Police Accountability Rally

My name is Cristina and I'm a volunteer at Vancouver Rape Relief and Women's Shelter. We run a 24-hour rape crisis phone line and a transition house for women who are hiding because their lives are being threatened by violent men. As you can imagine, police response to violence against women, and holding the police accountable to that response, is a huge concern for us. 

Working at Rape Relief for the past 3 years, I have accompanied women to the hospital after an attack, I have gone with women to the courts, and I have fought alongside women who try to use the police for protection. Through this work, one problem that comes up for women is that police officers use their discretion, rather than following clear police procedures, to decide what is to be done when a woman reports her life has been threatened. This discretion should be used instead to help women escape male violence and level out the playing field between men and women. 

Officers are not being told by their bosses and the larger police force that preventing male violence against women is a priority. Instead of seeing the woman as part of the society for whom they work, the officer is allowed to make up their own rules about violence against women and which women should be believed and which should not. It is our experience from thirty years of doing this work that usually women are not believed. We often end up fighting with the police to do their jobs and protect their citizens. 

We house over 120 women and their children every year. Of all these women, 70% decide not to use their police because they're afraid they won't be believed and they'll have to fight for a proper response. Of the women who do decide to look to the police for some protection of their lives, few get a response that protects her as an individual woman from future violence. Even fewer women get a police response that will protect other women from being attacked by the same man. Every time a woman comes to us and says she wants to use the police, we go in ready for a fight, ready to be told she's overreacting, and ready to hear that there's nothing the police can do for her. This lack of response that individual women face when going to their police for help means that women as a group are being told that we won't be protected from violent men. 

We're here today because we want the police department to be held accountable when they allow their officers not to follow policy. Although I've only been at Rape Relief for 3 years, women have been operating the organization for 30 years. All this time, women have been demanding from both the provincial and federal governments, independent bodies to take our police complaints to. I'm frustrated that we're still standing here today asking for the same changes. We're at a time now when the police are doing whatever they want, at the expense of public safety. We need a police force that will protect women's freedom to walk down the streets at night and will support her decision to leave an abusive man. 

It's important for us to keep the pressure on and let the police know that they are accountable to us.