By Savanah Norman, Op Ed, The Province, March 8, 2019
This year marks the 20th anniversary of Justice for Girls (JFG). For two decades, JFG has fought against poverty, homelessness, violence and the brutal impacts of colonization in the lives of teenage girls. We stand up for girls and support them to raise their own voices against injustice and demand peace, dignity, and freedom from violence.
As I sit in our tiny office, l think about the amazing girls and women who put their time and effort into this organization. I think about the feminists, locally and internationally, who have fought for the equality of women and girls.
My grandmother, Diane Freed, is one of those feminists. She joined the women’s movement in the 1970’s. Recently, she gifted me some newspaper clippings from 1980, when she was fighting for the rights of women and girls. Reading through the articles, I found it disturbing that she spoke about the same issues then as I do in my work today.
A 1980 article from the Vancouver Free Press really grabbed my attention. My grandma is quoted saying, "We figure that only one out of every ten sexually assaulted women call, the rest are too afraid to speak. They seem conditioned to expect that no one will believe them anyway. In B.C., in 1978, Statistics Canada has recorded 650 reported rapes. And of these a great deal less are charged and of those even fewer are convicted.” Her point was all too familiar to me.
In another 1980 clipping, she said, “No matter how much we think the legal system has changed, it hasn’t. More often than not the rape victim is put on trial instead of the accused rapist.” Nearly 40 years later, not much has changed. According to police statistics, sexual assaults in Vancouver from 2005-2015 had a conviction rate of 2.9%. Only 5% of victims report their assaults. In 2019, women and girls are not getting the justice they deserve.
In the last few years, women and girls have resorted to other tactics to get justice. The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements are great examples of women taking matters into their own hands. In Canada, multiple politicians and influential men have been called out for sexual assault and harassment. We know that teen girls are the most vulnerable. According to Statistics Canada, police-reported sexual assaults were highest among teenage girls both before and after #MeToo. Not only has #MeToo increased police reporting, it has started a very important public conversation, it has brought together survivors of sexual violence on an international platform.
Attitudes towards women and girls need to change. Who was stupid enough to think Jody Wilson-Raybould, a strong, proud Indigenous woman, could be strong-armed into violating her ethics as Attorney General, or, more importantly, her Indigenous values as a matriarch and truth-teller? She was grossly underestimated by the Prime Minister’s Office. The miscalculation was racist and sexist. Just south of us, there is a racist misogynist in charge of the most powerful country in the world. Brett Kavanaugh, who faced multiple, credible accusations of rape, won a lifetime appointment to the US Supreme Court in 2018. Need I say more.
It is bittersweet for my grandmother and me, and women everywhere, to reflect on where we have come from and where we stand today. We have come a long way, but we have much further to go. My grandma is proud that I carry on her work, but sad that I still have to. To celebrate International Women’s Day, I will think of my grandmother, knowing we stand together in an intergenerational fight for women and girls' equality.
Article also available at https://theprovince.com/opinion/op-ed/savanah-norman-from-grandmother-to-granddaughter-50-years-of-feminism
By Savanah Norman, Op Ed, Vancouver Sun, October 13, 2018
On Thursday, September 27th 2018, we gathered around the screen in our Justice for Girls office to watch the United States Supreme Court nomination hearing. What we saw transpire with Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh made us feel reluctantly grateful for not reporting the sexual assaults that we have experienced as teenage girls.
As a diverse group of women—teen to middle-aged, white, Indigenous, straight, lesbian, wealthy, poor, grade 12 to post-graduate education— every one of us related to Dr. Ford and to each other. We felt a collective nausea at the familiarity of her story. We know first-hand what happens to teenage girls at parties. Among women, it’s common knowledge that men spike drinks at parties with anything from grain alcohol (Everclear), Rohypnol, MDMA, GHB, Ketamine, muscle relaxants, benzodiazepines, ecstasy, and the list goes on. A number of us have had this experience; some were lucky to escape assault, some were not.
Who hasn’t been at a party where young men prey on an intoxicated girl? A girl who has lost her ability to consent to sexual activity. Drunk does not mean yes. We also know that girls are pressured to drink excessively at parties, verbally harassed, groped, trapped in rooms alone and barricaded from escaping, pinned down against walls or furniture, and woken up to being assaulted after passing out. These things happened to teen girls when Christine Blasey Ford was a teenager, and continue to happen today. The #MeToo movement is a great example of how common and normal these experiences of assault are for young women then and now.
As the women in our office watched the hearing and thought about all the young women we’ve spoken to over the past 20 years as an organization that responds to violence against teen girls, we came to the sad conclusion that our reality has not changed much . If teenage girls want to socialize with their peers and have fun at parties, they must worry about being sexually assaulted and/or drugged. Girls are given the responsibility of keeping themselves safe from rape : you shouldn’t have been drinking; you should know to never leave your drink unattended; maybe you shouldn’t have worn that or been out so late; and, in the case of the Kavanaugh gang rape allegations, you shouldn’t have continued to attend those parties. It’s like we are still in 1983, but we are not.
In 2016, Justice for Girls interviewed 51 young women and teenage girls and found that the greatest barrier to their success in education was male violence. In the 2013 Adolescent Health Survey of 30,000 B.C. youth, the McCreary Centre Society concluded that girls were six times more likely to have experienced both sexual and physical assault than boys. And, of the five percent of sexual assaults reported to the police in Canada, girls under the age of 18 make up nearly half of all victims, with sexual assault rates highest among girls aged 13 to 15.
Kavanaugh’s extraordinary sense of entitlement clearly extended to the bodies of the young women in his social group. The elite prep school and sports teams Kavanaugh so proudly pushed forward as his alibi against Dr. Blasey Ford’s allegations are likely where he learned and legitimized his sexual assault tactics.
