April is Sexual Assault Awareness month. In honour of the occasion, the Vancouver chapters of anti–street harassment network Hollaback and nightlife-safety campaign Good Night Out (GNO) are turning their attention to survivors of sexual violence with a social-media movement and public art installation that will share messages of support for the often doubted, demonized, and disparaged group.
From this Monday (March 20) to April 3, the feminist organizations are asking the public to submit text- and image-based notes to survivors of sexual assault and violence that illustrate that they are heard, loved, and supported.
The messages, which should be shared on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram using the hashtag #DearSurvivor, will then be displayed at various pop-up art installations around the city, where they will hopefully reach victims inadvertently.
“These are places that people don’t have to seek out. They could be going for coffee or walking to and from work, and they’ll see them,” Stacey Forrester, coordinator of Hollaback and GNO, tells the Straight by phone. “That way, we’ll catch the people who may be dealing with these issues in their own lives but are not intentionally seeking out support.”
Although sexual assault cases are criminally underreported and often dismissed by law enforcement agencies year after year—with perpetuators who do make it to trial escaping with little more than a slap on the wrist—Forrester explains that recent media focus on campus rape offers an opportune time to centre survivors of sexual assault as well as those doing anti-violence work and their allies.
“We realize that our legal system and perhaps our police system really aren’t prioritizing the needs of survivors right now,” she says. “So it’s really important that we, as a community, step up and support them and have these conversations.”
Sexual assault refers to unwanted sexual contact or behaviour and includes inappropriate touching, fondling, and rape. According to the World Health Organization, one in three women will experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetimes. Hollaback notes that individuals who identify as LGBT, racialized, or disabled are more likely to experience sexual harassment and gendered violence.
Many victims—regardless of whether or not they go to police—are left to feel alone, helpless, or ashamed. “Odds are pretty good that someone in your office or in your class or in your family or in your friend group—even if they haven’t told you that they’ve experienced sexual violence—may have,” says Forrester. “Keep that in mind as you write your message: that it can be for anyone, even for someone you know without you knowing it.”
The #DearSurvivor notes will be displayed anonymously. They should not include names. Participants contributing messages should ensure that their posts are made temporarily public to be included in the installations. The first pop-up exhibition will take place at SFU Harbour Centre (515 West Hastings Street) on April 5 from 3:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Forrester is looking for additional public spaces to showcase the messages throughout the month of April. “Because of the potential violence that people experience, they often feel unsafe in public,” she says. “So I really like the idea of turning a public space into a source of support.”
In celebration of Sexual Assault Awareness month, Hollaback and GNO will also be conducting Friendzone, an “all-gender and gender expressions dance party” and fundraiser for GNO that will take place at Vancouver Art and Leisure (1965 Main Street) on April 1. The event will feature an all-women lineup of entertainment and harm-reduction support by Vancouver’s Karmik.
Proceeds from the inclusive, non-binary fete will help GNO continue its outreach and education efforts, which include nightlife audits and sexual-assault prevention workshops with local bars and restaurants.
In January, GNO successfully raised funds for date-rape coasters and consent-related art and print materials. Pending their delivery time, these will be employed and showcased at the party. Tickets are $10 at the door before 11 p.m.