A recent survey by the Native Women’s Association of Canada finds that Indigenous women are more worried about domestic violence than they are about most COVID-19 issues.
Syilx and Secwépemc author and political advisor Elaine Alec says anyone working within the realm of “violence against women” in Canada saw rates of domestic violence rise almost immediately at the beginning of the pandemic.
“One of the things that keeps being mentioned is that there’s just no supports in place right now, because of covid and the opioid epidemic,” Alec says. “There’s nothing in community right now to support people,” says Alec.
Alec, a women’s advocate, has shared her own experiences of trauma, while interweaving her knowledge on tools for healing, in her recently debuted first book, “Calling My Spirit Back.”
Since publishing this book, she says more women and girls have come forward to disclose their own stories of sexual assault. With the lack of support available for victims, she decided to take action.
On Nov. 4, Alec launched a GoFundMe for a ‘Website for Sexual Assault Disclosures and Support.’ She aims to raise $15,000 to use towards an online resource for survivors of sexual assault to report their stories and help them access support and healing.
“We would like to create an online space for those looking for support, wanting to disclose in a supportive atmosphere and provide healing tools for individuals who visit,” the GoFundMe states.
Once built, the website would offer videos and seminars, as well as connect users to trained professionals willing to chat and support, Alec says.
She thinks many people have reached out over social media, simply because there aren’t other options available to them.
“Maybe they’ve talked about it, or they know that people in the community have talked about it, but nothing’s been done to hold those individuals who have harmed others accountable for their behaviours in their communities,” Alec says.
“There aren’t very many spaces for Indigenous people to go to disclose or find a path forward on what that healing looks like and what accountability looks like to those individuals.”
Lack of trust
Part of the reason victims don’t feel like they have a safe place to go, Alec says, is due to a lack of trust with RCMP and government processes. Self-determination means taking matters into your own hands, she adds.
“The laws and policies in place do not support women to come forward,” Alec explains. “It’s time for us to come together to talk about what our protocols are, what our stories are, what our laws say and what we need to create for ourselves because we can’t wait for anybody else to do that for us.”
But Alec isn’t the only person who is trying to find solutions to the lack of resources for survivors of violence, assault and harassment.
In May of this year, the Government of British Columbia announced a $10 million dollar grant program to aid in emergency sexual assault response services over a three year period. The grant program intends to “help organizations throughout the province provide sexual assault survivors with swift access to compassionate and comprehensive care,” writes Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth in a press release.
“A recent survey and consultation by the Native Women’s Association of Canada suggests that many Indigenous women and girls have indicated they are more concerned about gender-based violence during the COVID-19 pandemic than the virus itself,” says Barbara Ward-Burkitt chairwoman of the Minister’s Advisory Council on Indigenous Women.
“Violence against Indigenous women and girls itself is a pandemic across our country and it is continuing to grow.”
The survey submitted to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples also finds that domestic violence against Indigenous women has increased during the COVID-19 global health pandemic.
Alec hopes her website can link users to the established organizations that might best support their individual needs. She hopes the resources available help to break the silence around abuse.
“It is so uncomfortable for our communities because there’s so much shame that’s been built up and that’s why we’re silent,” Alec says. “But I’ve noticed an increase of young women starting to come forward with names of individuals in their communities who they’ve identified as predators, somebody that has harmed them, or somebody who has sexually assaulted them,” Alec explains.
When one individual comes forward, she believes, others will feel inspired to share their own stories.
“They’ll know they aren’t alone,” she says.