According to sociologists DeKeseredy and Schwartz, across race, class, and geography, male peer socialization groups teach, encourage and legitimize sexual assault against young women. Check locker rooms, fraternities, Facebook groups, Instagram, Snapchat, private group chats and you will find young men teaching each other how to exploit and assault young women. In many ways, ‘pussy-grabbing’ Trump was accurate to describe his boast about sexual assault as “locker room talk”. As Dekeseredy and Schwartz point out, old school locker room sexual assault socialization is now supplemented by thousands of degrading and violent pornographic depictions of women that can be accessed on a smartphone anywhere, anytime, including on the bus to school. Justice for Girls dealt with a case in which men created a Facebook page called “Deflowered in Seconds”— literally a step-by-step teaching manual on how to sexually abuse 12 and 13- year-old girls.
Thankfully, the majority of men reject the Brett Kavanaughs and Donald Trumps of this world. Many men and boys have spoken out and stand beside women who expose male violence. More must step forward now. All must intervene when a teen girl is being set up to be assaulted at a party or anywhere else. Men and boys must fight against those who give them a bad name; this is the moment in history to stand with the women and girls. Don’t worry guys, you are not required to wear a pussy hat.
More importantly, this is a huge moment for women and girls. When the Senate voted Brett Kavanaugh on to the US Supreme Court, and the White House blocked thorough, honest and impartial investigation into sexual assault allegations, all while mocking women who came forward, what did this say to women and girls? It tells us we don’t matter, we don’t have the same rights as men, and that attempting to rape women or girls won’t stop you from serving in the highest level of court. It tells us that we don’t deserve justice. It reminds us that we are not equal.
Well it won’t work. We won’t bow down to the kind of raw male power and disdain for sexual assault survivors asserted by Kavanaugh, Trump and the Republicans. We won’t let the drunken Brett Kavanaughs of the world laugh in our faces. Instead, we will strengthen our resolve and fight harder for justice. Women and girls will stop accusing men of sexual assault when men stop sexually assaulting.
Angela Sterritt is an award-winning journalist, writer, and artist. Angela's intelligence, resilience and passionate commitment to justice is an inspiration. We are honoured to have worked with Angela at Justice for Girls.
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In the video below, Angela explains how, as an Indigenous teen girl, she rose up from poverty, abuse and discrimination to graduate from high school (as valedictorian) and become an artist and award winning journalist.
I remember the day I found out about the Justice for Girls Internship opportunity. I didn’t think I’d have a shot at being hired, but I was so excited about the organization and the possibility of becoming a part of it that I tried anyway. To my surprise, I landed a spot on the Girls' Advocacy & Education Center project team. It was the first job I had had in over four years, and it meant the world to me. As I began to become more involved in the Internship, I started to grow as a person. I felt my voice being heard and my words moving people.
When I was abused and entered the court system as a young teenager, I was alone. I was alone in my addictions and in all of the abuse that followed. It’s easy to feel like you have no worth when you’re a young girl who is being poked and prodded, stuffed full of unnecessary medications, and passed along from psychiatrist to psychiatrist. Becoming a part of Justice For Girls made me realize I could have been saved from so much damage if only there had been enough support, enough resources and enough people who believe that my voice matters.
This is what I love about Justice For Girls: their social justice perspective, their ability to trust and support young women who are feeling the most hopeless. Over the past few months, I have been educated on my rights, the rights of the young women around me, and what can be done to help us work through all of the systems that dangle us by strings like puppets. The organization has helped me learn that the best way to help youth is to listen to the words they say.
I’m proud of being an intern with Justice for Girls. I’m proud of myself for turning my life around and I want other young women and girls to feel this pride too.
When I was younger I desperately needed a program like Justice For Girls in my life. But at 13 and 14, I didn’t know of any resources for help and I quickly slipped through the cracks of the education system. From a very young age my home life was unstable and unpredictable. I had no voice and felt I had no worth. By the time I was in the eighth grade, I suffered from depression, anxiety and often thought about suicide. I did not feel like I belonged anywhere, especially at a very wealthy westside school with high academic standards. Half way through grade eight, I started attending less and less, failing classes and felt like giving up every day. At the same time, I had to deal with the provincial courts because of a custody battle between my parents. The court counsellor I talked to claimed the notes would help the judge make an impartial decision, but my confidentiality was broken. Everything I told her was recorded and copies were sent to my parents. Any sliver of trust I had for people with authority over me vanished.
The next year came and home life continued to be very rocky. I soon discovered a solution to my life problems in the form of drugs and alcohol. Addiction took over my life and I stopped going to school altogether. I spent the majority of my time on the street with people who were just like me. I had run-ins with the police, and saw my friends who fit into racial stereotypes being treated unfairly. Trips to youth detoxes became frequent, as did mental health assessments, drug and alcohol counsellors, twelve step meetings and even a 10 week stay at the only local youth treatment centre. I was afraid, traumatized and trusted no one.
After a year and a half of struggling to get sober, I was ready enough to do whatever it took to not have to live like that anymore. I started to grow and learn about myself and helping others became more important in my life.
Justice For Girls came into my life when I was about 6 months sober, and changes started happening fast. I am now surrounded by strong women who I trust and relate to. We have all struggled in our own ways and have walked through it, and now we are able to walk with other young women. I’m now over a year sober, and being a part of Justice For Girls is one of the best gifts I have received. My experience can now be used to help others, and to make changes where they are needed. As an Intern now, I have a voice and the power to help create something that 13-year-old me needed so desperately.