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May 12, 2017 (Ottawa, ON) - The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) is observing Sexual Assault Prevention Month (SAPM) by voicing its support for the brave Indigenous women and girls who report sexual harassment and assault. Despite the multiple barriers Indigenous women and girls face in reporting these incidents, there is increasing public awareness of the importance of documenting these occurrences and pursuing legal action against perpetrators.
NWAC is currently working at the policy level to empower Indigenous women to come forward by supporting legislation like Bill S-215, which would require a court to consider a woman’s race and gender to be an ‘aggravating factor’ when sentencing of violent offenders who have committed a crime of a sexual nature against an Indigenous woman. NWAC’s Violence Prevention & Safety department also provides resources for women addressing domestic violence.
However, NWAC Interim President Francyne D. Joe stresses the importance of individual actions in compelling change. “The spectrum of what is considered sexual violence covers everything from harassment, which is a violation of human rights, to sexual assault, which is a criminal act. It’s important to report harassing and inappropriate comments or actions so that individual cases may be dealt with and to provide accurate data which reflects how pervasive sexual harassment is. This is a crucial step towards prevention.”
“It’s especially hard to come forward when you’re not sure what happened or are worried you might need to defend the choices you made to find yourself in a bad situation,” Joe offers in regards to reporting sexual assault to the police. “NWAC wants Indigenous women and girls to know that no one is responsible for their own sexual assault. We’re continuing to make recommendations for positive changes to police intake operations that are culturally sensitive and eliminate processes that support victim-blaming. The healing process between Indigenous communities and the police has just begun.”
NWAC encourages Indigenous women to know their rights through resources such as the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s policy on preventing sexual and gender-based harassment and share this knowledge with their loved ones. Women and girls who are experiencing or have experienced abuse are advised to seek help and support with those they trust and, if they feel safe doing so, to call the police.
“The launch of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and the announcement of a $100 million investment in developing and implementing a Federal Strategy to Address Gender-based Violence reinforce NWAC’s message; Indigenous women are loved and valued,” Joe continues. “We will no longer be forced to silently suffer the burdens of colonial structures put in place to rob us of our power. We will stand up as a nation and as individuals to reclaim our rights.”
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About The Native Women’s Association of Canada
The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) is a National Indigenous Organization representing the political voice of Indigenous women, girls and gender diverse people in Canada, inclusive of First Nations on and off reserve, status and non-status, disenfranchised, Métis and Inuit. An aggregate of Indigenous women’s organizations from across the country, NWAC was founded on the collective goal to enhance, promote and foster the social, economic, cultural and political well-being of Indigenous women within their respective communities and Canada societies.