On March 8th, 1911, the first International Women's Day was celebrated to acknowledge women's struggles. Today, International Women's Day is a global celebration of women's accomplishments and advancements towards equality.
The Halton Social Planning Council believes it is important to review new policy initiatives in the different social sectors in order to understand the totality and complexity of the changes being recommended in our province. On this day of celebrating women's achievements, the Halton Social Planning Council wishes to bring to your attention those policies under consideration by the Government of Ontario to provide a framework of action for the prevention of violence against women. These policy recommendations are presented in the recent McGuire Report.
The McGuire Report, Framework for Action on the Prevention of Violence Against Women in Ontario, has not been well received by those working in the area of violence against women. The recommendations in this report demonstrate policy development through exclusion. The concerns and experiences of those who work with abused women and those who have survived abuse speak to the serious omissions in this report. Representatives from the Halton Violence Prevention Council, of which the Halton Social Planning Council is a member, have prepared this Community Dispatch to share their concerns about the impact of proposed policies on women in Halton and on the agencies that provide violence against women services.
The McGuire Report suggests:
- Collaboration and coordination of services is not occurring. The report fails to recognize or build on the work already done in many communities across the province. In Halton, violence against women services have been very active in collaboration and coordination to ensure that Halton residents receive the best possible range and quality of services. These agencies and groups are dedicated to helping women and children survive, recover and grow following the experiences of abuse and violence.
- Services foster dependency. At present, services in Halton are focused on promoting women's self-reliance. Empowerment is central in all facets of service as providers recognize that their role is time limited and women need to develop skills that are life long.
- Gender analysis is not significant for the development of programs and services. We believe that gender analysis is imperative in violence against women services. It has taken many years and much hard work to come to an awareness and understanding of the issues associated with violence against women. The elimination of gender analysis would be a damaging shift backward in the design and provision of services. This could result in abused women receiving services from providers whose expertise, experience and interest are not in this field, thus resulting in situations where providers do not understand the dynamics of abusive situations.
- Decriminalization of wife assault. This recommendation is shocking. There is a need for police enforcement and protection services to be enhanced, not reduced, in an effort to stop the abuse and to ensure safety.
- Women should depend on family, friends and community neighbours for support. This recommendation is irresponsible. Clearly, violence against women programs and services have been developed to meet needs that were not being met through informal relationships such as friends and neighbours. This recommendation indicates a lack of sensitivity to both the emotional and physical needs of abused women and their desire for confidentiality and anonymity. This is an example of uninformed policy development removed from the insights of service providers and women, victims of abuse.
- Amalgamation of Sexual Assault Treatment Centres and Rape Crisis Centres. These centres represent two different types of services both necessary in the caring process associated with abused women but each provide different services. There are many regions, such as Halton, that do not have sexual assault treatment centres and rely instead on hospital services. Hospitals and treatment centres, where forensic tests are done, have a very different mandate from crisis centres and as such, do not provide ongoing support and counselling. Crisis centres offer the support and counselling needed through the prolonged justice system proceedings. It is estimated that 85% of women who access rape crisis centres never report the violence to the police and when they do, 90% report years after the fact and, therefore, do not require medical treatment.
- The length of stay for abused women in shelters be limited to 24-48 hours. It is clearly unconscionable to think that twenty-four to forty-eight hours is sufficient time for women to take appropriate measures in an abusive situation, such as obtaining a restraining order. This recommendation demonstrates a lack of understanding of the complexities of the situation of many women and children.
The implications of the McGuire Report for our community imply:
- Women's lives will be placed at high risk.
- Women will be forced to return to their partners.
- Children will be placed in greater risk of abuse given the high correlation between wife abuse and child abuse.
- Women will have to rely on more expensive, and at times, inappropriate medical services, such as doctors and hospital emergency rooms.
- The demand for children's services will increase, such as those offered by the Children's Aid Society and Children's Assessment and Treatment Centre, but with no additional resources to satisfy growing demand.
- The need for mental health services will augment. These services are already unable to satisfy the existing demand.
- Hospitals will be expected to provide more counselling services in addition to emergency medical/forensic intervention. Hospitals are not equipped to provide counselling and prevention services associated with abuse. Their work is different - services for acute illnesses, emergency and trauma.
- More women will remain in unsafe and unhealthy environments because they are unable to afford violence against women services. (There are no longer subsidies available for low-income families).
- Crime rates will increase as children who experience or witness abuse in their homes are at a greater risk of growing up to be adult perpetrators or victims of crime.
- Juvenile crime will be more prevalent in our communities since adolescents often act out in response to the dysfunctions in their family environments.
- Violence will increase as the importance of prevention work done by centres is not recognized and not funded.
- Emphasis is given to services for women who report abuse to the police, therefore services will be unavailable to the majority of women who choose not to inform the police.
We hope the Halton community will support the Halton Violence Prevention Council in our efforts to collaborate and coordinate the best possible services to women affected by abuse. We resist the implementation of new public policies that jeopardize the safety, well-being and recovery of women and child survivors of abuse. The members of our community deserve better.
This analysis of the McGuire Report has been prepared by Halton Violence Prevention Council members:
Roma Carlin, Halton Family Services
Theresa Greer, Halton Women's Place
Susan Jewett, COHR Family Services
Bev LeFrancois, Halton Rape Crisis Centre
Produced by the Community Development Halton
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