Ending the Silence: Responsive Community Support and Resources for Gender Based Violence

On Friday, February 5, 2021 the Newcomer Student Association (NSA) in collaboration with the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI) under the 2020-2021 Immigrant and Refugee Communities Neighbours, Friends and Families (IRCNFF) Campaign hosted the second session of its 3-part webinar series, Ending the Silence. The focus of this session was on Responsive Community Support and Resources for Gender-Based Violence. The session was moderated by Dr. Alka Kumar—Manager of Research and Policy at NSA. The three panelists included two NSA team members—Dr. Rahbari-Jawoko (Ryerson University Professor and Manager, Strategic Initiatives at NSA) and Jaspreet Kaur—(NSA Manager, Programs and Events, Newcomer Resilience Award recipient and research contributor to Domestic Violence in Immigrant Communities: Case Studies project) as well as Sidrah Ahmed-Chan, a public educator, researcher and writer with expertise in survivors of Islamophobic violence. The panelists drew from their professional and practice expertise and respectively commenced their presentations with discussion of the various ways intimate partner violence (IPV) generally manifests in a relationship and called attention to what is needed to mitigate challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and existing community capacity building tools and resources.  

Dr. Rahbari-Jawoko shared YWCA Spokane-Power and Control Wheel and discussed how at the core of IPV is the various expression of power and control which is “Manifested in emotional, psychological, coercion and threats, intimidation and dominance; minimizing, denying and blaming; isolation; cultural spiritual; immigration status, and economic abuse.” The pandemic has added new and unprecedented ways for abusers to victimize, including misinformation; controlling access to medical services; putting victim’s health at risk by infecting or threatening to infect victim; removing/isolating children, extended family members, pets and friends; withholding necessary items such as hand sanitizers, cleaning products, protective masks, etc.; controlling and monitoring means of communication, and manipulating to gain access to the home. 

She emphasized how:

There are misconceptions about who are the victims of IPV, as the target can be anyone, often targeted for their strengths— namely putting the needs of others before their own; being faithful; trustworthy; forgiving; believe in abuser’s potential as human being, and loyal.”

The abusers are often narcissists who begin abusing in subtle ways. It’s important to know and recognize the ways a relationship becomes unhealthy and abusive. In unhealthy relationships, parties communicate in hurtful ways, there is mistreatment, accusations, and controlling dynamics. IPV is cyclical and consists of tension building, trigger, instance of abuse, excuse, honeymoon, then the routine restarts again. The abused party gets consumed by the exhausting repeating cycle of unpredictability and recovery. Abusive behaviours hardly change and the abuser always blames their victims for their abusive behaviours or actions.   

Rates of domestic violence have increased by 20 to 30% across Canada. A Statistics Canada survey released in early April 2020 reported 1 in 10 women say they are “very or extremely” concerned about the possibility of violence in their homes due to the stress of confinement alone. Experts attribute these numbers, among other things, to the intersectional systemic issues rooted in social and economic factors such as increased poverty; lack of affordable housing; precarious and low-paying employment; lack of universal child care, and unequal access to technology and internet service. These factors have created a pressure-cooker environment exacerbated by social isolation, an inability to leave abusive situations due to lockdowns, and added fear or discomfort with following COVID protocols with their triggering effect reminiscent of controlling or abusive experience of survivors and lack of privacy.

The second presenter, Sidra Ahmed-Chan drew attention to the reality of GBV statistics against women, but stated that:

Men and boys can as well be victims of abuse including childhood sexual abuse and other forms of trauma, physical violence and psychological abuse…. it can as well happen in same-sex relationships.” 

According to police reported data the majority of GBV is men abusing women with eight in ten victims of intimate partner homicides committed in Canada are women being killed by men. She noted, Everyone who’s here at this webinar today is a potential resource to a victim or survivor of GBV.” As when informed and aware of the nature of GBV you would be able to read between the lines and hear if someone is in need of help and will know how to  connect that person with community resources. She shared numerous critical community resources such as Shelter Safe an organization which provides a Canada-wide map of shelters and transition houses. 

