Asmaa Ali is photographed at home in Edmonton, Friday, July 17, 2020. She is the co-creator, along with her friend Habon Ali, of a Canada-wide comprehensive list of resources for survivors of sexual assault. This image was directed remotely while Aisha Ali operated the camera, because of COVID-19 related restrictions. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Amber Bracken

Advocates create Canada-wide support list for sexual assault survivors

The focus is on providing support to vulnerable women with intersectional experience

Two Somali-Canadian advocates have created an online resource specifically for racialized survivors of sexual assault, saying a centralized guide is necessary to fill gaps in both the health-care and justice systems that leave marginalized women behind.

Habon Ali of Toronto and Edmonton’s Asmaa Ali said existing resources are either scarce in nature or scattered across the internet, making it difficult for victims to track down the help they need. The women contend the issues persist both in the immediate aftermath of sexual violence and further down the road when victims need medical rather than legal support.

Spurred on by both the patchwork of systems at home and the death of a Black Lives Matter activist abroad, the women compiled a 28-page document listing resources including help lines, legal services and places to obtain sexual assault kits across the country.

“It was important for us to put together these resources because there’s a barrier in finding them and we did our best to remove them,” said Asmaa Ali, a registered nurse and recent graduate of the University of Alberta.

She said sexual violence resources in Canada are seldom geared towards intersectional communities and often leave Black, Indigenous and other people from racialized communities out of the conversation.

She and Habon Ali sought out resources that included those communities, adding their focus was on providing support to vulnerable women with intersectional experience.

The guide is also intended to provide additional help for students and immigrants, groups Habon Ali cited as particularly likely to fall through the cracks of Canada’s current systems.

She said language barriers often make it difficult for ethnic minority groups to find and secure the help they need.

“Sexual violence is pervasive across all social and cultural boundaries globally and its important we acknowledge the systemic inequalities that result in racial health disparities,” she said.

Asmaa Ali said both women felt moved to take action in Canada after reading about the suspicious death of a young activist in the United States.

Oluwatoyin Salau was a 19-year-old advocate who went missing in early June after tweeting about being sexually assaulted by a man. She was found dead in Florida days later. Aaron Glee Jr. 49, is now charged with second-degree murder, kidnapping and sexual assault in connection with her death.

Both Canadian advocates said Salau’s death highlights a stigma Black women face when they speak up against their assailants. The fact that some pay a heavy price for self-advocacy, bolstered by a growing number of online anecdotes detailing similar treatment, is what prompted them to make sexual assault supports more readily available at home.

“It’s sad to see the way survivors are treated when they speak up about their sexual violence,” Asmaa Ali said. “When BIPOC women online began to speak up about their experience it made it all the more real.”

The decision to include students in the guide’s scope was welcome news for Sara Reza, who attends York University’s Schulich School of Business and founded the social media account SilencedatSchulich, where racialized sexual assault survivors can share their experiences of violence and racism.

She said the number of students of color who don’t know where to turn after an alleged assault is “overwhelming and heartbreaking.”

“Oftentimes, women of colour who are victims of sexual violence in this country come from marginalized communities that are underfunded and do not have the adequate resources to help them,” Reza said.

ALSO READ: Virtual Shambhala Music Festival postponed due to allegations of sexual violence

That holds true long after the trauma of an assault, according to Siham Rayale at the University of Toronto.

The women and gender studies lecturer said systemic racism exists throughout the health-care system, citing questionable assumptions about women of colour that shape the way medical professionals have historically responded to their concerns.

“We know there have been countless studies that show what medical professionals are taught about the tolerance that women of colour have for pain,” Rayale said, adding such attitudes give women in need of care short-shrift when they need help the most.

She described the new online resource guide as “necessary and lifesaving” for those who may not know how to navigate Canada’s complex systems.

Osobe Waberi, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

sexual assault

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Nicole Charlwood represents the Green Party in the campaign for Nelson-Creston. Photo submitted
Nicole Charlwood represents the Green Party in the campaign for Nelson-Creston. Photo submitted
Election 2020: Nicole Charlwood

The first of four interviews with the Nelson-Creston candidates

Ski touring operators are changing how they plan to operate due to the pandemic. Photo: Curtis Cunningham photo
With winter looming, West Kootenay ski tour operators say they’ve adapted

COVID-19 has meant businesses are changing how the upcoming season will run

The crash caused a pole to be dragged down across the highway. File photo
The crash caused a pole to be dragged down across the highway. File photo
RCMP looking for driver who walked away from accident on Highway 3A

The crash dragged down a power pole across the highway

Rob Louie has formed a non-profit organization he says will assist band members in legal disputes with their councils. Photo: Submitted
UPDATED: Indigenous legal organization created to help band members keep councils accountable

Rob Louie has created Band Members Alliance and Advocacy Association of Canada

A passer-by walks past a COVID-19 testing clinic in Montreal, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Canada ‘yet to see’ deaths due to recent COVID surge as cases hit 200,000

Much of the increase in case numbers can be attributed to Ontario and Quebec

Police confirm human remains were found in a recycling bin in Vancouver on Oct. 18, 2020. (Black Press Media file photo)
Human remains found in recycling bin floating near Vancouver beach

Police asking nearby residents to see if their recycling bin has gone missing

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson visits a North Vancouver daycare to announce his party’s election promises for child care, Oct. 9, 2020. (B.C. Liberal Party video)
B.C. parties pitch costly child care programs in pandemic

B.C. Liberals say they’ll deliver on NDP’s $10-a-day promise for lower-income families

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

A B.C. man decided to create a website to help people find family doctors accepting patients. Because Victoria is considered high-demand, clinic openings can’t be posted publicly. (Unsplash)
Vancouver Island man starts website that connects B.C. residents with doctors

Nanaimo man started project to help people find family physicians accepting patients

Voting station at Tzeachten Hall in the riding of Chilliwack-Kent on the first day of advance voting in the provincial election on Oct. 15, 2020. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. VOTES 2020: 380,000 British Columbians head to polls in first 4 days of advance voting

Some of highest voter turnout so far has been seen on Vancouver Island and in Shuswap

Fort St. John councillor Trevor Bolin (B.C. Conservative Party)
BC Conservatives leader fights back after BC Liberals leak 2018 workplace harassment case

Sexual harassment case was connected to employee being terminated, WorkSafeBC found

Most Read