3 EVA BC: Best Practices

Speaker: Tracey Porteous, Ending Violence Association of BC

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Video Transcript

Jennifer Jordan: Next, I would like to introduce Tracy Porteous, Executive Director, Ending Violence Association of BC, to present on best practices in SVM policies.

Jennifer Jordan: Hi.

Tracy Porteous: Does this one work? I think I’ll use this one. And this one works, too, right?

Robynne Devine: Yeah, they both work. [inaudible 00:00:36].

Tracy Porteous: I want it do that.

Robynne Devine: Oh, you want it to be on the thing, on the main [inaudible 00:00:00:42]?

Tracy Porteous: Yeah, I just want to put the films to start with.

News Reporter: It’s the third attack on campus in as many weeks.

Police Officer: This man did manage to get his hand up her skirt, and rip at some of her clothing under her skirt, and also punched her in the face.

Police Officer: Three counts of first degree murder.

News Reporter: 18-year-old [Vendice 00:01:05] was beaten to death on the train tracks beside the trail.

Crowd: (singing)

Tracy Porteous: That’s just a small clip from a film that we did a few years ago called Be More Than a Bystander: Break the Silence on Violence Against Women. It’s a campaign that we have with the BC Lions Football Club, but I’m not going to talk about that so much today. I just like to start with a grounding of where we’re at, and I think that gender-based violence is an all too stark reality. Many people this morning, students included, talked about this being an epidemic. We’ve never seen the amount of awareness that we see now on the issue of gender-based violence on campuses and outside of campuses, on the military, the RCMP, in every culture, in every community. And I think a lot has changed over the last year.

Tracy Porteous: This year marks my 38th year of being involved in the response in BC to sexual violence. And I can say that from my first person’s perspective, I’ve seen a lot of change. We still have miles to go unfortunately. But there’s a lot that’s changed in our province. And I think it’s important that we acknowledge that. And I think CJ alluded to this in terms of giving credit to anti-violence leaders that have brought forward requests for change and lobbied for change. And I think before those voices from the anti-violence programs came forward were the voices of survivors, and I think that’s a grounding that we must all hold dear in our hearts.

Tracy Porteous: Imagine the experiences of survivors in the ’60s and ’70s who were trying to find a place to come forward to talk about the sexual violence they experienced before there were sexual assault centers, before there were community-based victim assistance programs, before there was any kind of awareness about these issues in society. We now have under the EVA umbrella 150 programs in the province of BC who are all made up of subject matter experts in the area of sexual assault and other kinds of sexual violence that people experience.

Tracy Porteous: And that’s because survivors spoke up. Think about the experiences of survivors who came forward to report to the police before they had any training. So that was a long time ago that survivors began to come forward. And just now we’re on the verge of seeing wide-scale training for RCMP and municipal police members across the country. And that’s because of the voices of survivors that pushed for and ended up in The Globe and Mail Unfounded series that we saw published by Robyn Doolittle a couple of years ago.

Tracy Porteous: Take the experiences of survivors who came forward to hospitals who needed medical care and who also wanted forensic evidence collected that were met at hospitals and healthcare centers without the best informed response, were met by people in the healthcare system who unknowingly passed judgment and didn’t provide a trauma-informed response. In those days, and in some cases it’s still the case, the forensic kit demands that healthcare people pluck 30 pubic hairs.

Tracy Porteous: Can you imagine after being raped going to the hospital and them wanting to take tweezers and pluck out 30 pubic hairs so they could have the ability to test DNA from your hair, from your follicle? There’s lots of work that’s happened over the last number of years by community-based advocates and healthcare advocates and nurse examiners to create their own forensic kits so the plucking of pubic hairs isn’t done anymore. And that’s also because of thanks to many academics who tell us that the admission of DNA evidence from pubic hair follicles is hardly ever raised in court. So why pluck pubic hairs from every single sexual assault survivor when it’s never used?

