I hope will be a thoughtful and ongoing conversation about how Canada can embody the principles of gender equality by addressing its main barrier, which is gender violence.
Naturally, as an academic, I have many more things to say on the issue, as well as the issue of the policing of domestic violence. I could go on for hours, but, as I said, I think we need to have a conversation. In order to begin that, I will now stop talking and welcome any and all questions.
Thank you all for your attention.
Thank you, Madam Chair. Good afternoon, everyone.
Thank you, Madam Chair and the Standing Committee on the Status of Women, for this opportunity to address the question of violence against women and young girls in Canada, in particular in relation to campus violence.
We commend the committee's focus on this timely and critical issue. The current discourse, especially over the past week, speaks to the urgency to act on this matter and the need to counteract the misogynistic and sexist behaviour and attitudes that harm girls and women in their abilities to lead fulfilling and meaningful lives. This is an opportunity that we really cannot miss.
As a bit of context, Canadian Women's Foundation is Canada's national public foundation dedicated to improving the lives of women and girls. We focus on three core areas: stopping violence, ending poverty, and empowering women and girls. We advocate at the national level for strategies and policies that contribute to gender equality across Canada.
For 25 years we've invested in 1,400 communities, helping 250,000 people. These programs focus on violence prevention, healthy relationships among teens, empowerment to women and girls, mentoring, work experience, poverty elimination, and capacity-building.
Our vision is for all women in Canada to live free from violence. We help women in Canada move out of violence by funding emergency shelters and through prevention programs. We also invest in co-educational school-based violence prevention programs that teach girls and boys and all genders to stop the violence. We understand how the ripple effects of investing in such programs improve women's well-being, their economic prospects, and social conditions, while conversely, we understand the personal, social, and economic costs of allowing this to persist, in particular with respect to violence.
Here are just a few facts about violence against women in Canada.
One-half of all women in Canada have experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence. Sixty-seven per cent of all Canadians know someone who has experienced physical or sexual violence. Sexual assault is a gender-based crime. Of reported adult victims, 93% are female, and 97% percent of the accused are men. Women aged 18 to 24 experience the highest rates of sexual violence.
The vast majority of sex assault still goes unreported to police. In one poll, the most common reason women gave for not reporting sexual assault was feeling young and powerless. Of the respondents, 40% said they remained silent because of feeling shame, and 29% blamed themselves.
Of survivors who did report sexual assault to police, in the same poll, 71% said the experience was negative. We have noted that sexual assault is the only violent crime in Canada not declining, with women's risk of violent victimization 20% higher than men's as of 2014.
It is instructive to point out where declining rates of police-reported domestic violence have been found, and we can attribute it to some mitigating factors: increasing social equality; financial freedom, enabling women to leave relationships that are abusive in earlier stages; and sustained efforts by women's organizations at the grassroots to end domestic violence.
If we compare sexual violence and domestic violence, we see there are also far more services in response to domestic violence, whether it's in the police and court sector, the coordination of community services, availability of shelters, etc., than there are for sexual violence in Canada.
These indicators demonstrate that we have a far greater need for coordination at the community level to effect change in attitudes, behaviour, and the institutional responses to sexual violence.
We know that patterns of abuse are learned early. Research suggests that the earlier children receive healthy relationships education, the more lasting the outcomes. Over the past 15 years, the foundation has focused resources on co-educational teen healthy relationships programs. Educators see the value in teen healthy relationships programming, preparing 11-, 12-, and 13-year-olds for intimate relationships before they typically start dating.
Through these projects, teens are taught skills, warning signs of unhealthy relationships, foundational behaviours for healthy ones, and where to get help. These are delivered in classroom work as ongoing programs through discussion role-playing and ongoing workbooks that they work at during out-of-school hours, facilitated by teachers, community members, and youth.
The involvement of youth and peers contributes greatly to their success. Research also illustrates that meaningful youth participation in program design contributes to the development of more relevant and effective services and provides youth with the opportunities to gain skills, as well as empowerment and leadership opportunities. It also helps them make healthy connections.
