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

“We have to make a call out to address this now so our people don’t have to feel fearful,” said Tribal Chief Mina Holmes. (Carrier Sekani Tribal Council Facebook photo)
Carrier Sekani Tribal Council seeks Indigenous-led task force in northern B.C. hospitals

Request made in an open letter to federal minister Carolyn Bennett

NDP headquarters on election night, Oct. 24, 2020. (Katya Slepian/Black Press Media)
ELECTION 2020: Live blog from B.C. party headquarters

BC NDP projected to win majority government – but celebrations will look different this election

Jennifer Rice BC NDP North Coast Incumbent was re-elected for a third according to the preliminary results on election night, Oct. 24, 2020. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Jennifer Rice is North Coast MLA for third term

Preliminary election results show NDP Majority government

B.C. Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau outlines her party's climate action platform at Nanaimo's Vancouver Island Conference Centre earlier this month. (News Bulletin file photo)
Green leader Furstenau declared victor in her home riding on Vancouver Island

Cowichan Valley voters elect freshly minted party leader for her second term

John Horgan has been re-elected the MLA for Langford-Juan de Fuca. (File-Black Press)
Horgan trounces challengers to be re-elected in his Vancouver Island riding

MLA has represented constituency of Langford-Juan de Fuca and its predecessors since 2005

FILE – Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry provides the latest update on the COVID-19 pandemic in the province during a press conference in the press theatre at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, October 22, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. shatters COVID-19 records with 817 weekend cases; masks now expected indoors

Three people have died over the past three reporting periods

The ‘new normal’ for hockey parents in Chilliwack and elsewhere in B.C., watching their kids from outside of the arena due to COVID-19 protocols. (Submitted photo)
Chilliwack hockey parents petition to be let back in the arena

Refused access due to pandemic protocols, parents are now applying pressure to loosen the rules

Aaliyah Rosa. File photo
Crown says murder of B.C. girl, 7, by accused mother was planned, deliberate

The trial of KerryAnn Lewis began Monday in New Westminster

Commissioner Austin Cullen listens to introductions before opening statements at the Cullen Commission of Inquiry into Money Laundering in British Columbia, in Vancouver, on February 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. money laundering inquiry hears of $800,000 and more in bags, luggage, backpacks

The lottery corporation has said it consistently reported suspicious transactions to Fintrac

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Some of the characters in the League of Legends video game. (Photo: na.leagueoflegends.com)
E-sports trial at B.C. high schools to start with ‘League of Legends’ team game

For fall launch, Vancouver’s GameSeta company partners with BC School Sports

Most Read