As a young woman in university, I became tangled up in a relationship with another student that could have escalated to violence. He was fun and popular. My self-esteem was low. I was exposed to public humiliation and controlling behaviour that began to escalate as the relationship progressed. Initially, I tolerated it. I didn’t tell anyone about it. But his aggressive behaviour set off my inner alarm and thankfully I listened to my gut. Eventually I said goodbye. It wasn’t easy. The lesson I learned was enough to make me personally appreciate how quickly an intimate relationship can escalate from a place of perceived safety to a place of possible harm. It’s why I believe the work of organizations like the Kawartha Sexual Assault Centre (KSAC) is so important for raising the awareness of sexual and other forms of violence against women and girls.
‘Lessons Behind the Door: A Community Report Addressing the Response to and the Prevention of Sexual Violence Against Women and Girls in the City and County of Peterborough’ was published in 2015. Its call to action remains relevant today: “Now is the time for the citizens of the City and County of Peterborough to cast a social safety net for survivors of sexual violence.”
Produced by the Kawartha Sexual Assault Centre, the report is the product of a two-year partnership between the Elizabeth Fry Society of Peterborough and the Trent Community Research Centre funded by the Status of Women Canada. The intent was to investigate the theme of “access to community-based services in the prevention of and response to sexual violence against women and girls in the City and County of Peterborough.”
Equally important, the project supported building community innovation and access to community services for the prevention of and response to sexual violence against women and girls. The project included consultation with the Peterborough Domestic Abuse Network, the Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres, Peterborough community service providers and first responders. Opportunities for knowledge sharing across the counties of Peterborough, Northumberland, City of Kawartha Lakes and Haliburton were also fostered. Overall the goal was to reduce the overall incidence of sexual violence through the development and implementation of streamlined prevention and response initiatives.
“The needs assessment revealed that this is a community with a high rate of violence committed by someone known to the victim and young women aged 15 – 24 are at especially high risk. Local police statistics indicated that in 97% of reported sexual assaults, the accused are male, and 96% of the perpetrators are known to the victim,” said Needs Assessment Project Manager Lisa Clarke when the report was launched.
The three overarching themes of the research concluded that the community experiences complex victimization of generational and peer violence; social media and the digital world highly influence that victimization; and women and girls disclose to people they trust.
Here are some of the insights that emerged under the overarching theme that shows that the complexity of victimization is connected to generational and lateral cycles of violence, according to the report:
- “A generational disease of trauma.” Many survivors experience a family history of violence and peer violence.
- “It doesn’t have to look violent to be violent.” Confusion about societally constructed obligations both short- and long-term romantic relationships leads to abuse of sexual consent, sexual coercion, alcohol and drug-facilitated sexual assault, date rape and marital rape.
- There is significant overlap between experiences of sexual violence and intimate partner/domestic violence not recognized by survivors, agencies, law enforcement and the justice system. Few organizations are exploring collaborative approaches to address this important intersection.
- The reaction of friends, family members, work colleagues and community members plays a significant role in either providing on-going support or re-traumatizing the survivor through victim blaming and shaming.
- There is a community-wide lack of understanding of and response to sexual violence, violence against sexuality and gender expression, and intimate partner/domestic violence in the LGBTQ+ community.
- Systemic racism and a legacy of violence against Indigenous women and girls throughout the region impacts efforts for restoration and healing in families and communities.
- “Coach surfing” and an “exchange” of sex for housing, safety or drugs lure some young women into sex work.
KSAC encourages all young women to discuss safety plans with their friends and families. Safety plans can include texting trusted people to let them know where you are and how you are travelling from one event to another, and keeping your beverages with you at all times.
If a woman is assaulted, she can call 911, call the KSAC crisis line at 705-741-0260 or go to Peterborough Regional Health Centre emergency department where the Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Response Program will offer immediate support.
So a shout out to KSAC, the Elizabeth Fry Society of Peterborough, Trent Community Research Centre and the Status of Women of Canada and all of the other community agencies that supported the publication of this important community resource. Lessons from Behind the Door is the foundation for collaborative action in the City and County of Peterborough to decrease the incidences of sexual violence and increase cultural and attitudinal shifting for a more restorative, healing and welcoming community for all its citizens.
About the Author: Jennifer Garland is the Owner/Program Director of The Mane Intent, offering Health and Wellness Workshops and Individual and Team Effectiveness Coaching. Jennifer’s intent is to bring horses and humans together to explore new possibilities, getting you out of your comfort zone and giving clarity of voice to your leader within. She has over 25 years of leadership experience in communications, cause-related marketing and change management. As a strategist, facilitator and effectiveness coach, Jennifer has provided counsel and support to senior leaders from all walks of life to build productive relationships, facilitate learning and to embrace change. She is a ‘socialpreneur’ who values the art of living life fully with intent.