Tracy Porteous: We’ve been working really closely with BC Women’s Hospital and Surrey Memorial Hospital and they’d been developing a training for nurse examiners and physicians across the province and helping build sexual assault response services.

Tracy Porteous: There’s about 100 hospitals in the province and there’s only about 16 of them that have a specialized sexual assault response. So obviously we have a long ways to go, but think about the experiences of survivors pre-1983 who came forward to report and seek justice when the criminal code only had a couple of things that people could be charged with. One was rape, which was only a heterosexual experience, and the other one was gross indecency. So because of survivors and because of their advocates and feminists pushing for legal reforms, we now have a number of different sexual atrocities that occur against people that are founded in the criminal code that are more realistic about what people are experiencing.

Tracy Porteous: Think about the survivors that came forward before there were limits on the courts around survivor’s past sexual history. Now we see cases still in our courts about the survivors being put on trial, but it was in 1992 in a case called Seaboyer that led to criminal code amendments to limit the full scale exploration by defense counsel in order to discredit survivors. And that was pushed forward because of survivors. Or think about the experiences of deaf and hard of hearing survivors who came forward before anybody was looking at and uncovered the sexual abuse that was going on at Jericho Hill here in Vancouver and other institutions across our province. We’re doing a lot of work with women who live with disabilities and other disability groups and BC Disability Alliance to create more pathways.

Tracy Porteous: Or the experiences, of course, of indigenous people who came forward before police or churches or government or Crown counsel was willing to believe them about the sexual violence that they experienced at the hands of our residential schools across our country. We have residential school response programs and counseling and settlements that have taken place and obviously as we know by yesterday’s Murdered & Missing Women’s Commission report and the previous truth and reconciliation report, we still have miles to go there.

Tracy Porteous: Or think about the experiences of survivors who came forward who were accused of having a false memory syndrome. This was in the 1980s where they and their counselors or therapists were accused of implanting memories. There was a whole backlash movement that took place around that. Or the experiences of immigrant and refugee survivors who came forward who weren’t provided with any language interpretation, who weren’t provided with any cultural traumatic care. We still have miles to go, miles and miles to go on that front but we’ve made some advances by the fact that we have 14 multicultural support services in the province of BC specifically set up to respond to survivors who are new Canadians.

Tracy Porteous: Or think about the experiences of survivors who came forward in relation to Bishop O’Connor who at the time was the highest ranking clergy in the country, happened to be a clergy that was the principal of a residential school in Northern BC and there’re files that were written by the principal, who was the offender, were used against them in court to discredit their claims. We now have sanctions and provisions against the full exploration of confidential records and that’s embedded in the criminal code. And that was shored up by our previous Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould in a piece of legislation that she did last year before she ceased to become our minister of attorney general of the country.

Tracy Porteous: And imagine these experiences of survivors that not that long ago that were trying to come forward and be heard at colleges and universities across our province. Before there were policies, before there were SASCs, before there were responses, before there were student bodies demanding to be heard. And so I just want to say that the status quo is not something that we should ever be satisfied with and that we should always be looking to advance how we can make things better. How we can be more trauma-informed and how we can honor those voices who are often the only voices in communities that are seeking change.

Tracy Porteous: I don’t think it’s ever been the case that an institution or system, the RCMP or military or governments, decide amongst themselves without any pressure that they’re going to create counseling programs that cost money or response programs or training for judges. It only happens because of the agitation by survivors and advocates. And dare I say university and college campuses are the most powerful site of social change across my lifetime. That it’s often the student body’s voices that are leaders and you’re doing it now and you have moved obviously the ministry of advanced education and the minister, and I bow down to the people in the public service who clearly are hearing what people are having to say and are doing what they can to support what you’re saying needs to happen.

Tracy Porteous: I want to talk a little bit about some best practices if I can get this to work. Okay. So I was supposed to move to that slide and I forgot. So never before has there been this much awareness. So I feel like we have an opportunity before us that has never existed and therefore, we also have a responsibility to do something. We have a social change window that’s wide open right now. We need to make, “Hey, we need to do something with this.”