This program is also designed to include boys as leaders and to engage them in conversations and activities that deconstruct power dynamics, such as race, class, gender, and privilege, in general. It does not engage in blaming men and boys for the violence. The participant surveys show that 90% of students said the programs helped let them keep their relationships healthy even years after leaving school, and more than 60% said that the programs influenced their choice of partners and helped them decide how to leave an unhealthy relationship.
We believe that the teen healthy relationships program should be incorporated in high schools across Canada and that it would be instructive in the development of campus prevention programs. Early intervention underscores the importance of talking and learning about healthy, equal relationships before heading to college and university, and it can be a way of preventing campus violence.
Campus violence, as we know, occurs against a backdrop of prevailing myths of victim blaming about sexual assault, cultural normalization of sexist attitudes, institutional behaviours, ignorance about the laws of consent, poor institutional prevention programs, and a lack of mechanisms to respond to sexual assault.
Over the past few years, media attention has highlighted the vacuum in consistent proactive approaches. The foundation, in a cursory scan in 2014 of seven universities across Canada, found a patchwork of procedures for dealing with sexual violence.
We know through some of the work we've done that four out of five university undergraduate students on Canadian campuses have been victims of violence in a dating relationship. There are two stats that are used quite consistently, but they're very worrying: one-fifth of male students agreed that forced sex is acceptable if someone spends money on a date, is stoned or drunk, or has been dating somebody for a long time, and one other survey showed that 60% of Canadian college-aged males indicated they would commit sexual assault if they were certain they couldn't get caught.
We also did polls at Canadian Women's Foundation ourselves. We wanted to see how women who had experienced sexual assault might be seen in the wider community, so we asked questions about whether people believed that victims brought sexual assault on themselves. Our survey showed that 19% of respondents believe that women may provoke or encourage sexual assault when they are drunk, and when you take it down to the age group of 18- to 34-year-olds, it's nearly 25% who believe that same finding.
A more recent survey about consent revealed that although 96% agreed that sexual activity between partners should be consensual, two-thirds of Canadians did not understand that this meant it had to be ongoing, positive, and enthusiastic.
The survey also revealed that many young Canadians have a blurred understanding of consent when technology is involved. Almost one in five, 21%, aged 18 to 34, believe that if a woman sends an explicit sexual text, then it means that she is inviting the recipient to engage in off-line sexual activity.
We know, as both these surveys show us, there is a need to create and integrate campus-based programs targeted at young people to empower them, learn their rights, and above all develop a culture and climate of consent. Therefore, there must be a clear understanding of sexual consent and of sexual violence according to the Criminal Code of Canada.
We know that one way to address sexual assault on campus is to encourage stand-alone sexual assault policies. Out of 100 universities and colleges across Canada, approximately 24 now have stand-alone policies. These recognize that sexual assault is different from other forms of misconduct, and they set out specific procedures for handling complaints.
The passage of Bill 132 in Ontario included a proviso that all publicly assisted colleges, universities, and private career colleges are required to have stand-alone sexual violence policies by January 2017. This act also requires them to review their policies every three years and to do so with student involvement. Manitoba, Nova Scotia, and British Columbia are also looking at this, but policies are not enough.
As my colleague stated previously in her brief, we know that we need much more responsive programs, programs that deal directly with what victims need and provide victim-centred responses, with victims themselves being included in the creation of policies and protocols that come out of the stand-alone protocols, so it's not only the youth—
Thank you, everyone, for inviting METRAC to speak on issues of campus safety. We know that post-secondary education campuses across the country are profoundly unsafe spaces for women of all backgrounds and gender-nonconforming folks.
North American research suggests that between 15% and 25% of college- and university-aged women will experience some form of sexual assault during their academic career. METRAC Action on Violence has more than three decades of experience in working with campus communities to foster safer institutions for everyone, with specific attention to individuals and groups at higher risk of experiencing violence.
