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The court of public appeal is now open on sexual assault

(Original article found on ShorelineToday.ca)

The court of public appeal is now open on sexual assault.
That was the title of a letter to the editor from the Women’s House Serving Bruce and Grey that was given to myFM. They say they were compelled to write the letter as more woman come forward with claims of sexual abuse from former CBC radio star Jian Ghomeshi. In the letter, they talk about the fact that abuse doesn’t just exist in the world but in our own backyard here in Grey Bruce. During the first six months of this year the centre has served 441 local women and 57 children along with 3,682 crisis and support related calls. They also wanted to address a question asked by many who wondered why the woman accussing Ghomeshi of abuse didn’t come forward sooner. In the letter they say only 33 cases of abuse out of 1000 are actually reported to police.
The letter:
The court of public opinion is now open on sexual assault
This week you most likely heard and perhaps even struggled to come to terms with the recent Jian Ghomeshi allegations. It’s been difficult to listen to, read about and process. We’d rather believe that abuse simply does not exist in our world, but at the Women’s House Serving Bruce and Grey (WHSBG) we know all too well that it does. In the first six months of this year we have served 441 women and 57 children, with 3,682 crisis and support related calls.
The news of the Ghomeshi scandal spread quickly throughout social media. As the story progressed it gave us all an opportunity to think about how we as a society deal with matters of sexual abuse. People were talking about the unthinkable and the unspeakable, discussing sexual abuse around water coolers and in lunch rooms. The court of public opinion finally opened up to discuss sexual abuse, something that in our opinion was long overdue. The story falls within Woman Abuse Awareness month in Ontario, making it very timely for us to respond.
There are many different aspects of this story that we could address, however we found the question we read on Facebook and Twitter over and over again most troubling, “Why did these women not report the abuse to police right away?”
Let’s first start with the full picture provided to us by YWCA Canada. Out of every 1,000 sexual assaults, 33 are reported to police, 12 have charges laid, 3 lead to a conviction, allowing 997 assailants to walk free.
Why are only 33 cases out of every 1,000 reported to police? Well the short answer is because it is very difficult. Before a trial begins, sometimes years after the abuse took place, a woman lives in fear of her assailant, that he might retaliate. She finds it difficult not to feel ashamed when family, friends and acquaintances react with embarrassment or discomfort. She must deal with judgement, online comments, people questioning why she is doing this from loved ones that simply don’t understand. She is afraid of having her privacy invaded and often times afraid of how this will affect her career. It becomes far more about her than the assailant.
If the case goes to trial, she must withstand gruelling cross-examination with questions probing into the most intimate details of her life, in front of loved ones, if she is lucky enough to have support. It’s humiliating at best and just plain cruel at its worst. She must relive the abuse over and over again to the police, to the Crown Attorney, in pre-trial preparation and in the public eye during cross-examination.
How much simpler would it be to just try and forget it ever happened and walk away? Women do put themselves through this process to make sure their assailant never has an opportunity to abuse another woman. All for that nine percent who are reported and actually get convicted. And yet we still ask why.
At WHSBG we offer a safe shelter for women who have suffered abuse and their children; we counsel by telephone, in groups and in person to help those affected by abuse move on with their lives in a healthy way. We encourage all women to get counselling to help deal with their abuse and will walk with them through their journey whether they choose to remain silent or to press charges. You may call toll free 1-866-578-5566 to access compassionate and caring counselling.
The courage of a woman alone is not enough. During this month of Woman Abuse Awareness, we invite you to wear a purple scarf and show your support for abused women and children across Ontario. Wrapped in Courage purple scarves can be purchased for $15.00 at the following stores: Nine Waves in Lucknow & Kincardine, Curves in Kincardine, I Want That Bag Consignment in Lucknow, Belle of the Boudoir in Port Elgin, TNA Clothing in Paisley (remember they’ve moved next door to former Joannie’s Fashions), MacDonald’s Plus Ladies Wear and Amazing Assets in Walkerton, Suits Us in Hanover, Sisters on Huron and Trends Hair Salon in Southampton. All profits will go towards funding the many programs WHSBG offers to women and children in our community.
We are also participating in the Shine the Light on Women’s Abuse Campaign to raise awareness of woman abuse by shining a purple light in or on your house or business to stand in solidarity with abused women and help them understand that any shame or blame they may feel does not belong to them, but to the perpetrator of their abuse. Let’s turn Bruce and Grey purple this month to show our support to women experiencing abuse.
We at the WHSBG appreciate the support we get from our community. We value your support which enables us to keep doing the good work we do every day to achieve our goal to end abuse.
For more information please visit our website at www.whsbg.on.ca or if in crisis call 519-396-3655 or 911. Services are free for counselling programs, telephone support or to stay in the shelter. On behalf of the Board and Staff of Women’s House Serving Bruce & Grey
Cheryl Cottrill
Chair of the Communications Committee

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In-House Safe Shelter Services

Women’s House is a safe, secure and supportive environment with room to accommodate up to 13 women and children. It is a place where all women and children in need will be helped. It is also available for women who find themselves in a housing crisis. It is a co-operative setting where all women participate in household chores and meal preparations. Women’s House is accessible to the physically challenged, infants and children. Women’s House offers counselling for in-house clients and 24 hour supportive crisis lines. During their stay at Women’s House, women and children have the opportunity to access counselling regarding their abuse issues. Both individual and group counselling is available, free of charge. As well as counselling, women receive help in accessing the services of a variety of community agencies, including legal aid, housing, social assistance, other counselling services, medical help and other services as required.

In-House Child and Youth Program

Women’s House Serving Bruce and Grey provides an in-house Child and Youth Counsellor who offers crisis support counselling, safety planning and programming for the children and youth during their stay. The Child and Youth Counsellor develops programs which are appropriate to the child’s developmental and emotional needs. In particular supportive counselling is available for the children who have experienced or witnessed violence in their home. Our Child and Youth Counsellor also works with mothers during their stay at Women’s House to provide support and guidance in the areas of child management and development.

24 Hour Crisis Lines

Calls to Women’s House 24 hour, 7 days per week crisis lines are always answered by a trained, supportive counsellor. Callers do not have to give their names, and we do not subscribe to call display. Confidentiality is of utmost importance. This service is Women’s House most used service, receiving between 1500 to 2000 calls per year. Counselling by phone and appropriate referrals are given to callers in an effort to help women in crisis obtain the best possible service from whatever their location. Our local crisis line number is 1-519-396-9655. Our toll free crisis line number is 1-800-265-3026 and can be accessed anywhere in the 519 area code.