Tracy Porteous: And so a few years ago the Ending Violence Association of BC got together with our equivalents in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba to really dig down into sexual assaults in the country, including sexual assault on university campuses. And we created a set of guidelines for postsecondary institutions in terms of if you were going to be doing more in relation to sexual assault on campus, what do those of us who live in the anti-violence world believe you could do to help survivors in your midst.

Tracy Porteous: And so this is based on consultations with a lot of subject matter experts across Western Canada and also based on the academic literature that exists out there. I’m not going to get into the guidelines so much today, like not guideline after guideline after guideline. You can reach them, you can see them on our website which is Kate Rossiter and Misha Dhillon are here from EVA BC and had everything to do with producing these guidelines. And if you want more information you could certainly talk to any of us.

Tracy Porteous: So that’s kind of like a little bit of an overview. There’s 10 really specific suggestions for consideration. And of course, one thing that EVA is known for a lot of things, but we’re not known for being brief. So within those 10 guidelines, there’s a number of subheadings but I encourage you if you haven’t read them, you might want to take a look at them.

Tracy Porteous: I think they also landed in the laps of the Ministry of Advanced Education exactly at the same time that you were charged with the responsibility of creating guidelines around sexual misconduct and I think it was a real meeting of the minds in terms of their thinking and our thinking. At the same time, we also produced a whole series of tip sheets for different sectors, for police and Crown and anti-violence and medical people and paramedics, and those are all on our website as well, so I’d encourage you to go take a look at them.

Tracy Porteous: We also on our website have quite a thorough, I don’t know how many pages it is, but it’s about that thick, sexual assault support worker handbook. For those people who are looking to understand all of the different aspects of supporting survivors, you can have access to that. Of course, there’s the Ministry’s policy and guidelines that exist online. And also, all of the policies that you’ve collected are available for anybody to see online, easily accessible. And of course, the Ministry’s public awareness campaign, which was excellent. That happened last year.

Tracy Porteous: So I want to just spend the rest of my time talking about some of the best practices that I think are worthy of underlining in terms of working with survivors. And so having a trauma-informed response, we’ve been hearing about this a lot today and I think this room is probably filled with people that live and breathe what having a trauma-informed response means. And so to me, and to us at EVA, it means leading with empathy. Always and without hesitation to have an understanding that this is likely the most humiliating and the most terrifying thing this person has experienced. And it can be confusing for people without a lot of training because the person in front of you may look calm. They may not be screaming, they may not be hysterical, they may not be crying.

Tracy Porteous: There’s just as many human beings that have what’s called an expressed trauma response as there is that has a controlled trauma response. But know in your hearts that this has got to be the most humiliating thing that this person has ever experienced unless they’ve been victimized before. And this is very common because once you’ve been victimized sexually as a child or as a teenager, that also makes you more vulnerable for more sexual assault. And so important for you to be thinking about that.

Tracy Porteous: Obviously, important for you to excel in your understanding about inclusion and diversity. And as Shiloh and CJ talked at length about, and I won’t get into all of these things, but understanding about the importance or the aspects of their culture that’s important to them.

Tracy Porteous: Don’t superimpose that because they’re indigenous that they might want to smudge. Maybe they have a different culture because maybe they’re Anishinaabe from Ontario, maybe they don’t smudge there. And so it’s just important for you to feel comfortable in your understanding about diversity and inclusion and find out where there are worries and where there are strengths. They might have a lot of strength in their cultural community. They might have a lot of worries about their family finding out because what that will mean. So don’t be afraid to ask.

Tracy Porteous: Also, be alive to the fact that there’s an interaction between trauma, the gender-based trauma that they might be coming to you in the current day about and past trauma. A trauma that’s based on if they are indigenous, our colonial history in the country. All of these aspects of whether they are culturally people of color that stemmed from slaves. Japanese interment camps, living in a war zone. Pre-migration sexual assault is so common for refugees that are coming to Canada that had been in a refugee camp sometimes for years.