Today I will summarize METRAC's brief, which was submitted on September 23, by focusing on three issues: rape culture, poverty on Canadian campuses, and the rise in human trafficking on campuses.
I'll be happy to answer any questions following the presentation.
Rape culture results from the prevalence of sexual violence on campus, coupled with the normalization of this violence. Because of statistics, we know sexual violence is prevalent on Canadian campuses. For example, we've all heard the sobering statistic that four out of five undergraduate students report experiencing dating violence. The acceptance of this sexual violence is what we call “rape culture”, which describes shared social and community beliefs, ideas, structures, and practices that can, when added together, make high rates of sexual violence seem normal, unavoidable, and acceptable; make us prone to blame, disbelieve, and silence those who experience victimization; feed into sexist gender stereotypes and rape myths about men being naturally violent and women being at fault for provoking them; and feed into sexualized stereotypes about certain groups, such as indigenous people, racialized communities, and trans and gender diverse communities, and reinforce a belief that they are somehow more likely to commit abuse or to be immune to victimization. Rape culture can also make us think it's okay that our policies, practices, law enforcement, and courts do not respond well to the problem, and rape culture keeps us ill-equipped and unaware of how to support victims or survivors.
Rape culture is found everywhere, from individual beliefs to large social structures. It's grounded in historical patterns and power arrangements between people; we can think of colonialism or sexism. Even as laws against sexual violence and stereotypes improve, these legacies are embedded in our culture and linked with ongoing forms of oppression such as racism, homophobia, and ableism. As a result, rape culture has led to greater risks for vulnerable groups that have been pushed to the margins of society—for example, young women, indigenous women, and trans individuals—while there are still not appropriate services and supports for marginalized people when they face abuse.
Egale Canada's national education survey in 2011 notes that about two-thirds of queer and trans students reported feeling unsafe at school. In 2009, 74% of student-reported hate crimes on campuses were linked to a student's sexual orientation, while more than one-third of students experienced sexual harassment. These forms of violence are directly related to race, religion, gender identity, and sexual orientation. Therefore, it's crucial to consider the intersections of sexual violence when developing a strategy to address this violence. The strategy cannot be separated from an approach that seeks to challenge all forms of oppression.
However, developing any strategy to address sexual violence on Canadian campuses is challenging. The climate of economic uncertainties creates unsafe campuses where developing a culture of consent proves difficult.
Here's what I mean by economic uncertainties: the rising cost of tuition fees, record levels of student debt, the high cost of housing, the high cost of food, and the nature of work on campus, which is precarious or unpaid through many internships.
There are many statistics that support these claims, but I will highlight just two of them. One is that the Ontario Association of Food Banks reported that an increasing number of post-secondary education students now regularly use food banks, with 8% of users being students and senior citizens, and that there is not one college or university campus that does not have a food bank or hunger relief program on site. The second is that international students on Canadian campuses may face even more economic barriers as their tuition fees are often three times the Canadian average, and they may find it even harder to obtain paid work because of negative stereotypes, racism, and xenophobia.
We are then in a climate where students are forced to look outside of traditional means to survive. The serious reality of poverty on campuses increases the risk of exploitation of vulnerable and marginalized students. Universities and colleges, with their high proportion of young women on isolated campuses, are particular areas of concern for human trafficking. The Internet adds to that problem, and online human trafficking of young women and girls is a growing, serious issue in our communities.
Just last week, a story in Ottawa made the headlines when a manager for the University of Ottawa's football team was arrested for posing as a talent agent online to lure girls into the sex trade. In Canada, this is a particular concern for indigenous women, because the majority of women who are trafficked are indigenous women and girls.
Sex trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation of women and children, especially girls, is a significant crime and human rights issue currently facing urban centres. Ontario is considered one of the major centres for sex trafficking of indigenous women and children. Ontario is also home to the majority of international trafficking victims recognized by Citizenship and Immigration Canada, and it is the province where the most human trafficking prosecutions in Canada have occurred. There have been some cases of international students being internationally trafficked in Ontario.
