My commitments to helping end violence against women: Hollaback! Survey
Hollaback! Ottawa, an organization dedicated to ending street harassment, has asked candidates to make specific commitments to ending gender-based violence. It’s a critical issue, and one in which municipal government has a clear role. A Hollaback survey last summer demonstrated the breadth of the problem in Ottawa:
- "More than half of respondents had experienced leering (62%), honking (58%), sexist comments (58%) and/or comments about one’s body (58%) in the past year
- 21% had been stalked or followed
- 9% had been grabbed or touched in sexual way
- 4% had witnessed public masturbation
- Other experiences included clear invasions of private space (particularly on transit) and being flashed.”
This is clearly unacceptable. To combat this, Hollaback! is requesting that candidates commit to a five-point plan. I’m pleased to commit to all five. Here are my commitments and detailed position on each:
1. Fund public service ads to raise awareness about harassment in public spaces.
YES! The ads should be fully funded, as this is a simple and cost-effective intervention. But this should not be limited solely to ads, which may not be the most effective way to reach some important audiences. I support funding a comprehensive targeted, strategic campaign using the most effective messages and approaches to raise awareness about harassment, working across social, digital, as well as traditional media.
2. Hire more OC Transpo special constables.
YES! More effective and visible policing is definitely one element in the toolkit that has to be considered. Hiring more special constables to patrol the transit system, as well as establishing a chief safety officer, may be difficult to get past a majority of Council in an environment of fiscal restraint, since the cost to hire more OC Transpo special constables is not insignificant. We will need to make as strong a case as possible to achieve the required budget. I believe that a successful case will rest on the idea that an investment to increase safety will result in higher ridership and reduced reliance on automobiles. Ultimately, this would yield a better return for taxpayers. We are appropriately spending billions to improve public transit. System safety for all riders is paramount if that investment is to pay off. My commitment is to champion this idea on Council. We should also consider the whole range of options to address the problem. For example, can we work with not-for-profit partners to recruit volunteer safety advocates or monitors? Implement peer programs for at-risk groups? Install more emergency boxes, safe zones, and signage? These could be used to augment increased patrols. The City needs to explore such initiatives in partnership with experts such as Hollaback! Ottawa.
3. Prevent sexual assault at mass gatherings by requiring that staff at permitted events be trained in preventing and responding to sexual violence.
YES! Better training should be required and should be combined with a clear implementation strategy and a program to measure the results. Requiring training of staff at special events in sexual violence issues in partnership with organizations such as Hollaback! Would be a low-cost, high-impact use of funding. The City, through Public Health, should develop a package of training tools to be used for event staff, and require certification of training when permits are issued.
4. Promote comprehensive sexual health through Ottawa Public Health with programming that complements current safer sex messaging with conversations about consent and healthy relationships.
YES! There is no safe sex without consent. Period. There is money spent currently on city-wide communications that are often self-congratulatory. This could be better spent on awareness. Since there is already a substantial safe sex communications program, there is clear benefit and little incremental cost to including key messages about consent and healthy relationships.
5. A commitment to making public transit safer for women and lesbian/gay/bisexual/trans/queer (LGBTQ) people.
YES! Ottawa’s public transit system should be the safest way to travel for all these groups. I would add that this is true for any groups that are vulnerable to harassment and victimization, including children and youth, people with disabilities, and visible minorities.
Hollaback’s 5-point ask is a great start, but it shouldn’t be as the end of how our municipal government can address gender-based violence. The built form of the city has much to do with how sexual violence and street harassment is facilitated or not. Currently, initiatives such as safety audits are not a requirement in the application process for proposed new developments. It is unfortunately left up to volunteers such as the Women’s Initiatives for Safer Environments to undertake and fund those. This is not acceptable. Why are traffic studies, engineering studies, and numerous other studies required for all but the smallest new developments in Ottawa, but their impact on a safe environment is ignored?
I recently participated in a safety audit of the proposed new pathway system that was proposed for the light rail detour in the Scott-Albert corridor. A safety audit should have been built into the project plan (http://jeffleiper.ca/content/lrt-safety-audit-press-release), but City officials and elected representatives were inexplicably resistant. Indeed, the WISE and community volunteer audit found that the proposed path route was quite unsafe, and put people at unnecessary risk, including of gender-based violence. When these results were released, the pressure on the City was such that the pathway was re-routed. We need to make it a priority at the City to consider environmental safety.
For years, the Hintonburg Community Association (that I led as president) has strongly and successfully encouraged proponents of new developments (larger infill and highrises) to undertake a safety audit of their plans. These need to be formalized into our planning processes at the City.
At a recent meeting to discuss a proposed new Ashcroft student housing development, I asked whether the company had considered the safety of its residents in their trip from campus to apartment. It was dismaying that it had not, and the representative went further to suggest that Ashcroft had no obligation to look at safety beyond the property line. I don’t accept that in an environment of heightened sensitivity to student safety and demonstrable risks to the student population of gender-based violence. As Councillor, my commitment is to make it clear that support for projects both private and public will depend on first thinking through the implications to the safety of all residents, as viewed through multiple lenses including street harassment and gender-based violence.
Hollaback! is doing good work in the quest to end street harassment and violence against women as well as the GLBTQ community. I’m pleased that it has been proactive in raising these as election issues. I will be pleased to help champion these issues on Council.