Tracy Porteous: If somebody is here from Haiti after the earthquake in disaster zones, we know that violence against women and others and gender diverse people in disaster areas skyrockets. And so think about the fact that your population of staff, students and faculty are people who are made up of people that are survivors and some of those people have hurt other people.

Tracy Porteous: You talked about this as being an epidemic so that means that our populations everywhere, wherever we work, wherever we play, wherever we engage, wherever we socialize, we as survivors exist. And so institutions need to be alive to the fact that it’s not just what might happen while they’re there. It’s also what might’ve already happened that may create a complexity in terms of the person’s response.

Tracy Porteous: The highest demographic of people targeted by sexual violence are people between the ages of 14 and 24. Well, high school and university and colleges, that is your demographic. And so we have to be alive to that fact.

Tracy Porteous: I think we need to practice talking about this before we ever have somebody come into our office to disclose that they have been hurt in this way. And this is really hard to talk about. And those of you in the student’s circle today, I really appreciated those who shared and those who had empathy for those who shared that receiving a disclosure is not easy and we may have a tendency to shut down and cross our arms and look away or unconsciously tell the person that you’re not ready to hear what they have to say.

Tracy Porteous: I can remember in 1982, when I first got involved in one of the training programs I went through, we were given cards with all kinds of sexual acts on the little recipe cards and we were asked to say them and talk about them so that if somebody ever needed to talk to us about them, we had at least talked about it before once and not be the first time that somebody ever wants to share these issues with us.

Tracy Porteous: And just indulge me for a second if you will, just to underscore the points of how difficult this is to talk about. So think about for a second, turning next to the person beside you, and just like for 30 seconds each, just think about what you might say if I asked you to talk about your last sexual experience, where it was, what time of day it was, what acts, what sex happened, how did you feel about it. Okay. I’m not going to ask you to do that but think for a second. It’s not an easy subject. And I think most people without training have a really hard time knowing what to say or what to do.

Tracy Porteous: And one of the calls to action that I heard today in that every staff and faculty should have training, should have a sophistication in understanding sexual violence and should know how to respond to a disclosure. I think that’s an awesome recommendation that I’d like to see carried forward because it seems kind of funny. Well not funny, but sort of bad that we would have so many people targeted in their age group and be found at colleges and universities and the very people that they have trust in and that they would seek help from, aside from their peers, may be the very people that might unknowingly do harm, may not know how to respond in a good way.

Tracy Porteous: I also think it’s important that those of us that are trying to be alive to developing policy and responses also be alive to the fact that most sex offenders are serial offenders. And I think there’s some debate about this, but in my years of experience, I think that it’s not all men who are committing sexual violence. It’s not all people that are committing sexual violence. I think it’s a vast minority who do it over and over and over.

Tracy Porteous: I’ve read some reports that somewhere between 400 and 1,000 uninterrupted sex offenders. Well, 400 and 1,000 people, they will have hurt her in their lifetimes. And those are reports from the U S. I think we need to do more studies and there’s a whole academic literature that’s missing in Canada. But David Lisak, who’s a clinical psychologist from the US who does this research, says that by the time most sex offenders are in their mid-20s, they’ve carried out six fully premeditated, planned sexual assaults.

Tracy Porteous: And that’s the start. And what do we have in place in society to interrupt that behavior? And, unfortunately, for not all but many of those offenders, their violence escalates over time. So not every sexual offender escalates to murder. But I think that there’s a moral imperative that we do some things to interrupt that behavior and provide people with peer pressure to behave differently and boundaries around what’s okay and what’s not okay. And I really agree with the people that are talking about we need to have a sex positive policy and response and our colleges and universities need to be a sex positive space for those people who want to be sexually liberated. It’s not about making sex or sexuality wrong, but it’s about having clear boundaries.

