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Sexual assault underreported crime: Stupack

International Women’s Day is just around the corner.

The global celebration is intended to recognize the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.

And while the Women’s Resource Centre on Princess Avenue is planning an event on Friday, in advance of March 8, a conversation with its director of programming and development Bobi Stupack exposes the continuing ease with which men hurt women.

Statistics Canada reported in 2014 that Indigenous women are killed at six times the rate of non-Indigenous women — a year when 175 women were killed. In 2017, Statistics Canada reported the same rate for Indigenous women remained between 2001 and 2015. In 2018, a woman or girl was killed every 2.5 days on average in Canada in 2018, according to the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability.

Stupack briefly spoke about the recent horrific murders of an Australian mother and her three children at the hands of the children’s father, and said we like to think such violence happens "over there" or is rare. Neither is the case, with violence very much alive in Brandon.

For 30 years, the centre has served the needs of Westman women experiencing hardship and family violence. Three years ago, the centre added counselling and referral services specifically for survivors of sexual assault. Stupack said that prior to the resource centre offering these services for survivors, none existed in the city.

"Every time we talk about sexual assault, we have to note that sexual assault is the most underreported crime. It’s underreported because it’s most often acts of violence against women," she said.

"And there’s a significant amount of shame and lack of clarity around what the legal proceedings look like, and it comes at a significant cost to survivors of sexual assault, whether that loss of work, acquiring the services of a lawyer."

A federal Department of Justice’s report, An Estimation of the Economic Impact of Spousal Violence in Canada 2009, determined then that justice-system costs, health costs, personal costs to the victim, and occasional funeral costs — all part of a much longer list — reached $7.4 billion in 2009. Offences range from threatening phone calls to murder in the first degree, with forcible confinement and aggravated sexual assault in between.

And that’s just intimate partner violence. Family violence can take place between siblings and between parents and children, Stupack said. The centre is mandated to cover the whole spectrum of violence, and it accomplishes this with counselling, a family violence legal clinic, a breakfast program, safer sex supplies, free personal hygiene supplies, a free public bathroom — the list continues.

For 2018, the Brandon Police Service reported 13 per cent of crimes against persons were sexual assaults, with 135 charges laid.

The downtown centre operates on an annual budget of $400,000, of which $190,000 is core funding from the province. In April 2019, it received its first bump in years, an increase of $58,000. The centre received $76k in funding for sexual assault services from the federal justice department under a three-year agreement.

Stupack is waiting to hear whether that funding will be renewed.

The centre pieces together several other small grants to cover a shortfall of approximately $100K.  

While Stupack has stats at hand — there were 1,300 visits to the centre this past year — she said numbers don’t tell the whole story.

"Stats are a hard topic in our line of work. Some of our clients come in just to use bathroom. If that’s what they needed today, that’s fine. That’s why we’re here," she said.

"Some women want to come in and have breakfast, engage in conversation. Some women want to access deeper programming and assistance, a counsellor. Or they want assistance to have a conversation with their CFS (Child and Family Services) worker, for example."

Stupack said that while they record the number of visits, it doesn’t fully represent the total time commitment, which also includes phone calls.

"We may have a woman in the centre who needs housing today, but that may be six different phone calls. Or that woman may be a two- to five-hour process of applying for a protection order," she said.

The centre employs several part-time family violence counsellors, a part-time Indigenous counsellor/knowledge keeper, and a child and youth counsellor.

Stupack said the centre is life-saving and life-altering for women experiencing violence in their lives.

Donations are another source of funding for the centre and accounts for approximately $13,000. It can be a smaller donation, like the $305 from Rotary Villas at Crocus Gardens in February, or $1,000, such as from the Kinettes Club of Brandon, also in February. 

No donation is too small, Stupack said. Every little bit helps, and is deeply appreciated, and the smallest donation can make the biggest difference in a woman’s life — even if it just means having a toast for breakfast at the centre.

But she added: "It’s unfortunate the way that we have to piece together bits and pieces of funding each year just to keep the doors open. We need more money."

Michèle LeTourneau, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun