Asmaa Ali is photographed at home in Edmonton, Friday, July 17, 2020. She is the co-creator, along with her friend Habon Ali, of a Canada-wide comprehensive list of resources for survivors of sexual assault. This image was directed remotely while Aisha Ali operated the camera, because of COVID-19 related restrictions. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Amber Bracken

Asmaa Ali is photographed at home in Edmonton, Friday, July 17, 2020. She is the co-creator, along with her friend Habon Ali, of a Canada-wide comprehensive list of resources for survivors of sexual assault. This image was directed remotely while Aisha Ali operated the camera, because of COVID-19 related restrictions. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Amber Bracken

Advocates create Canada-wide support list for sexual assault survivors

The focus is on providing support to vulnerable women with intersectional experience

Two Somali-Canadian advocates have created an online resource specifically for racialized survivors of sexual assault, saying a centralized guide is necessary to fill gaps in both the health-care and justice systems that leave marginalized women behind.

Habon Ali of Toronto and Edmonton’s Asmaa Ali said existing resources are either scarce in nature or scattered across the internet, making it difficult for victims to track down the help they need. The women contend the issues persist both in the immediate aftermath of sexual violence and further down the road when victims need medical rather than legal support.

Spurred on by both the patchwork of systems at home and the death of a Black Lives Matter activist abroad, the women compiled a 28-page document listing resources including help lines, legal services and places to obtain sexual assault kits across the country.

“It was important for us to put together these resources because there’s a barrier in finding them and we did our best to remove them,” said Asmaa Ali, a registered nurse and recent graduate of the University of Alberta.

She said sexual violence resources in Canada are seldom geared towards intersectional communities and often leave Black, Indigenous and other people from racialized communities out of the conversation.

She and Habon Ali sought out resources that included those communities, adding their focus was on providing support to vulnerable women with intersectional experience.

The guide is also intended to provide additional help for students and immigrants, groups Habon Ali cited as particularly likely to fall through the cracks of Canada’s current systems.

She said language barriers often make it difficult for ethnic minority groups to find and secure the help they need.

“Sexual violence is pervasive across all social and cultural boundaries globally and its important we acknowledge the systemic inequalities that result in racial health disparities,” she said.

Asmaa Ali said both women felt moved to take action in Canada after reading about the suspicious death of a young activist in the United States.

Oluwatoyin Salau was a 19-year-old advocate who went missing in early June after tweeting about being sexually assaulted by a man. She was found dead in Florida days later. Aaron Glee Jr. 49, is now charged with second-degree murder, kidnapping and sexual assault in connection with her death.

Both Canadian advocates said Salau’s death highlights a stigma Black women face when they speak up against their assailants. The fact that some pay a heavy price for self-advocacy, bolstered by a growing number of online anecdotes detailing similar treatment, is what prompted them to make sexual assault supports more readily available at home.

“It’s sad to see the way survivors are treated when they speak up about their sexual violence,” Asmaa Ali said. “When BIPOC women online began to speak up about their experience it made it all the more real.”

The decision to include students in the guide’s scope was welcome news for Sara Reza, who attends York University’s Schulich School of Business and founded the social media account SilencedatSchulich, where racialized sexual assault survivors can share their experiences of violence and racism.

She said the number of students of color who don’t know where to turn after an alleged assault is “overwhelming and heartbreaking.”

“Oftentimes, women of colour who are victims of sexual violence in this country come from marginalized communities that are underfunded and do not have the adequate resources to help them,” Reza said.

ALSO READ: Virtual Shambhala Music Festival postponed due to allegations of sexual violence

That holds true long after the trauma of an assault, according to Siham Rayale at the University of Toronto.

The women and gender studies lecturer said systemic racism exists throughout the health-care system, citing questionable assumptions about women of colour that shape the way medical professionals have historically responded to their concerns.

“We know there have been countless studies that show what medical professionals are taught about the tolerance that women of colour have for pain,” Rayale said, adding such attitudes give women in need of care short-shrift when they need help the most.

She described the new online resource guide as “necessary and lifesaving” for those who may not know how to navigate Canada’s complex systems.

Osobe Waberi, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

sexual assault

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

SD62 bus driver Kerry Zado said it’s common to see drivers lose their patience and pass by his bus while he’s picking up students during the morning commute. (Aaron Guillen/News Staff)
School bus driver laments motorists who pass while red lights are flashing

All buses in Sooke School District outfitted with stop sign cameras

Victoria police are seeking home surveillance video and witnesses following a prowling incident in Esquimalt Jan. 20. (Black Press Media file photo)
Esquimalt prowler removes air conditioner, peers into person’s home

VicPD is seeking video footage, witnesses following Jan. 20 incident

(Black Press Media files)
Transport Canada not budging on enclosed deck rules, despite calls from BC Ferries union

There have been at least 23 cases of the U.K. variant detected in Canada, four of which are in B.C.

Victoria police are warning people of a continued rise in cybercrime. (AP Photo/Jenny Kane)
Victoria police warn of rising cybercrime called spear phishing

Fraudsters continue to trick people out of large sums of money

Metchosin Coun. Kyara Kahakauwila is stepping down as deputy mayor following controversy over her decision to travel to Mexico in December. (Black Press Media file photo)
Councillor steps down as deputy mayor of Metchosin after controversial trip to Mexico

Mayor hopeful mediation will help council get back to the business of community

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, vice-president of logistics and operations at the Public Health Agency of Canada, speaks at a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa, on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
B.C. records 500 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, 14 deaths

Outbreak at Surrey Pretrial jail, two more in health care

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Jan. 19

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

Vancouver Canucks’ Travis Hamonic grabs Montreal Canadiens’ Josh Anderson by the face during first period NHL action in Vancouver, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horvat scores winner as Canucks dump Habs 6-5 in shootout thriller

Vancouver and Montreal clash again Thursday night

Rod Bitten of Union Bay won $500,000 in the Lotto Max draw on Jan. 15. Photo supplied
Vancouver Island electrician gets shocking surprise with $500K Extra win

Rod Bitten has been hard at work with home renovations, which is… Continue reading

Eighteen-year-old Aidan Webber died in a marine accident in 2019. He was a Canadian Junior BMX champion from Nanaimo. (Submitted)
Inadequate safety training a factor in teen BMX star’s workplace death in 2019

Aidan Webber was crushed by a barge at a fish farm near Port Hardy

Oyster River Fire Rescue members were called out to a suspicious fire in Black Creek. Two vehicles parked at a private residence were destroyed by fire. Photo courtesy Oyster River Fire Rescue
Suspicious fire destroys two vehicles at Vancouver Island residence

Oyster River Fire Rescue personnel were dispatched to a fire at a… Continue reading

Seven streets in downtown Duncan, including Station Street, will soon have new native names added to their signage. (Submitted graphic)
New Duncan street signs will be in English and Hul’q’umi’num

Seven streets to get additional names in First Nations language

Southern resident killer whales in B.C. waters. Research shows the population’s females are more negatively influenced by vessel traffic than males. (Photo supplied by Ocean Wise Conservation Association)
Female orcas less likely to feed in presence of vessel traffic: study

Research the southern resident population raises concerns over reproduction capacity

Most Read