She discussed key myths about GBV and explained how it manifests in controlling relationships through multiple examples such as having to take photos to prove where and with whom you have been with because your partner doesn’t believe you. She emphasized that the abuse does not occur just because someone is angry or stressed, there is “controlled loss of control” and use of power. She noted newcomers face the same rates of GBV as other communities though they often face unique barriers for accessing support and services as they are ill informed about available community resources, they are underemployed, face racism and stereotypes and there is a lack of culturally sensitive support services. The main take-away from Sidra’s presentation was the awareness raised about victim blaming—the you should have known, greater understanding of how power and control are exercised in a relationship and how such awareness may be used to recognize GBV and support those affected by it.  

The third presenter Jaspreet Kaur commenced her presentation with an engaging activity ‘Which would you choose?’ The participants were given two scenarios to choose from —one depicting a healthy dynamic between a couple and one that was not. She shared a myriad of resources such as SNC—See It, Name It and Check It.” She then explained the BLUE SKY Model—a compassionate and trauma informed model in support of individuals experiencing violence and could be used to create safer communities.

Kaur called for community members who know somebody living with abuse to speak to them in person, support them by sharing tasks to maximize support, advocate for victims and/or survivors while being respectful of their confidentiality. She added, there is much community support for individuals supporting survivors of GBV and there are a lot of people in the world advocating, researching, and working towards creating safer communities like you. She drew attention to examples of everyday actions, grassroots efforts by community organizations and advocacy groups that help support individuals experiencing abuse such as: 

The graphic novel and the booklet were created with immigrants, refugees and people without status who had experienced GBV to share accurate and culturally relevant information. They are excellent resources to generate conversations within any community—available in English, Arabic, Armenian, Dari, Punjabi, Somali, Spanish, Tamil, Urdu, and Simplified Chinese. Whereas, “A Future Without Violence” is a tool kit to build newcomer resilience through community education and advocacy. Moreover, the resources help to provide practical ideas and guidelines for hosting community-based educational events service providers and advocates have identified as a best practice in addressing GBV. Kaur emphasized when helping immigrant women who are dealing with GBV, we must be vigilant of:

“Their previous experiences with seeking support prior to them immigrating to Canada, where they come from, their social location and other intersectional issues that may worsen their situation.”

She shared how to signal for help against violence by showing a palm to the camera or a person and “tuck thumb and then trap thumb” as shown.

She also shared #NOExcuseForAbuse one campaign which provides 4 Steps to help support individuals who are living with abuse during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Step 1: Learn   Abuse & COVID-19 | #NoExcuseForAbuse

Step 2: Be Aware Abuse & COVID-19 | #NoExcuseForAbuse

Step 3: Find Out How to Offer Support | #NoExcuseForAbuse

Step 4: Share Zoom Backgrounds & Social Media | #NoExcuseForAbuse

myPlan Canada” is a free downloadable mobile app or a website tool depending on what is safest for the GBV victim and or the survivor. She advised to set a PIN as it will load a neutral screen if someone tries to access the device it’s uploaded on. She noted for the users to answer the built-in questions within the app to tailor it to one’s specific needs. Kaur advised us to weigh priorities and understand personal risks of danger and options for safety and well-being. The app can provide information and resources that could be personalized to help one decide their best path forward.

We would like to leave the survivors of GBV with a profound Persian proverb and an empowering poem by Shel Silverstein:  

 “Write kindness in marble, injuries in dust.”

The Voice 

Shel Silverstein

There is a voice inside of you

That whispers all day long,

“I feel that this is right for me,

I know that this is wrong.”

No teacher, preacher, parent, friend

Or wise man can decide

What’s right for you—just listen to

The voice that speaks inside.

Authors: Dr.Rahbari-Jawoko—Ryerson University Professor and Manager, Strategic Initiatives at NSA and Jaspreet Kaur—Manager, Programs and Events at NSA and GBD Researcher

To view the full virtual webinar, which includes a list of resources available for those dealing with gender-based violence, please watch the video below:

A pamphlet with resources can be found here.

Mojgan’s presentation can be found here.

Sidrah’s presentation can be found here.

Jaspreet’s presentation can be found here, courtesy of IRCNFF – Immigrant, Refugees, Communities- Neighbours, Friends and Families Campaign at OCASI.

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