Myths and Realities
A federal study on police-reported violence in 2017 found that the large majority (81%) of Canadians accused of police-reported violence against girls and young women were male, and this was similar for boys and young men (79%).
… only three perpetrators are convicted. Starting at the police station, police don’t believe survivors: In 2017, the Globe and Mail revealed that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) dismiss 1 in 5 sexual assault claims as ‘baseless’ and ‘unfounded’’ To give you a comparison, 1 in 10 physical assault claims are dismissed, and this rate is much lower for all other types of crime.
Even if perpetrators are convicted, conviction does not ensure that perpetrators are being properly rehabilitated, and it certainly doesn’t mean survivors are getting the supports and services they require. The justice system is only one piece of the puzzle, and hardly addresses the root causes of GBV.
In 2017, the Federal Government released It’s Time: Canada’s Strategy to Prevent and Address Gender-Based Violence. This strategy is a step in the right direction in addressing GBV: it involves many government agencies and includes vital funding to so many organizations on the ground combating GBV. But the strategy is just that – a step.
For starters, it only covers areas under federal control, whereas we need the full cooperation of federal, territorial, provincial, municipal, and Indigenous governments to adequately combat GBV. For example, by extending the plan beyond federal jurisdiction, the Government of Canada could work with all provinces and territories to implement gender-based violence curricula at all levels of schooling.
In 2012, the UN called for countries to develop national action plans to address gender-based violence. Canada can and should take a global leadership role and develop one that gender equity organizations have been calling for for a very long time. In partnership with many women’s organizations, the YWCA developed a blueprint for such a plan.
While the ‘stranger in a dark alley’ might be the most common perception of sexual violence, research shows that someone known to the victim, including friends, dating partners, and spouses, commit 82 percent of sexual assaults. The majority of incidents also occur in private spaces, such as a place of residence.
Training people to defend themselves physically doesn’t change the behaviours of perpetrators – and it also puts the responsibility on women to defend themselves rather than focusing on the perpetrators and the larger forces that reinforce GBV.
Other strategies include bystander intervention, enforcing workplace safety policies, strengthening economic supports for cis-women, trans-women, nonbinary and two-spirit people, and teaching children and teens about consent and safe dating.
The number of false reports for sexual assault is very low, around the same as the number of false reports for other crimes in Canada. The real issue the stigma placed on survivors of gender-based violence, which limits their access or ability to seek justice, support, or even talk about their experience.
It happens in workplaces, schools, and other public institutions. It’s perpetuated by court systems, first responders and laws that often silence and blame victims of violence. Even if some incidents happen behind closed doors, the physical, social, and financial impacts of violence follow victims in public.
Gender-based violence is very much a public issue that works in tandem with racism, poverty, colonialism, queer and transphobia, and more. It is pervasive in our society and affects women, girls, trans- and two-spirit people from all walks of life.
And 39% of Canadian women have experienced sexual assault at least once since the age of 16. The issue isn’t improving either: the rates of gender-based violence have also remained the same since 2004, despite all other kinds of crime decreasing in the last 15 years.
One such example is the gender discrimination written into the Indian Act: for centuries First Nations women who married non-status men lost their own status, barring them from accessing treaty benefits, living on reserve, and participating in ceremonies and rituals on their ancestral lands.
Even today, First Nations women who lost their status and their children are still dealing with the repercussions and limited access to treaty benefits. The Act is one of many colonial structures that make Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people vulnerable to violence.
According to a CBC investigation, an estimated $15 billion in federal tax revenues is lost per year due to wealthy Canadians hiding their assets overseas in tax havens. To give you some perspective of what that could buy: all of Canada spends $14.6 billion on post-secondary education, social assistance and social services (such as child care) combined.