The combined factors of increasing poverty among students, large numbers of women-identified students, and border town locations of campuses require the attention of the government. We must attend to understanding and managing the associated risks for sex trafficking in areas surrounding campuses.
We would like to take this opportunity to share some effective strategies for challenging rape culture and sexual violence on campus.
Effective strategies to combat sexual violence must involve the campus community. The people who study, work, live, and use a campus are the safety experts in that space, with the greatest understanding of their safety concerns. Students can both guide and help implement the process for change, which should focus on equity, diversity, and inclusion to ensure everyone on campus is safe from sexual violence.
Some promising practices are METRAC's campus safety audits. These safety audits explore physical factors, sexual violence, discriminatory behaviour, access, practices, and policies. They require partnership among students, administration, faculty, employees, and the broader community in order to be effective in addressing the safety needs and assets of diverse campus constituencies. Audits review policies and practices, evaluate local needs and assets, assess safety, and provide a detailed report to the different campuses, along with recommendations for implementation.
There is also inclusive education. Here we are talking about educating all members of campus communities—students, staff, and faculty—on rape culture, sexual violence, and fostering a culture of consent through face-to-face workshops led by peers trained by external community partners.
Finally, there is METRAC's online student training. METRAC is offering a new online course entitled “Campus Consent Culture: Preventing Sexual Violence E-Course for Students”. This online course, coupled with inclusive education, allows students to learn these concepts in a self-directed, interactive way.
METRAC commends this committee for dedicating time and resources to exploring the issue of campus safety for women and girls, and we thank you so much for offering us the opportunity to share our knowledge with you today.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
I am going to speak in French, and I used to speak very fast in French, so please let me know if you get lost in translation.
Thank you very much for inviting Action ontarienne contre la violence faite aux femmes to make a presentation today.
Action ontarienne contre la violence faite aux femmes is a provincial women's rights collective of safe houses, sexual assault centres, or CALACS, and programs on violence against women. They provide services in French to women experiencing violence in Ontario. The mandate of Action ontarienne contre la violence faite aux femmes is to develop resources in French on violence against women, to provide training and to coordinate awareness campaigns.
The purpose of your study is extremely specific. Therefore, I will limit my presentation to the sexual violence experienced by young women and girls, particularly on campuses. I will especially stress awareness about this form of violence by speaking about the “Draw the Line” campaign.
There are relatively few statistics on incidents of sexual violence on campuses, but studies in the United States have shown that approximately one female student in eight has been the victim of sexual assault during her post-secondary studies, which is nonetheless significant. As Ms. Ross-Marquette said, all these sexual assaults are encouraged by a culture that is present in our society and on campuses that we generally call rape culture. This culture, which is sexist, chauvinistic and based on many stereotypes, makes sexual assault survivors responsible for their assault and blames them for it. Moreover, it tends to completely remove responsibility from the attackers and to minimize the sexual assaults.
In recent years, this rape culture has surfaced many times on North American campuses. For example, some colleges and universities have very strongly discouraged survivors from speaking out about their assaults. I suspect that you will remember many cases in which extremely sexist activities were organized on campuses, particularly during frosh week.
One fairly easy way to combat the rape culture and sexual assaults in society and on campuses, in particular, is first to speak out about this culture and to raise awareness. The Draw the Line campaign were created in Ontario by Action ontarienne contre la violence faite aux femmes and by the Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres. Ms. Lalonde, who is here today, was also involved in this campaign, which was created in 2012.
One of the first benefits of this campaign, which is extremely important to me, is that it is fully bilingual and was created in French and English simultaneously. So it also meets the needs of francophones. In addition, this awareness campaign takes a feminist approach, meaning that we are seeing sexual violence as a form of violence against women, gender-based violence. We analyze sexual violence in a much broader context, as a social problem that affects everyone and is caused by the inequality between men and women.
The Draw the Line campaign is for family and friends. We chose to address the public, both men and women as friends and family, rather than women as victims and men as attackers. It is extremely important that we use this approach. In fact, if we address women as potential victims, we easily risk blaming them or giving them advice on how to avoid a sexual assault by refraining from alcohol, going out in a group, refraining from sexting and so on.
All this advice would strengthen the myth that women could avoid a sexual assault when it isn't true. No matter what a woman does or doesn't do, she will not avoid a sexual assault.
We also decided not to address men as potential attackers because it has been shown to be ineffective, that it had no effect on the attackers and, in particular, did not encourage men to get involved as potential allies and as people who can foster change. In fact, we are addressing men and women as friends and family who can step in effectively to put an end to a sexually violent situation, effectively and empathically support a survivor or hold an attacker responsible.
To create socially profound changes, the public needs to feel concerned and know how to recognize the various forms of sexual violence because, for most people, sexual violence means only rape, while we know that it is much more than that. Not only do we need to recognize sexual violence, but we also especially need to know how to intervene safely and effectively to put an end to it. If we don't equip family members and friends with the tools for intervening properly, it won't be effective and we won't get to the bottom of this matter.
With the Draw the Line campaign, we decided to create different scenarios that cover the spectrum of sexual violence. For example, we prepared scenarios on alcohol and attacks, cyber sexual violence, spousal rape, sexual exploitation and violence in sports culture and in society. These scenarios enable the friends and family to be exposed to a real or possible situation of sexual assault, to think about the situation and, above all, to see what they could do in specific situations.
As I said earlier, intervention is extremely important. In fact, we also give a few examples of possible interventions for each of the scenarios to start to guide thinking.
On advantage of the campaign is that it can be implemented in several ways. It can be done on social media or individually with the campaign material. I have brought you a few examples of this. So it can be an individual reflection or an informal group reflection among friends or with family.
However, I think the most effective awareness method is organizing workshops in schools or on campuses, led by people who work at the CALACS. It is important that the people who give the workshops are trained because when training is given on violence against women and on sexual violence, in particular, it is important to be prepared for conversations that are sometimes a little difficult. If facilitators aren't ready to receive negative comments and reactions, it may be difficult for them.
The Draw the Line campaign is run on any given day by the various CALACS in the English-speaking and French-speaking provinces on campuses and in secondary schools. We note that there are many dialogues and that the workshops foster conversation. That is what is most effective for creating profound changes. Posters or television ads aren't enough to bring about changes in attitudes and mentalities. The most important thing is to talk about it, and have the expertise of someone who is able to debunk the myths and talk about the reality of sexual violence.
I'm going to speak in English. I also speak really fast in all languages, so I'm going to try to be really slow and articulate and keep my eye on the wonderful translators.
Thank you so much for inviting us. We're the first Hollaback! chapter in Canada. We launched in 2010. It's pretty remarkable for us that street harassment is on the radar of the federal government. That excites us very much.
I'm going to talk a bit about our work and who we are, but Maïra has already covered a lot, so I'm going to echo what she said in terms of effective strategies.
For folks who aren't familiar with Hollaback!, first of all, we have nothing to do with the Gwen Stefani song.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Ms. Julie Lalonde: People always think it's a reference to Gwen Stefani. It's not—no disrespect to Gwen Stefani.
We were launched around 2005 in New York. If you remember, back then cellphone cameras were a brand new technology. It was very exciting. It was terrible and pixilated, but very exciting.
A young woman on a subway in New York was on her way to work when someone started publicly masturbating in front of her. This had happened to her before, but she realized that in her pocket she had this brand new phone with a camera. She thought that if she took the guy's picture, she then would have evidence and the police might actually do something about it. She took a picture of him. He posed for the photo; that's how flagrant he was in what he did. It clearly was not his first time. She brought the photo to the NYPD and asked them to please try to get the guy. They said that millions of people live in New York and asked how they were supposed to find this guy.
