31 Steps to End Violence Against Women in BC
by Jarrah Hodge
With a provincial election coming up, the Jane Doe Legal Network has come out with a list of “31 Things British Columbia Can Do Right Now to End Violence Against Women”. Starting in March to coincide with International Women’s Day, the group released one recommendation a day for 31 days. As the network stated in its release:
Women in British Columbia have waited too long already. That is why we are offering 31 things that BC’s new Provincial Office of Domestic Violence (PODV) can push for right now to increase safety for women and to bring us closer than we have ever been to ending violence against women once and for all. We are calling for 31 social, economic and legal changes, none of which are unachievable in this province. Some would require very little financial investment, and each of them will save resources in the long term given the high costs of violence against women.
These have all been shared at the Jane Doe site and Battered Women’s Support Services’ Ending Violence Blog, with more detail on each recommendation, but I wanted to share the list and summaries of each point for those of you who are looking for what policies to support and advocate for when contacting your local candidates. Many of the recommendations are also applicable to other jurisdictions and might help focus work for activists outside BC.
- Call violence against women what it is. We need to shift our language away from euphemism and legalese in law, in policy, the courts and everyday life in order to make systemic problems visible.
- Audit for compliance with BC’s Violence Against Women in Relationship policy. There needs to be monitoring for compliance and consistency with the VAWIR policy guidelines for professionals, including police, Crown, probation officers and child protection workers.
- Meet the immediate financial and housing needs of women fleeing violence, including making sure women fleeing violence can access short-term income assistance, child care, and transitional housing.
- Enhance access to justice for women – invest in family, immigration and poverty law legal aid services. BC needs to support funding for legal aid so abused women don’t have to compromise their rights in order to avoid self-representing or accruing unmanageable legal costs.
- Make addressing women’s inequality a core learning objective for all BC students. My personal favourite. We need to start at least in secondary school to educate kids about gender inequality and teach them that women have equal value. It’s part of making violence less acceptable.
- Add sexual violence by police to the mandate of the Independent Investigations Office. The IIO was established to investigate cases of death or serious harm at the hands of police, but it has no mandate to ensure the safety of women who have been sexually assaulted by police, or to protect police officers’ intimate partners when fleeing abuse.
- Address the feminization of poverty with a provincial anti-poverty plan. BC needs a comprehensive anti-poverty plan that includes a gender lens to help marginalized groups of women who are particularly susceptible to poverty.
- Push to add gender and sex to the hate crime provisions of Canada’s Criminal Code. BC should lobby the federal government to add sex and gender to legal hate crime provisions to send the message that misogyny is real and as devastating as any other kind of hate.
- Bring back regional coordination committees for women’s safety. In the 1990s the government supported regional committees of government agencies and non-profits working on issues around violence against women. These committees collaborated on policy issues and collaborated on some specific cases.
- Join the call for a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women. Hundreds of Indigenous women have gone missing or been murdered in Canada and the provincial government needs to join the many individuals and organizations who have called for a national inquiry.
- Do not let immigration status stand in the way of women’s safety. Women fleeing violence should not have their immigration status called into question or be reported to Border Services, as some women advocates report happens currently.
- Value the expertise of women’s organizations by investing in their work. Financially supporting experienced women’s organizations will yield optimal return on investment as women fleeing violence would be more able to swiftly access counselling, legal services, and “Stopping the Violence” programs.
- Make women’s safety the first priority in police response. One of the concerns identified in the Missing Women’s Commission of Inquiry is that women engaged in potentially illicit activities often feel they cannot call police when they experience violence. Police need to be directed to make safety a first priority so women involved in illegal activity or with outstanding warrants for non-violent crime can report if they are threatened or attacked.
- Create binding guidelines on the use of psychological testing and labeling in child custody and child protection cases. These guidelines need to take into account women and children’s experiences of abuse.
- Train and support specialized Crown Counsel for cases involving gender violence. This is proven to be an effective way of improving women’s experiences with the criminal justice system and ensuring offender accountability.
- Ensure women have access to interpretation in interaction with police, courts, social workers and other decision-makers. Women for whom English is not a first language shouldn’t be forced to use family members or neighbours as interpreters, especially when interacting with the criminal justice system or social services after experiencing violence.
- Increase access to gender appropriate drug treatment and harm reduction services. There is a significant overlap between women who have experienced violence and those who misuse substances, and treatment and harm reduction services must close their service gap in this area.
- Monitor and evaluate the implementation and interpretation of BC’s new Family Law Act. are working and women are not being inappropriately channeled into mediation and arbitration.
- Hold offenders accountable for impacts on children of violence against women. Social work and other standards need to change to put less responsibility on the abuse victim to ensure the ongoing safety of herself and her children.
- Take action on women-blaming and women-shaming in all its forms. BC needs to move away from women-blaming risk-reduction strategies and towards strategies that focus on the reasons perpetrators use violence against women in the first place.
- Do not force abused women in to parenting programs or counselling. Being a victim of abuse doesn’t mean a woman lacks parenting skills or will necessarily benefit from forced counselling. Supports should be available but not mandated.
- Get perpetrators of violence against women in front of the courts quickly. In BC it can take nine months or more for an intimate partner assault to go to trial, during which time the victim may live in fear or may be pressured by the accused not to go to court. Fast-tracking the process enhances victims’ safety.
- Work with the anti-violence sector to develop training for all first responders and decision-makers. Judges, social workers, lawyers and police should receive in-person training on the power dynamics and typical cycles of abusive relationships, as well as culturally-appropriate planning for women’s safety.
- Provide safe, affordable and sustainable housing options for women. Precariously housed or homeless women are at greater risk of experiencing abuse and violence, as well as chronic or acute mental health crises.
- Provide safe and accessible transportation options for low-income women. One of the key recommendations coming out of MWCI was for the government to immediately develop and implement a safe, affordable transit system to connect northern BC communities, particularly along Highway 16.
- Fully implement best practice standards for child protection workers working with women experiencing violence. Child protection workers need to be fully and consistently trained on the Best Practice Approaches to Child Protection and Violence Against Women and VAWIR policies.
- Ensure women are not harassed at the courthouse. It must be easier for women to attend court without interacting with abusers and their friends and support networks. One option is to make it easier for women to testify via CCTV from a safe location.
- Ensure consistent access for women to victim-service workers and supports. Front-line workers need to make sure they are providing information and referrals for victims services, and these services need to be resourced so they can be accessed in a short timeframe.
- Value caregiving working- invest in childcare and eldercare. Women who care for children or aging relatives may lack financial security, which makes it harder to leave an abusive relationship. These women need access to care services or financial support for them to carry out the care themselves.
- Develop and implement appropriate programs for men who abuse women with a focus on gender power. More information and programs need to be available for offenders who are interested in making genuine change in their lives. These programs need to address the belief systems that perpetuate gendered violence and abuse.
- Build on what works – learn from the successes of the anti-violence sector in BC and beyond:
There are many organizations right here in BC that are effectively supporting women to beat the odds. Organizations that work with women by supporting her in whatever choice she wants to make and by offering whatever supports she believes she needs quickly see that women can make meaningful positive changes in their lives in a relatively short period of time. Whether in the field of policing, child welfare, education or criminal justice the most successful anti-violence programs from other jurisdictions rely heavily on partnerships with women-serving agencies that have a deep understanding of the dynamics of violence against women and whose mandate is not to “fix” or “protect” women, but to work with women to end violence against women.