VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – If you’ve been a victim of violence, harassment, or even unwanted behavior, police and advocates want you to know there are safe and anonymous channels to report your experiences.
In recent days, thousands of women across the Lower Mainland have come together online to support one another in the wake of two high-profile disappearances but it seems few have taken their concerns to investigators.
Sgt. Judy Bird with the Abbotsford Police Department says she’s constantly fielding misinformation being spread online but few phone calls to police.
She also says much of what is currently circulating on social media is inaccurate.
Patti Macahonic, executive director of Ann Davis Transition Society, says women often don’t feel safe reporting their abuse and the pandemic has made things worse.
“It’s creating a pressure cooker for people and it’s creating mental health issues … and we’re seeing it played out with violence against women,” she says.
While foul play has not been ruled out in the recent disappearances, it also has not been linked to either case. However, the nature of the disappearances and relatively close timing of each has left many women on edge and fearing for their own safety.
The events have sparked an online group that has ended up gathering stories of violence against women, tips on potentially dangerous people in the community, and tricks to stay safe and defend ones’ self.
This morning on @NEWS1130 we hear from a woman moderating a FB group where thousands of women have started posting their own experiences with creepy, unwanted, even violent behavior. But reporting all of this is essential to protecting each other, say police and advocates.
— Ash 'I work from home now' Kelly (@AshDKelly) February 5, 2021
Kelley Hanson is the group’s moderator and says she has been shocked by the stories people are sharing, especially given how many are of recent violent or harassing encounters.
Thousands of people joined her Facebook group within the first 48 hours. She says she and moderators are diligently checking each person they let in is a real person without ill-intention as best as they can.
“Another 2,000 women are still pending to be accepted into this group. So it’s really an eye-opener to see how scared women are. It’s quite shocking,” Hanson adds.
“The goal’s encouraging them that if we do see something that’s happening to report it. Because I do notice a lot of women aren’t reporting everything that’s going on right now,” she says. “I feel a lot of the girls think the cops aren’t going to do anything about it so they don’t report.”
Hanson is trying to change the focus of the group to help women document safety issues and concerns as they come up and hopes it will be used as a resource more than a storytelling platform.
She wants to make sure people know non-binary and trans people are welcome but so far she has chosen to keep not allow men into the group for the comfort of women seeking support.
Trans and non-binary people, as well as others in the LGBTQ+ umbrella, are often the targets of violence and hateful acts, including murder and Indigenous women, are killed and disappear at a much higher rate than non-Indigenous women.
She recognizes not all women feel safe speaking with police or sharing stories about their own vulnerability or trauma.
“We need to create a better system of making women feel comfortable to report and to feel safe in the end,” Hanson explains.
Women may fear retaliation, homelessness, and not being believed, and they may not trust police, particularly if they are a person of colour or Indigenous.
Macahonic says the heightened fear that non-Indigenous women are feeling right now is something Indigenous women live with everyday.
“Everyone’s on edge right now. So families are telling their daughters, their wives, ‘Be very careful,’ and the thing is, Indigenous communities have to tell their daughters, their wives, their granddaughters to do this all the time because they’re at way higher risk and it doesn’t go away,” says Macahonic.
“It’ll only go away if we bring attention to it,” she explains.
She says calls to Ann Davis Transition Society are up more than 40 per cent and she points to police data showing a 23 per cent rise in domestic violence calls to Chilliwack RCMP.
The transition society recently created a safe place for women to report violence. Women can see a trauma-informed staff member trained to liaison with police 24-7.
“They’re able to come into a safe, culturally-appropriate space and report violence against them.”
She estimates 10 per cent of violence against women and trans people is reported.
“So if there’s some really bad guys out there … and women are too scared to report and not afforded a safe reporting place, those guys go unchecked and they’re free to keep doing the same things.”
She notes Indigenous women go missing six-times more often than non-Indigenous women, and that now is the time to come together to address the widespread violence against all women.
If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, you can call any of the resources below:
24/7 Help Line: 604-792-3116 or 604-391-1993
24/7 Text: 604-819-3557
24/7 toll-free: 1-800-563-0808
Day or night: 1-800-668- 6868
Anywhere in B.C., 24/7: 310-1234
If you or someone you know is in imminent danger from abuse or assault, call 9-1-1