This was prior to social media in the way that we currently understand it. She posted it to Flickr, which is—as hopefully you know—a sort of photo-sharing site, one of the first social media sites, and it went viral. It ended up on the cover of the New York Daily News. He was eventually apprehended. Interestingly enough, he was released and has been apprehended just recently, in the past year, for doing it again to someone else.
What was important about this story is that when a young woman used what she had at her disposal to start a conversation, it sparked a massive conversation within the city of New York, where you had men saying, “As if this happens to women...”, and you had women saying, “As if you didn't know this is the reality of what it means to walk down the street in New York and to take public transit.”
A group of women and men in New York thought that maybe this new mobile technology stuff was the answer, because you had a way of capturing this problem in the moment. Initially, the site was started just for people in the city of New York to capture this in real time, but that quickly morphed. They heard from people around the world who were saying that this was not a problem unique to New York and that they had it in India, Europe, and Latin America. It was happening all over the place, and they asked if they could participate as well.
Now our current format is that anybody around the world can start a chapter. We are now in 60 cities on five continents around the world—I just counted them this morning—powered by over 300 activists, overwhelmingly through unpaid volunteer labour. Over half of the people who run a Hollaback! site are considered youths, so they're under the age of 30 or 25. Young people are running this movement.
As for how it works, we have an app that you can download for free. We have a chapter here in Ottawa. You can submit your story, such as how you were walking down Rideau Street and a guy drove by and yelled at you from his car or a guy followed you for three blocks asking you for your number and it really pissed you off. You submit your story to us, we approve it, and not only does it get put on the site, but a little dot goes onto a map, and we can actually start tracking where street harassment happens in the city. This is giving us real data in real time about what's going on in our community.
That has given us data to take to places. For example, when we had our municipal election a few years ago, we went to them with the kinds of things that we were seeing and experiencing. We were able to contact everyone running for council to say that this was what was going on in their ward and to ask them what they were going to do about it.
Here's what's important for me. When we first launched, people asked us about being afraid that we were going to get sued by the guy whose picture we took for being a creep. That was their assumption. It was around libel. Also, they asked what the power was of telling someone's story. They said, “A girl just vented on your website, but what difference does that make?” Well, by creating a space for people to tell their stories, we're getting data that we've never had before.
We were around for about two years and then decided to look at the themes we saw coming up over and over again in Ottawa. What we saw overwhelmingly was about public transit. That's what I want to talk about with you very briefly, because most people, most students, are taking public transit. We live in a city where you have a U-Pass. This is common on campuses across the country; there's an assumption that you're going to take transit.
Transit in Ottawa, I can say, remains very unsafe for women and young folks, queer folks, people with disabilities, and elders. Specifically, what we found was that the overwhelming number of stories we got were about being harassed on the bus, while waiting for the bus, or on the way off the bus and heading home.
We took that information and approached OC Transpo, which is the public transit authority here in Ottawa, and they were more than a little dismissive. They were actually outraged that we dared to say on our website that there were high levels of harassment on transit, because they were not getting reports. In their defence, here you have a crop of privileged people who don't take transit. Most of them were men who were, like, “We don't get reports of this stuff, so how do we know you're not just making this up?”
We held a town hall. We got people to start sharing their stories. It just exploded in the city. Women were coming forward and saying that they didn't know of a single woman who didn't have at least one story of a guy who was leering at them for the whole 40 minutes they were on the bus—minimum.
We continued to push them, both by using the media and by meeting with them monthly. What we wanted was a bystander intervention campaign. We wanted ads telling people that if they saw somebody harassing someone, they had a role to play. We had to concede to a campaign.... For those of you who know transit at all, you might have seen ads that say “if you feel harassed” or “if you feel threatened”. That's a result of the work that we did with them for three years, pushing them to talk about the fact that if they would acknowledge that this happens, people would talk about it.
