May is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. It is a time for creating awareness, enhancing public education and working towards prevention – all of which are primary focuses of the Halton Violence Prevention Council (HVPC).
With community coordination across service sectors, HVPC focuses on strengthening and improving services, identifying gaps in services and increasing safety for women experiencing violence. A sub-committee of HVPC is the Sexual Assault Advisory Committee (SAAC) which is a collaboration between the Halton Region Police Service and sexual assault advocates in the region. They work together to improve the experiences of survivors of sexual assault entering the justice system. With an ongoing focus to engage survivors to inform the work of the committee, SAAC has developed a new website called ‘Survivors Voices’ which launches May 21 in recognition of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. As a member of the Halton Community Safety and Well-Being table, we were able to access funding from the Halton Region Community Investment Fund for this website. This website will not only share the work being done behind the scenes but is a non-biased community project geared at supporting survivor’s safety, creating a safe place for survivor stories to be shared and feedback to be heard.
We wanted to utilize the resources in our community and in keeping with the spirit of giving back to the community, funds were allocated to hire a student from Sheridan College as our website project coordinator. This allowed us to tap into that specific sub-culture but also provided an opportunity for a student to gain work experience for their future endeavors.
This community platform website is responding to a need that currently doesn’t exist. Studies show that only 5% of sexual assaults are reported to police. This is a result of a number of things but primarily, fear of not being believed, lack of resources, fear of repercussions, uncertainty about the investigative process, fear of the criminal justice system and many more. If only 5% of sexual assaults are being reported, that leaves 95% of sexual assault survivors isolated, fearful, traumatized and without support and resources. This website will act as a touchpoint between law enforcement and those 95% of survivors that are struggling in silence and without support. This website will provide a place for survivors to obtain support, knowledge, information and awareness, it also offers a way for survivors to share their experiences and feedback in a confidential way with the community partners of their choice. It will provide the opportunity to gain valuable insight into barriers for reporting their experience to police and provide the agencies that support sexual assault survivors a place to gain insight into ways to improve their service and programs. It will allow community agencies within Halton to improve their response to sexual violence and better support survivors. In this way, we can, collectively as a community, create meaningful and impactful change for those individuals who have experienced sexual violence. All of this change reflects collective impact.
Our hope is that this initiative will increase engagement of survivors of sexual assault to gain insight into more victim-centered approaches and to facilitate greater opportunities for reporting sexual assault. With the feedback received we’ll be able to identify barriers and bring recommendations forward that can be integrated into our services.