Just a week before the CBC reported on the appalling treatment of a First Nations woman at the hands of Halifax police, the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre, a Creating Communities of Care partner, highlighted the lack of culturally-sensitive and trauma-responsive approaches in policing.
“Our women are afraid of the police”, said staff of MNFC. “Unless they are forced, they will have nothing to do with them.”
These prescient words capture the impossible plight of women who are compelled to testify against their abusers. Study after study shows that women who are victims of violence feel this double-barreled fear from not just their abuser, but also the system set up to respond to that abuse- including policing and the criminal justice system more generally. And women from ethnic minorities which have been historically racialized, oppressed and mistreated carry this burden of fear even more heavily.
Indigenous women face intimate partner violence at rates of up to three times higher than their mainstream counterparts, and they are also the most rapidly growing population of incarcerated people. Clearly, there is something wrong with the way our justice system works with Indigenous women. With the Black Lives Matter and Indigenous Lives Matter movements blazing in the public eye over the past months, we are witnessing strong loud calls for defunding the police and diverting funds into community-based resources free from the shameful history of oppression and violent colonization which mark the police. As these vital discussions and calls for action take place, it is important not to lose sight of the gendered nature of violence – women and men experience violence differently, and we need culturally-appropriate resources for Indigenous and Black women. Our current police and justice systems do not respond to their needs and experiences, and in fact, victimize them even further.
This is the every day reality that the Creating Communities of Care partnership works with. Every day they advocate for women who experience violence and abuse both at home and from the systems set up to ostensibly protect them, but which end up harming them even more. Pushing for systems change, while supporting the women who have to navigate them, is the continuous challenge. We imagine a society where women are not afraid of the police, as well as their abusers, and can only hope and work towards it as best we can.