Blog > SACHA Statement - A Better World Forward - Defund the Police

SACHA Statement - A Better World Forward - Defund the Police

July 7, 2020

The Sex­u­al Assault Cen­tre (Hamil­ton and Area) — SACHA has long been involved in the strug­gle for social change. Through our pro­gram­ming, ser­vices and edu­ca­tion, we have engaged with com­mu­ni­ty cen­tred approach­es to safe­ty, and the impor­tance of spe­cial­ized sup­port for mar­gin­al­ized com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers. Recent inci­dents of anti-Black and anti-Indige­nous vio­lence by police and wide­spread protests have reignit­ed an impor­tant con­ver­sa­tion in our com­mu­ni­ties: how, if at all, can we reform polic­ing as both a prac­tice and insti­tu­tion in our com­mu­ni­ties? The most salient of these con­ver­sa­tions has been the call to Defund the Police.

The Defund the Police move­ment has high­light­ed for con­sid­er­a­tion sev­er­al approach­es to reform­ing polic­ing in Hamil­ton. Among these approach­es are greater involve­ment by civil­ians in deci­sions about the police bud­get, trans­par­ent sta­tis­tics about inter­ac­tions between police and racial­ized com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers, and the divest­ment of tax­pay­er fund­ing to com­mu­ni­ty ini­tia­tives. Under­stand­ably, many com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers have con­cerns about these ideas and the impli­ca­tions for pub­lic safety.

As we weigh in on this con­ver­sa­tion we note that SACHA does work with the police in var­i­ous capacities:

  • Accom­pa­ny­ing sur­vivors to police sta­tions — if sur­vivors want to go: we do not tell them what to do either way
  • The Direc­tor is a part of the Sex­u­al Assault Com­mu­ni­ty Review Team (SACRT) which reviews cas­es clas­si­fied as unfound­ed and/​or oth­er cat­e­gories to ensure police inves­ti­ga­tions are cod­ed properly
  • For 2019/2020, SACHA along with oth­er mem­bers of the SACRT received a $1000 hon­o­rar­i­um from HPS 
  • SACHA is a part of the Sis­ters in Spir­it Com­mit­tee in Hamil­ton which has police as members
  • SACHA is a part of the Woman Abuse Work­ing Group in Hamil­ton which has police as members
  • SACHA is a part of the Women’s Ser­vices advi­so­ry pan­el to the Chief of Police
  • Police are present at Take Back the Night (TBTN) march. Under the City of Hamil­ton SEAT appli­ca­tion process, TBTN is con­sid­ered a parade” which requires police presence. 
  • When required, we con­tact 911 (includ­ing the police) when callers are in imme­di­ate dan­ger (ex. when wit­ness­ing an assault on the phone, or if there is imme­di­ate risk of suicide)

SACHA’s com­mit­ment to sex­u­al vio­lence pre­ven­tion and jus­tice for sur­vivors is inex­tri­ca­bly linked to social jus­tice and fos­ter­ing safer com­mu­ni­ties. While we rec­og­nize the role that the police play in com­mu­ni­ty safe­ty and report­ing of sex­u­al vio­lence, we have long acknowl­edged that many sur­vivors have reser­va­tions and fears when inter­act­ing with police. As such, we wel­come a crit­i­cal and non-pater­nal­is­tic con­ver­sa­tion about the role of police that cen­ters the expe­ri­ences of sur­vivors of sex­u­al vio­lence, rather than speak­ing on their behalf.

For many sur­vivors, report­ing sex­u­al assault is a dif­fi­cult process. In 2002 the Federal/​Provincial/​Territorial Min­is­ters Respon­si­ble for the Sta­tus of Women not­ed that few­er than 10% of women report sex­u­al assault to police. Under­re­port­ing of sex­u­al assault is direct­ly relat­ed to the fear of humil­i­a­tion and re-vic­tim­iza­tion in the report­ing process. As a result, many choose to be silent. We know that sur­vivors are often mem­bers of vul­ner­a­ble pop­u­la­tions such as women who are racial­ized, who have dis­abil­i­ties, or who are of low­er socioe­co­nom­ic sta­tus. These are also pop­u­la­tions that are often seen as less cred­i­ble. Sur­vivors of sex­u­al vio­lence deserve access to ser­vices where they do not feel intim­i­dat­ed or unfair­ly scrutinized. 