Tracy Porteous: Obviously, and this is the newest science and we’re hearing a lot about this, but we all need to be alive to the neurobiology of trauma. During a sexual assault, again, it’s probably one of the most terrifying things that somebody has experienced at that moment. When someone realizes that their boundaries have been so intruded upon that somebody’s body is being violated, somebody’s being held against their will, something’s happening to them that they do not want. What usually happens in that moment is that there’s a flood of cortisol and other stress hormones that flood the body that cause us to feel paralyzed and sometimes not even be able to scream and certainly not be able to fight back.

Tracy Porteous: Some survivors, especially those that are child sexual abuse survivors or had been raped before, may dissociate in the midst of of that happening. Some may make a valid decision that they’re just going to let it happen so they survive and get it over with. And so then superimpose that with somebody, a first responder or a police officer or even a loved one saying, “Well, did you scream or did you fight back and tell me everything that happened starting in the morning.” This is what the police used to do.

Tracy Porteous: Asking for a sequential narrative about what’s happened and the neurobiology of trauma is such that the survivor may, especially while the cortisol and other stress hormones are still running through their body, which lasts for about five or six days, that survivor may only be able to remember snippets or he or she may remember what they smelled or a sound that they heard or a dog barking. And then over time and with some help, they might be able to provide a little bit more of a narrative.

Tracy Porteous:And so what the police training is about is helping the police ask survivors, what do you remember? Not, I want a statement from everything you did from the morning until it happened. And then what used to happen is if the survivor couldn’t provide that narrative, then the police would be like, “Well, she might,” he or she, the survivor might be lying. Anyways, so the fight, flight or freeze. Most of us have heard about that. And the most common response in a traumatic situation, which is exactly similar to people in a war situation, is that they freeze or they dissociate. And so it’s important that survivors understand that because sometimes survivors also look back after what’s happened and think to themselves, “Why didn’t I scream? Why didn’t I fight? Why didn’t I do more?” And we need to help them understand this very clear science around the physiology.

Tracy Porteous: It’s also important to do no harm. And I don’t think any of us intend to do harm, but we need to think about what does empowerment really mean when somebody has been ultimately disempowered. We need to provide people with the information they need in order to make decisions. We need to not force anything. And we need to understand that survivors are the experts of what what they need and we need to listen to them.

Tracy Porteous: I will mention, I might’ve already skipped over this, but I was really happy to see in your narrative from advanced ed’s take on the policies. In the early days of some of the institution’s policy, some institutions were struggling with the WorkSafe BC mandate that in a work setting if somebody was aware of harassment or bullying, it must be reported. And we thought that actually does harm to people. And so we went to WorkSafe BC and we asked if there was any way that we could have them amend the policy because when you’re talking about sexual assault, you don’t want somebody to have to be compelled to be reporting it or even disclosing it or somebody doing that without their consent.

Tracy Porteous: And so they said they couldn’t really issue anything on their website. But what they did is they provided us with a workaround, something in writing that’s solid. So if any of you are an institution where your legal counsel is suggesting that WorkSafe BC policy is the thing that you have to abide by, we have an answer to that. That’s been provided by WorkSafe BC because they understand that they never meant for their policy to do harm.

Tracy Porteous :I know that I’m running out of time so I’ll try to speed up, but I don’t want to speed up about the importance of cultural safety and in all the ways that means for individuals. Cultural safety is a term that indigenous communities have come up with that is looking at challenging unequal power relations. And I think it’s important for us to think about and as many indigenous ways of being, indigenous law, indigenous ways of knowing, if we followed many of the indigenous practices, I think we’d all be better off.

Tracy Porteous: And I think, what is culturally safe to a gender non-binary person who’s just come out at school whose parents don’t know that yet? What is culturally safe to an international student who’s here on a visa who worries that if her parents find out that she’s been sexually assaulted, she’ll have to quit school and she’ll have to go back? So in all the cultural ways of cultural safety, I think we need to be alive to that.

