Several representatives working on the issue of violence against women — from researchers, to bureaucrats, social workers and volunteers — met Thursday for a forum on violence against women and girls, organized by the Peace Grantmakers Network, the foundation headed by Brian Bronfman and Marcia Wetherup.
The forum, held at a conference room of the Richter accounting firm, brought together actors working on different aspects of the problem so they could meet and discuss solutions.
Several speakers talked about the failure of the justice system with respect to women who are victims of sexual and physical violence. They recognized the fundamental problem that only about 30 per cent of women who are attacked ever file formal complaints with police for a variety of reasons: they know their attackers, they’re not willing to go to court and withstand cross-examination that will attack their credibility, and the sentences are often not severe enough to act as a deterrent, said Manon Monastesse, the director general of the Fédération des maisons d’hébergement pour femmes.
“Victims have very little confidence in the justice system right now,” Monastesse said. “The justice system is important, because it represents society, and if the justice system is not able to send a clear message against violence toward women, then it sends a strange message to society.”
She said without an adequate legal system, victims will continue to live in terror and their perpetrators will not be held accountable.
Monastesse said while it’s important to improve the legal system, it’s perhaps more crucial to address the needs of the overwhelming majority of women who never come forward with complaints, and who suffer intolerable acts in silence.
To that end, the needs are crying, she said. The average occupancy rate for women’s shelters is at 95 per cent, and there are thousands who are turned away every year, or they stay on waiting lists.
“We can’t even respond to the demand for people who ask for help,” she said. “And there are many people who don’t even ask for help. If we had to respond to everyone who really needed help, we’d never come anywhere close.”
She said part of the problem is funding, because government grants have not been adequately indexed over the years, resulting in a 20 per cent decrease in funding due to inflation.
“At this point, we have to start cutting our services,” she said. “We could do so much more if we had adequate funding.”
Nathalie Duhamel, the coordinator of the Quebec coalition of sexual assault centres, said it’s not just the legal system and shelters that need help, but more prevention programs need to be implemented, and institutions need proper policies to deal with issues in the workplace.
“It’s very painful for women, and we don’t have any solutions,” she said.
Because there are no obvious solutions to the complex problems, Bronfman said he hopes the forum will help bring about at least some change by bringing together actors that normally don’t discuss the problem together.
“Today is intended to create conversations between people from different realms working to prevent violence against women and girls,” Bronfman said. “People who are working at women’s shelters and NGOs have short-term and immediate needs to take care of, and they don’t normally have the opportunity to get together with others to discuss things in a bigger context.”
One of the participants, Eby Alfadel, who volunteers at Projet PLATFORME, an organization out of the University of Sherbrooke that focuses on conflict resolution and human rights issues, said the forum made him optimistic for the future.
“The conversations around the table were very interesting and will allow us to come up with propositions that I think will really make a difference,” Alfadel said. “We’re all here to change the world.”
Paru dans Montréal Gazette
crédits photo : John Kenney