The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t kept the local Zonta Club from marking the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, but it continues to raise concerns for the victims potentially trapped in homes with their abusers.
That concern was top of mind when the Zonta Club held its annual Zonta Says No campaign last year during the pandemic and remains a year later as the second COVID-era rally took place Thursday on the Parry Bridge in Chatham.
“People think in Canada we’re a pretty damn civilized society, but one of the hideous outcomes of COVID has been a dramatic increase in gender-based violence,” Hiliary Henley, advocacy chair for the Zonta Club, said.
She said many victims have been hidden away at home.
“One in three women will experience violence in their lifetime,” said Karen Hunter, executive director of the Chatham-Kent Women’s Centre, during a flag-raising at the Civic Centre Thursday that also marked the beginning of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence worldwide.
“Over the last year in Ontario, femicide rates have increased substantially,” she said. “Every loss to gender-based violence is one too many.”
Tara Greenway, the sexual assault domestic violence co-ordinator and clinical resource nurse at the Chatham-Kent Health Alliance, said about 60 victims of sexual assault and domestic violence are treated in the emergency department each year – and that’s only the people who come forward.
She noted the numbers actually dipped at the beginning of the pandemic, and then rose up, but have since settled to numbers usually seen in the emergency department.
Some of the participants in the Zonta Says No campaign stand on the Parry Street Bridge in Chatham on Thursday to take part in the annual rally to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. ELLWOOD SHREVE PHOTO/Chatham Daily News/Postmedia jpg, CD
Greenway said it’s critical to bring this issue to the public’s attention through events such as rallies.
“The reason I’m here is to let people know to not be afraid to come in,” she said.
Noting some people may be afraid to see medical help because of other issues, such as a drug addiction, Greenway said, “We are really here to help.”
She said victims will never have to sit in the waiting room with the general public but will be taken to a safe place to receive medical attention in private.
“Don’t be afraid. Don’t be ashamed. Come forward,” Greenway said, adding there is 24-7 on-call coverage.
Greenway said there is also no pressure from health-care workers for victims to get the authorities involved.
“If they do not feel comfortable involving the legal system, we can (collect) a sexual assault evidence kit and we can hold it for up to a year,” she said.
Some of the participants in the Zonta Says No campaign, stand on the Parry Street Bridge in Chatham on Thursday to take part in the annual rally to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. ELLWOOD SHREVE PHOTO/Chatham Daily News/Postmedia PHOTO BY ELLWOOD SHREVE /jpg, CD
Some Grade 11 students from École secondaire de Pain Court took part in the rally as part of a school project.
Jayden Viazon, 16, said their project, called Global Goal, focuses on gender equality.
She said the students have done research in class, but she wanted to do something more than making a poster or posting to a social media account.
“I really want to do something with this project,” Viazon said.
Some of the participants in the Zonta Says No campaign, walk towards the Parry Street Bridge in Chatham on Thursday to take part in the annual rally to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. ELLWOOD SHREVE PHOTO/Chatham Daily News/Postmedia jpg, CD
Christian Ruiz, 16, joined his fellow classmates in participating in the rally.
“I want to learn as much as I can about what happens and what we can do to help it stop,” he said.
Viazon believes it is important for young people to get involved in this issue.
“It’s been too normalized for women to be assaulted and feel in danger,” she said.
There are a lot of young women who can’t open up and talk about the situations they’ve been through because of how difficult and sensitive of the topic can be, she said.
“I feel it’s important that we should all fight together in order that everybody can feel comfortable in their own skin and who they are as a person,” Viazon said. “I’m really proud that we’re all here.”