Safer com­mu­ni­ties require invest­ment into essen­tial health and social ser­vices pro­gram­ming. Research sup­ports that sex­u­al vio­lence is strong­ly asso­ci­at­ed with pover­ty. A 2001 Report by the Cana­di­an Coun­cil for Social Devel­op­ment observed that women who already expe­ri­ence mar­gin­al­iza­tion as a result of sex­u­al vio­lence, often expe­ri­ence com­pound­ed social exclu­sion on the basis racism, ableism, and oth­er sys­temic bar­ri­ers. Pover­ty is a gen­dered phe­nom­e­non that dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly affects women and is under­stood to be a fac­tor for expo­sure to sex­u­al vio­lence. Lack of social pow­er and lack of finan­cial inde­pen­dence can trap women who are in abu­sive rela­tion­ships. In 2018 the Ontario Coali­tion of Rape Cri­sis Cen­tres addressed the impact of cut­ting the Basic Income Pilot on vul­ner­a­ble women and sur­vivors. Cuts to social assis­tance and the defer­ral of increas­ing social assis­tance exac­er­bates exist­ing health and social issues, while increas­ing vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty and the risk of sex­u­al violence.

For many com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers, the police are not a sym­bol of safe­ty or jus­tice. It is very impor­tant to under­stand the colo­nial lega­cy of polic­ing in Cana­da as we con­sid­er a way for­ward. The RCMP has played a sig­nif­i­cant role in the appre­hen­sion of Indige­nous chil­dren to res­i­den­tial schools. Police have dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly tar­get­ed for card­ing Black and Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers. In Hamil­ton, the ACTION team scan­dal tick­et­ed home­less peo­ple who they knew had no means to pay. These expe­ri­ences high­light for many the ways that polic­ing crim­i­nal­izes racial­ized bod­ies and the poor. Many indi­vid­u­als with men­tal health and addic­tions issues are also the tar­get of police focus. These pop­u­la­tions would ben­e­fit from health and social sup­port, rather than the puni­tive prac­tices that emerge when ill­ness is criminalized. 

It is impor­tant to clar­i­fy some of the mis­in­for­ma­tion that is ham­per­ing impor­tant con­ver­sa­tion on this. It should be under­stood that the Defund the Police move­ment is not about the abol­ish­ment of police. It is pri­mar­i­ly con­cerned with the real­lo­ca­tion of resources, a restruc­tur­ing of police duties (which includes a re-eval­u­a­tion of what is crim­i­nal­ized and why), and redefin­ing the scope of oth­er pro­fes­sion­al insti­tu­tions to take over some of these duties. At SACHA we wel­come a future where com­mu­ni­ty safe­ty is pri­or­i­tized and where the voic­es of sur­vivors are ele­vat­ed. The con­ver­sa­tion to defund the police is an impor­tant one that should be under­tak­en with atten­tion to the vul­ner­a­ble com­mu­ni­ties who will most be affect­ed by these changes. 

A bet­ter world is not pos­si­ble if we do not envi­sion it. As such, we want to cen­ter the fol­low­ing considerations:

  • We envi­sion a future where Black lib­er­a­tion and Indige­nous sov­er­eign­ty lead­ing the path to com­mu­ni­ty gov­er­nance are centred.
  • We envi­sion a soci­ety where all indi­vid­u­als are sup­port­ed to devel­op their full human poten­tial and thrive.
  • A soci­ety with­out oppres­sion, that embraces diver­si­ty and acknowl­edges the strength of inclu­siv­i­ty. A com­mu­ni­ty that accepts the chal­lenges pre­sent­ed of con­stant­ly adjust­ing to accom­mo­date rather than assimilate. 
  • We invite the com­mu­ni­ty to imag­ine new sys­tems to have in place with­out the police, alter­na­tive forms of jus­tice for sur­vivors (who often already do not trust the police nor the cur­rent crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem to keep them safe). 
  • We need to allo­cate fund­ing to Shel­ters and Sex­u­al Assault Cen­tres and con­sult with their staff who are experts on safe­ty plan­ning and work­ing with sur­vivors on stay­ing safe: places that pro­mote empow­er­ment, where cre­ativ­i­ty is embed­ded in heal­ing vs. the pow­er allo­cat­ed by charges that get decid­ed by evi­dence”.

We want to thank the com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers and orga­ni­za­tions who are push­ing for­ward on this seri­ous con­ver­sa­tion while cen­ter­ing the issues of racism, white suprema­cy, and police vio­lence. Change is pos­si­ble and nec­es­sary. We invite com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers to think crit­i­cal­ly and envi­sion a bet­ter way forward.

In sol­i­dar­i­ty,

SACHA Staff and Man­age­ment Committee

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