By Amy Rappaport
Stopping the Violence Counsellor and Outreach Worker
Haida Gwaii Society for Community Peace
Two years ago, Morgen Baldwin with the Community Coordination for Women’s Safety (CCWS) program travelled to Haida Gwaii to offer a workshop to our community on the importance of coordination in anti-violence work. From there, we formed a Coordination for Women’s Safety Committee to address the issue of violence in our community through collaboration. Our monthly meetings are used as a chance to develop initiatives/projects to increase community safety.
Sexual Relationships of Young Girls
At a coordination meeting in the fall of 2010, a Social Worker from MCFD shared concerns she was having about various young girls in our community having sexual relationships with older men. This trend is a concern for various reasons:
Young girls are more vulnerable to dating violence than any other group of people. With an age gap, there is an inherent power imbalance that limits a young girls’ capacity to make informed choices. As such, these girls are more at risk for violence.
Young girls who date older men are more likely to engage in risky behavior, such as under-age drinking and drug-use. Substance use may increase their risks of being exposed to violence, pressures to have sex before they’re ready, exposure to STI’s/HIV without adequate information about protection.
Teenage pregnancy becomes a concern when older men are at a different stage of their lives, sometimes ready to begin a family. Statistcs show that 75% of children born to high school girls are fathered by men older than high school age.
~Males, Mike. Schools, Society and ‘Teen’ Pregnancy. Phi Delta Kappan (March 1993), cited in the ICASA Coalition Commentary (Spring 1995).
All these concerns aside, the fact remains that, with a couple of exceptions involving close-in-age encounters, age of consent in Canada is 16 years old. The reality is hard and fast: legally these men could be charged with statutory rape. Since the Haida Gwaii Society for Community Peace works from a harm reduction perspective, we decided the most effective way to deal with this concern is through community education. We chose to launch a poster campaign to address unhealthy beliefs about sex, consent & relationships.
Through Outreach initiatives in the high school, we sought out female volunteers. We did not recruit girls who were dating older men, we simply offered the opportunity to any girls that would like to participate. The belief behind this was that a message will be more effectively delivered by peers than by us. The resulting poster is seen by the community as an overwhelming success. It is visually powerful, reflecting Haida colours and design. The message You Can’t Hurry Love highlights the importance of choice in a sexual relationship.
The Process Behind the Poster
The poster was developed over two 6-hour focus groups with the youth. During the first focus group we spent time discussing and defining: consent, sexual assault, and what makes a healthy relationship. During the second focus group we designed the layout, chose an image and a message that the youth wanted to share with their peer group.
After the poster was designed and produced, we went out with the group of girls and a big bucket of wheat paste and posted the posters around town at various sites where youth tend to hang out at night. Whether the poster itself will make a difference to passers-by is unclear. From our perspective, the real change came through the process of relationship-building with the youth.
Coordination work highlights the importance of process; of how we get to that final vision. Through collaborating with six youth, we learned the importance of process and how transformational it can truly be.
How to Get Your Copy of a Poster
This project was sponsored by the Outreach Program of the Haida Gwaii Society for Community Peace. To order a poster for your home or workplace, please contact Lia at 250-626-6057. Posters are available by donation. A special thanks goes out to Gwaii Edenshaw for the use of his artwork in the letter Y, Nang King – Looking Out.