tracy porteous

New Feminist Apps Tackle Dating Violence, Street Harassment

notyourbabyby Jarrah Hodge

Back in 2011 Gender Focus contributor Roxanna Bennett reported on YWCA Canada’s Safety Siren app, which gave women and girls a way to use their smart phones to learn about dating violence and easily send an emergency signal if ever in danger.

Now, other Canadian non-profits are adapting our new technology to give young women new, on-the-spot tools to fight violence and harassment.

Toronto non-profit METRAC (Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children) launched their “Not Your Baby” app last fall after they heard many people saying they didn’t know how to deal with harassment on the spot. The app provides a technological solution to help people as they experience harassment. People using the app select where they are and what kind of harassment they are experiencing and the app pops up helpful suggestions. Users can also submit their own suggestions for how to deal with these kinds of difficult situations.

METRAC Communications Director Andrea Gunraj told me that over 250 people responded to their survey in the lead-up to creating the app: “We found that people had a diversity of responses depending on the context and situation of the harassment. I learned a lot reading peoples’ comments and stories and felt that ideas on dealing with harassment at school were so smart, especially when it’s not easy to make a complaint or the person harassing you is a friend.”

Gunraj is pleased by the media coverage and positive feedback they’ve had so far. Being out there alongside other campaigns like Hollaback! and Stop Street Harassment, Gunraj is optimistic that more people are becoming aware of harassment as an issue, but warns “we have a long way to go before harassment is seen as unacceptable in any space – street, home, work, malls, public transit, and so on. There is still the idea that some people are ‘fair game’ for harassment just by virtue of who they are.”

Another new initiative has come out of BC, where the Ending Violence Association has partnered with Telus on an app for women who are at a high risk of violence. The SOS Response app is being piloted in Prince George, Courtenay, Terrace, Vernon and Surrey. Local assistance programs in those communities are identifying at-risk women and providing them with a phone with the app installed. The app is very simple for a woman in crisis to use. All she has to do is press a button and the phone takes 30 photos in 30 seconds, which are sent to the security monitoring centre along with GPS information.

“The SOS mobile monitored alarm app is an easy-to-use, cost-efficient tool that will increase safety for women across Canada who are fleeing violence,” said Tracy Porteous, Executive Director of EVA BC. “The program is also a great example of community and business working together in the most positive of ways.”

Of course,these kinds of apps aren’t enough in and of themselves. As Gunraj told me about “Not My Baby”, “It’s a simple app and not an end-all solution, but it’s just one way of broadening the dialogue.”  If new technology can be leveraged in this way to give useful information and help women and girls feel safer and more empowered in their space, that’s a huge step in the right direction.


Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism 1 Comment

BC Budget Fails to Act on Violence Against Women

legby Jarrah Hodge

I could say a lot about yesterday’s BC Budget release: the whole thing was mind-boggling, with each released detail making less sense than the one before. But keeping with the scope of this blog and an issue that’s close to my heart, one area I was really looking at was funding for violence against women.

Just two months ago Attorney General Shirley Bond spoke to families of missing and murdered women in Vancouver after the release of the Missing Women’s Commission of Inquiry report. She asked for more time to study the report but announced that one immediate government action would be an increase in funding to WISH to hopefully meet the report’s recommendation for a 24-hour drop-in centre for sex workers in the Downtown Eastside. It really was the bare minimum they could do, and since then WISH has found the funding can’t cover being open for the full 24-hours a day.

Organizations like the Ending Violence Association of BC, an umbrella organization for BC anti-violence programs, were hoping that the 2013 budget could provide some more meaningful assistance for women who have experienced or are at risk of experiencing sexual or domestic violence.

Instead, according to a statement from EVA (.pdf):

While the budget includes an additional $5 million to address problem gambling and an additional $52 million for increased RCMP costs including costs associated with gang activity, there are no increases to ensure victims of domestic and sexual violence have access to life saving support services. Numerous Coroner’s Inquests and Death Review Panels have identified that access to such services is critical to help ensure victims do not fall through the cracks.

If you haven’t experienced violence or don’t know someone who has, these programs might not be something you’d have thought about. But if you need these services it’s hard not to notice the gaps.

In 2002 the BC Liberal government cut all funding for sexual assault/woman assault centres and women’s centres. Funding for remaining victim assistance programs was cut in 2008. There are several Stopping the Violence (STV) counselling programs to provide long-term counselling to adult women who have been sexually assaulted or otherwise victimized, but many of these programs are inadequately funded, resulting in long waiting lists. There are no STV programs for girls under 18.

That means we’re left with only 62 community-based victim assistance services in BC (keep in mind BC has over 160 municipalities). Even though report after report has identified them as crucial, these services haven’t seen a funding increase in over a decade and workers in many are facing untenable, overwhelming case loads.

“These are the programs mandated to identify risk, create safety plans and provide a plethora of other supports to keep women and kids safe,” says EVA.

The budget presented yesterday will not be passed until after the May election, so there is still an opportunity for whichever party wins the election to make changes. Relative to the entire budget, these are not expensive programs. EVA BC Executive Director Tracy Porteous points out the government collects a surcharge on motor vehicle tickets that is supposed to go to help victims of crime, but to the best of our knowledge, not all the funding is officially allocated.

“Concrete action is needed to prevent this senseless violence. The time for general statements of support and further study has passed.” said Porteous, “We need action and programs, not merely more committees, more reports, more plans and more summits”.

(photo of the Legislature via Wikimedia Commons)

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism, Politics Leave a comment