Women’s groups and Whitehorse RCMP say the results of a survey about women’s perceptions of safety in the city will serve as a rough guide about what initiatives are working and what needs to be improved on.
Put together by Together for Safety, a partnership between eight community organizations and the Yukon RCMP, the 2016 survey asked 147 Whitehorse women and girls what what made them feel safe or unsafe as well as their experience with reporting a crime to the Whitehorse RCMP.
Among the things that respondents said made them feel safe were good lighting, having a cellphone, and public buildings and women-focused agencies. Drinking establishments, the Millennium Trail, dark, empty areas and crime were listed as things that made respondents feel unsafe.
The responses aren’t surprising or new, said Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre program coordinator Sarah Murphy, but help bring women’s safety concerns into clearer focus.
“I think it can be very easy to look at this survey and say, ‘Oh, well women don’t feel safe in secluded areas and drinking establishments, so they just shouldn’t go there,’ which is not at all the answer,” she said.“That’s a victim-blaming response and it puts the onus on women to protect themselves from their attackers rather than what we believe is the right thing to do, which is to hold attackers accountable. …”
“We have this information, we know women don’t feel safe in these circumstances, so what can we do to make them feel safer and move towards this being a safer community without telling women they should stay away from those areas?”
The focus of the survey and how to respond to the results is to “bolster the dignity of women who are victims of crime and working with the RCMP to increase compassionate responses, increase capacity around violence against women and gender-based violence in general,” Murphy added.
The Whitehorse RCMP will use the survey results as a “tool,” Supt. Brian Jones said, to “help us improve and continue to improve and enhance the delivery of policing service in Whitehorse.”
Jones said he plans to find out whether some of the points mentioned by survey respondents, about what would make them feel more comfortable reporting a crime to police — access to female officers, empathetic officers, and knowing that victims would be taken seriously, among other things — are already in place and anticipated, or if respondents meant those resources weren’t there.
That survey respondents considered the Millennium Trail unsafe was “a bit of a surprise,” Jones said, and he’s interested to know if any sections in particular are the source of concern.
“I think we’re going to sit down and work with the signatories (of the) Together for Safety initiative, take a look at it, understand it and see what take-aways we can get out if that,” he said.
Plans are already underway for a second survey that will paint a clearer picture of women’s safety concerns in Whitehorse and reach more demographics than the first one, Yukon Women’s Transition Home Society executive director Barbara McInerney said.
McInerney said she was surprised that 55 per cent of the survey’s respondents reported owning a dwelling of some sort, which may indicate the survey didn’t reach the most vulnerable women in the community, and that only three per cent of respondents were ages 20 or younger.
In the meantime, the society will continue having regular meetings and training sessions with police about how to respond to victims of violence.
“We want to do everything that we can to have women and girls have a relationship with our local police that is trusting and open,” McInerney said.
Contact Jackie Hong at firstname.lastname@example.org