Tracy Porteous: We need to go slow. I think sometimes, and no offense to our security partners because there are some of those security people that I know in love Glenn’s back there somewhere from BCIT, there can be a tendency to want to rush to protect and to intervene. And I think it’s really important to respond to a disclosure even if it didn’t just happen as if it just happened, because that may be the first time that the survivor has ever told anybody and she’s going to be just or he’s going to be just as traumatized telling you as when it happened. Because we store that trauma in our body and so we have to respect the person has been hurt physically and mentally and spiritually. And being traumatized in this way also affects our brain function, especially early on. Confusion and sort of disordered thoughts is very common. It doesn’t mean to say that person’s stupid, just means to say they’ve been traumatized and they need some help and they need some time.

Tracy Porteous: Obviously, this has been said before, confidentiality is really important, but we also have to be honest about what isn’t confidential. We don’t want to receive an entire disclosure from a survivor only then to tell them, “Oh by the way, I have to report this.” So we need to find a nuanced way early enough in the disclosure to say, “I want to be with you throughout this whole process. I want to support you in every way possible and part of me doing that is I need to let you know that everything you say will be confidential with a couple of exceptions. And I just need to tell you that before you tell me anything more.” And the policy should be clear about that and I agree with the calls this morning about the policies should be clear and accessible.

Tracy Porteous: We need to be clear with them also about the reporting options. I’ve talked to and so has my colleagues at EVA and the other anti-violence people that are here from other places around the province talk to students who were never told they could report to the police. They thought it just had to stay within the school or were never told that there was such a thing as a third party reporting option that actually gets entered into the prime database and is followed up on by the police. Not to do an investigation but to see if there’s a hit around serial offenders, not to compel a survivor to do anything. Kate tomorrow is going to talk more about third party reporting so I won’t say anything more about that. But we need to make transparent all the different options for people.

Tracy Porteous: Another thing that’s new in our guidelines that we suggest that you consider and because you’re charged with a very complex responsibility of creating a safe space where the person who is accused of something and the person who’s been hurt may be on the same campus. And so how do you manage that? And so one of the things that we thought about as a voluntary interim protection order where both parties agree and let’s say the person that has done the harming, maybe they can agree not to contact the person, not to be in their space, to avoid them and maybe other accommodations can happen in terms of classes and schedules and so forth.

Tracy Porteous: There’s a whole range of accommodations that you guys would know more about than us. We have a number of them in our guidelines but I leave that to you to be thinking about all the ways. And also think about cultural accommodations. Does an indigenous survivor need to connect with her mom or aunt or grandmother? Does she need to go back home for a period of time? Does she need to have some time off? And I really appreciated CJ talking about this in terms of not working in a silo.

Tracy Porteous: This is not any of our individual responsibilities to figure this out and to know what to do. I think we’re stronger in numbers. Survivors and student activists are stronger together and so are all of us, administrators and students and activists and anti-violence people. In every town where there’s a campus, there is a community-based victim assistance program who has the policy responsibility by the Department of Justice in the province to be the response to sexual violence. And so we would encourage you like don’t work by yourselves because you’re going to have people probably within five kilometers of your campus that are subject matter experts such as Bally in Prince George and Parminder in Well, you’re not Burnaby, Vancouver, yeah. And others in lots of different communities.

Tracy Porteous: Your policies should line up with the spirit of indigenous law and criminal law, human law, human rights law, labor law, collective agreements and so forth, which I’m sure your lawyers are trying very hard to do that.

Tracy Porteous: I also think this is a workplace issue and it’s not just the campuses aren’t just learning institutions. They’re also workplaces for staff and faculty and TAs and other people that work on that campus. And this is an interesting piece of research that was done by Employment and Social Development Canada in 2017 saying that the top risk factors for sexual violence in any workplace is a lack of institutional support for victims. Adherence to traditional gender roles and norms in the workplace.

Tracy Porteous: Anyways, you can see what it says there. And so I would say that there are a number of foundational pillars around listening and believing and empowering and I’ll just end it there and extend my appreciation to the the team that created this event. And I’m really honored to have been provided with an opportunity. EVA BC is a resource to any institution in the province. And so, if any of you feel like you need help in terms of training or policy interpretation or best practices in other places, call Kate. Thank you.