There have been several high-profile cases of sexual assault in recent months — Jian Ghomeshi and Bill Cosby the most prominent among them — but the resulting media spotlight may end up improving things in the long term.
"At the women's centre we hope that this increased coverage and awareness of the issue of violence against women will help to break the silence, and the shame and stigma the victims of violence often feel," said Kelsey Rose, Whistler coordinator for the Howe Sound Women's Centre Society (HSWC).
"We know that there's still a dark cloud around violence against women, especially around sexual violence. It's difficult to talk about it. It's an uncomfortable topic, but I think we should all feel uncomfortable that one in four women will be sexually assaulted during her lifetime."
It's a problem that goes much deeper than those cases reported in the media, and one that is impossible for one person or one organization to tackle alone.
But approaching the issue here in the Sea to Sky corridor, the HSWC has some powerful allies in Whistler Blackcomb and Gibbons Hospitality Group.
"Our goal is to decrease the rates of sex assaults in the Sea to Sky corridor by seeking out those positive, collaborative, community-based solutions that really suit the realities of our Whistler resort town," Rose said. "We feel confident that by partnering with those local businesses we really can have a positive impact on reducing rates of sexual assault while, again, continuing to break the silence around all forms of violence against women."
The HSWC's new sexual assault prevention campaign takes a dual approach. There's the "Make Your Move to End Sexual Violence" poster campaign — featuring posters with "creepy" messages that end in a positive twist — complemented by staff training for various village bars and clubs.
"We want to make people's experience — and Whistler as a whole — as safe and fun as possible, because we know that creates this amazing experience," said Dee Raffo, communications and marketing director for Gibbons.
"By continuing to empower some of our staff with the right and ongoing training, we're creating a team of those ethical bystanders... they know what to look out for and how to intervene, and how to do that in a safe and effective manner."
Managers and staff with Gibbons have already been involved in the training, and Raffo said she was proud to see the passion they showed.
"The safety of their guests is paramount to them," she said. "That's why they're in this business. They love to throw great parties and great parties only come if people are safe and it's a fun environment... so they're so focused on that. They're really excited to start implementing these new tools."
Part of the training involved developing a set of key questions that will help Gibbons' staff determine if a person is safe without being aggressive or disrespectful, and improving communication between staff members.
"We're going to create a communication team so that any time somebody feels that there's a situation happening that is even vaguely wrong, they know who to go to," Raffo said.
The training isn't a foreign concept to Gibbons or its staff — there are already similar training and communication protocols in place — but it's part of an evolving mandate.
"We're constantly building and evolving and developing those," Raffo said. "If there's anything we can make stronger and better we're going to do it."
Businesses who would like to get involved with the HSWC's campaign — either through staff training or posters — can contact the HSWC at 604-962-8711.
The HSWC's annual Walk a Mile in Her Shoes takes place Sunday, April 12. Men are invited to join the walk to help raise awareness and funds for the prevention of violence against women.
On April 7, the provincial government announced it would invest $5 million into projects focused on ending violence against women and preventing crime.
The money will be dispersed through more than 220 grants to community groups. The announcement comes ahead of Prevention of Violence Against Women Week this April 12 to 18.
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