We also wanted an anonymous reporting mechanism. We knew that the vast majority of people did not report because they were concerned about stigma, about victim blaming, about all the stuff that my colleagues have mentioned already. In fact, we were correct. Ottawa has the first anonymous reporting mechanism in the country. Apparently, it might be the first for all of North America, which is very exciting. Lo and behold, most of the things that are getting reported to them are things that they had never had reported previously, including high levels of people being leered at and of people being groped.
It actually led to the apprehension of a serial sexual assault predator who had been going up to women and kissing young girls waiting for the bus for school. Multiple women reported it through the anonymous reporting mechanism. They went to the cameras and, sure enough, they caught him and he was apprehended.
Once again, you create a space for people to tell their stories, and young women want to tell their stories, but we need to do something with that information.
I want to leave you with some stats as well. Hollaback! HQ is in New York. They got some funding. It's the only chapter in the world that is actually funded to do its work. They worked with Cornell University to gather global statistics on street harassment, which was really important.
What they found was that 88% of Canadians had been harassed before the age of 18, which means that 88% of women in Canada had been harassed at least once before they were even legally an adult. Fifty per cent of the respondents had been groped or fondled at least once in the past year, which is pretty tremendous. Forty per cent said that a result of street harassment was that it made them late to school. It made them late for class because they either had to do a detour or they had to collect themselves before they could go to their lecture or classroom.
Locally, we had our own research, which was not funded by the wonderful folks at Cornell but was still pretty sound. What we found, which was important and builds off what Maïra said, was that only 6% of people who had been harassed had someone intervene on their behalf. That's really important when you consider that the nature of street harassment is being in a public space. If you're on a bus, there's at least you, the perpetrator, and the driver. If you're waiting for a bus, there's probably someone else around.
We have very low levels of intervention because people are not recognizing it as a form of violence. They don't get that street harassment is on a continuum. They're afraid of escalation. They think that only crazy people harass women at the bus stop and that if they intervene, the crazy person is going to come after them. It's a sort of self-preservation.
We also found that people just don't know what to do, so we have a program, and our response is not criminalization. We're actually opposed to the criminalization of street harassment, because most of the things we're experiencing are already against the law, so that's not the issue. The issue is getting people to intervene, whether that involves reporting or whatnot.
I want to end by telling you about our program. It's called “I've Got Your Back”. We teach the four Ds of intervention: direct, delegate, distract, and delay.
To give you an example, if I see Maïra being harassed and it's considered fairly low level—if he's just chatting with her and I feel safe enough—I can go up to him and say, “She doesn't know you. She's not interested, so let it go”, or I can go up to her and say, “Do you know him or do you need me to call somebody?” I can intervene directly if it's safe.
You can delegate if it's not safe. Maybe you're tiny and not a tall person like I am, whose job it is to yell at people about the patriarchy—
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Ms. Julie Lalonde: —so maybe you're not as comfortable about intervening. You can delegate. You can tell the driver; you can very discreetly go up to the front and say that a woman looks really uncomfortable and you think something's happening. Or if you're on a construction site, we encourage you to find the guy with the white hat and say that his staff is harassing someone. If you're at the mall, tell mall security. You can delegate.
You can create a distraction, which is also very non-confrontational. Let's say that I see Maïra being harassed. I go up to her and say, “Hey, I have to get off at the Rideau stop, so do you know where to go?” You're creating a distraction and also letting that person know that there's a witness to what's happening.
Or you can delay, which is also really important. It sounds like it's not effective, but you can wait until the moment has passed, then go up to the person and say that you saw what just happened to them. You can ask them if they're okay, say that it was really gross, and ask them if they need you to call someone for them or need you to walk them to where they need to go.
That's what we do. That's what we teach. We teach bystander intervention, but we need access to those avenues to go into those spaces. That's what campuses want us to do, and that's what we're doing with youth.
Once again, thank you so much for having street harassment on your radar. It's so very important to us.