Taking Action to End Violence against Young Women and Girls in Canada

Pam Damoff, Parliament Hill
Taking Action to End Violence against Young Women and Girls in Canada
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MP Pam Damoff

MP Pam Damoff

Pam Damoff, a politician, community activist and business professional with over 25 years’ corporate experience on Bay Street, was elected to represent the riding of Oakville North-Burlington in the House of Commons in the 2015 federal election. Prior to the election, Pam served as an Oakville Town Councillor from 2010-2015.

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The House of Commons Standing Committee on the Status of Women tabled its report, entitled Taking Action to End Violence against Young Women and Girls in Canada, in the House of Commons today.

I would like to thank all of my colleagues on the Committee for their hard work on this very important subject, and I would also like to thank the witnesses who appeared before the Committee to testify. I applaud those witnesses in particular who demonstrated immense courage and strength in sharing their personal stories.

The committee heard that a staggering 88% of Canadian women report having been sexually harassed in public before the age of 18, and that 50% of Canadian women self-reported being groped or fondled by a stranger in public at least once in the past year. While sexual assault in public spaces is not a new phenomenon, rapid changes in technology and the growing ubiquity of social media have changed how people interact with each other and allow perpetrators to enact violence through increasingly diverse and pervasive channels.

88% of Canadian women report having been sexually harassed in public before the age of 18

In 2015, the Federal Government committed to developing and implementing a comprehensive federal gender violence strategy and action plan, aligned with existing provincial strategies, to ensure the safety of women and girls in Canada. As part of that plan, the government assured Canadians that anyone fleeing domestic violence would have a safe place to turn to by increasing investments in growing and maintaining Canada’s network of shelters and transition houses through broad investments in social infrastructure. This commitment reflects the testimony heard by the Committee during the course of the study, and that is why the report recommends that the Government of Canada provide greater access to shelters – including providing additional funding, number of spaces, and accessibility – and legal resources for young women and girls who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless and who are survivors of gender-based violence.

The federal government is committed to undertaking a review of training programs for federal public safety officers to ensure that they best serve the needs of Canadians. That is why our Committee recommended the implementation of a mandatory educational curriculum on sexual assault and gender-based violence for front-line law enforcement officials, including the RCMP. In addition, our government has committed to undertaking modernization efforts to improve the effectiveness of the justice system and to toughen criminal laws in cases of domestic assault and gender-based violence. That is why the Committee’s report recommends the provision of additional funding to the National Judicial Institute to develop and implement comprehensive and mandatory training on sexual assault and gender-based violence for both current and aspiring members of the judiciary. The Committee also recommended the appointment of sexual assault advocates for survivors to provide guidance in navigating the legal system. Another recommendation suggests the provision of additional funding beyond the current $12 million to the Victims Fund for adult survivors, and recommends expanding the fund to include young women and girls who have been victimized by gender-based violence.

The Committee undertook the study because acts of gender-based violence can prevent young women and girls from leading fulfilling lives as equal members in Canadian society. Young women and girls who experience violence are subject to both immediate and long-term physical and mental health problems, reduced economic and social prosperity, and lasting pain and suffering.

50% of Canadian women self-reported being groped or fondled by a stranger in public at least once in the past year

The report focuses on three types of violence that have a significant impact on young women and girls: harassment in public spaces, sexual violence on post-secondary campuses, and cyber violence. Witnesses told the Committee about a pervasive climate of rape culture in Canada that normalizes, excuses and tolerates violence against young women and girls in public spaces, across university and college campuses, and online. Survivors of gender-based violence are often held partly responsible for violence committed against them, and responses from law enforcement, the judicial system, colleges and universities can often serve to re-traumatize survivors who seek redress. The Committee also heard that women and girls whose identities intersect with other marginalized identities – such as indigenous women and women from immigrant communities – are simultaneously more likely to experience gender-based violence and less likely to bring their cases forward to the authorities.

The report makes 45 recommendations to the Government of Canada that aim to prevent, respond to and eliminate acts of violence against young women and girls. The report lists recommendations in the following areas for action to address violence against young women and girls:

  1. Establishing public awareness and educational efforts
  2. Engaging men and boys in addressing violence
  3. Improving law enforcement and the justice system’s responses to reports of gender-based violence
  4. Increasing data collection, research and knowledge
  5. Supporting front-line services and community organizations
  6. Tailoring anti-violence strategies to the unique needs of marginalized groups
  7. Collaborating with the provinces and territories
  8. Tackling cyber violence and gender-based violence that occurs in online spaces

The Minister for the Status of Women, the Hon. Maryam Monsef, was tasked with the creation of a Federal Strategy on Gender-Based Violence and has been working to fulfill this part of her mandate.

Our government needs to take action now to ensure that women and girls in Canada can live lives free of violence and harassment. It is my sincere hope that our report will provide guidance to the Minister and to the federal government as they move forward with the strategy on gender-based violence, and I look forward to receiving their response to our report.