One People - Many Voices
The people most impacted by violence are also often left out of decision-making and planning.
People with lived experience of violence hold a wealth of the very perspectives we need. We need them because they have first-hand experience of how the system operates, often with less investment in maintaining the status quo because they are not dependent on it for their livelihood. This section is designed to give greater visibility to survivors of violence and their work to make positive social change. These are our ‘context experts’ and we need their involvement in social change efforts. One of the goals identified in both the 2011 and 2015 BBWON forums is to support survivor involvement and leadership at VAWCC tables.
Eva Kratochivil chaired a Survivor Inclusion Panel at the BBWON Fall Forum. The panel brought a spotlight to the importance of survivor inclusion at VAWCCs. Discussions at the forum also challenged the way the term ‘survivor’ is defined as a category that creates false divides between professionals and people seeking services – an ‘us and them’ divide that is a barrier. Who among us has not experienced violence or abuse of some form? The suggestion was made that the issue is more about the way we recognize and value lived experience. In the collective impact movement, people with lived experience are being referred to as ‘context experts’. There is a need at our tables for both content and context experts. One recommendation coming from the forum is that a request be made to MCSS to fund for two survivor spaces at every VAWCC so that there is tangible recognition of the importance of time and experience that can strengthen coordinating committees. Panel Speakers included:
- Marlene Ham from OAITH spoke about the Survivor Inclusion Project
- Pat Breton from York University spoke about the importance of working with survivors for research
- Paula Lang from the Sault Ste Marie Freedom Sisters spoke about survivor inclusion models and her experience participating in research projects. She talked about specific barriers for survivors and the importance of mentoring and ongoing support
- Ruby Jean from Owen Sound described the survivor inclusion model in Grey Bruce and pointed to the mutual benefits for the VAWCC in supporting the evolution of HER Grey Bruce
- Eva spoke about the Windsor VAWCC support model and her work as an advocate
Suggestions were made for how VAWCCs can support survivor inclusion:
- Include accessibility as a priority in planning
- Include survivors on existing committees – at all levels of activity
- Place survivor experiences at the centre of events and processes
- Make funding available to support survivor work
- Be a mentor, allow for participation and responsibility
- Ensure survivors have a valued place at the table
Mag Cywink wrote Remembering Sonya Nadine Mae for the Summer 2014 newsletter to honour her sister and unborn child who were murdered near London in 1994. The murderer has never been caught. Mag believes that Sonya’s life can teach others to move beyond the pain of sexual abuse and violence and her story is told to bring awareness to the youth as “our leaders of tomorrow”.
WomenatthecentrE is a non-profit organization that works to eradicate violence against women through personal, political and social advocacy. The organization was created by survivors for survivors, we use our shared experiences to help change public perceptions and policy.
HER Grey Bruce is a group of six women who through our voices, experiences, and passion for change, will challenge injustices, raise awareness, and take creative and practical actions on issues affecting women and children. They formed on June 10, 2010 and partner with the Violence Prevention Co-ordinating Committee, Grey Bruce Mental Health, Women’s Centre, Women’s House, Victim’s Services in Grey and Bruce Counties. We have participated in many activities including Take Back the Night, No Wrong Door, One World Festival, One Billion Rising and Her Stories.
Dawn and Ed Novak have been speaking out about system issues ever since their twenty-year old daughter Natalie was murdered by her ex-boyfriend while attending university in Toronto in 2007. The Learning Network profiled the Novaks and their mission to prevent domestic violence in dating relationships.
Julie S. Lalonde is a social justice activist in Ottawa. When her grandmother spoke out about being abused by her grandfather for many years, Julie saw the importance of bringing the survivor voice into the full light of community and in challenging the ways society further victimizes survivors by making them invisible. She speaks out very publicly for domestic and sexual violence survivors and was recognized for her work in 2013 with the Governor-Generals award. She is currently the provincial coordinator for the Draw the Line campaign. You can find Julie at: www.yellowmanteau.com
John Swales is a long-time advocate and peer support leader who speaks openly about childhood sexual abuse of boys and girls and the legacy of devastating impacts that crosses into health, mental health, addictions, employment and the criminal justice systems. John broke ground as a survivor of priest abuse in North America who sued the Catholic Church in a very public trial. He and his family won the case in 2004. John is part of the leadership team on a survivor led project in London called Opening the Circle. (hyperlink) The project is creating innovative tools and processes that will strengthen the community response to sexual violence and abuse.