Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls in Downtown Barrie

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It is now well established that more than half of the world’s population lives in cities and that urbanization is causing cities to grow at an exponential rate. Although the impacts of urbanization are felt by everyone, the experiences of women and girls in cities, and their use of the city and its public spaces, are strongly impacted by their gender (Travers, K., Shaw, M., McCleery, K., 2017).

According to the drafted City of Barrie Official Plan 2041, Barrie is estimated to grow approximately 1.65 times its current size in population within the next 20 years. And within this drafted plan, there are no proposed measures to make the city safer for women and girls. Meanwhile, 68% of 384 women and girls surveyed on October 5, 2020, claimed that they feel “not so safe” or “not at all safe” in Barrie’s Downtown core, and 75% said they are “sometimes”, “usually”, or “always” harassed when in the downtown core. What will these numbers look like when Barrie is 1.65 times its current size? Your drafted plan has major holes.

Law enforcement cannot be expected to keep up with these numbers, especially when a vast majority of incidents don’t leave cuts and bruises on our bodies but instead on our emotional and mental well-being, to the point that some women have claimed they moved out of Barrie for these reasons alone. For how long are women and girls in Barrie going to be poorly planned for, instead of knowledgeably planned with?

To prevent violence against women and girls, plans we demand to have put in the City of Barrie Official Plan 2041 or equivalent for the Downtown Barrie area include:

  1. Having security and/or law enforcement present in the current and future construction areas. Construction has narrowed the sidewalks, currently in what the surveyed public identifies as one of the most dangerous downtown areas, to a small fraction of their original size. Narrow footpaths encourage violence against women, girls, and other vulnerable populations. They trap them, potentially to the delight of a perpetrator, within the 4-foot space between construction fencing and buildings until the fencing comes to an end, which can span a full block at a time if not more. I personally found myself in a dangerous situation in this area and had to flag down a construction worker for help. Construction workers do not have the adequate training and should not be held responsible for diffusing these dangerous situations.
  2. Conducting women’s safety audits to promote the participation and collaboration of women and girls in addressing existing and emerging dangers and challenges within the downtown area. Women and girls need to be planned with, not for, to ensure our future safety and wellbeing. This solution would also directly accomplish Section 3.3 of the drafted City of Barrie Official Plan 2041.
  3. Encouraging the public to report harassment, assault, and rape, whether they are bystanders or victims, through mobile apps and online platforms like JDoe. Then, use resources like JDoe to conduct more consistent investigation, prosecution, and punishment of perpetrators.
  4. Installing lighting in spaces with no or dim lighting, especially alleyways, which the surveyed public describes as unsafe spaces. Studies show that what it costs to improve street lighting pays for itself quickly in the financial savings from reduced crimes.
  5. Installing convex mirrors in alleyways, which the surveyed public describes as unsafe spaces. Convex mirrors would make women and girls aware if they were being followed into these spaces as well as discouraging perpetrators from following them into these spaces in the first place.
  6. Opening and security-monitoring some, if not all, public washroom facilities 24/7. If security-monitored, these facilities could provide a safe space women and girls who may need temporary protection.
  7. Establishing an anti-harassment awareness campaign using art and educational materials in public spaces. The bus station would be a great place for this, as the surveyed public has described it as an unsafe space, there is ample space for it in the courtyard, and bare walls and bulletin boards which could accommodate these materials inside. Another great space for anti-harassment awareness campaign art would be bare-walled alleyways, of which there are many, also described by the surveyed public as unsafe spaces.
  8. Extend the public WiFi range to cover the downtown core, not just the waterfront to Meridian Place. Not only would the landing page be another great space to share an anti-harassment awareness campaign, but it would provide a line of communication to women and girls who have a device but not a cell service provider. (11/12/2020 - RESOLVED! SEE UPDATES.)
  9. As “Downtown resident” commented in the Building Barrie Community Safety and Well-Being Strategy forum, create an actionable plan to “Provide mental health services and addiction recovery to the mentally ill and chronically addicted. Provide cluster housing to the chronically homeless. Provide transportation for repatriation back to home towns for those released on bail rather than release them into a strange city with no resources.”
  10. Promoting a more diverse and populated downtown. The eyes of bystanders hold perpetrators accountable for their actions. Some ways to do this include:
  11. Adapting the Emerging Musicians Program to better incentivize street performers to use the area.
  12. Allowing permanent vendors and/or extending the 60-day expiry to a season-long expiry for temporary outdoor vendor licenses.
  13. Introducing a car share program to ensure more people can access/move around the downtown core.
  14. Introducing a shared bike or scooter program (such as LINK) to diversify pedestrian traffic as well as make potentially vulnerable pedestrians more mobile. (11/10/2020 - IN PROGRESS. SEE UPDATES.)

Preventing violence against women and girls in our public spaces is important because:

  • It is a way to improve the quality of urban and community life for everyone, as when spaces are occupied by more women and girls they are occupied by more people in general.
  • When women and girls avoid certain spaces due to feeling unsafe in them, these spaces become less safe for all other users.
  • It promotes initiatives to change spatial organization based on an outdated concept of family roles as well as an outdated division of labor among men and women. It will modernize our urban space by reflecting changing gender roles in society.
  • It recognizes that spaces in the city reflect relations of power that determine different behaviors and lifestyles of women and men.
  • It promotes the right to the city and to citizenship for women and girls as a condition for equitable and sustainable cities and communities.
  • Violence against women and girls reduces global GDP by 2 percentage points, or $2 trillion, per year (UN Women, 2016).
  • As of October 5, 2020, 39% of surveyed women and girls said that they visit Downtown Barrie “less than once a month”. Interestingly, 39% of women and girls said that they “definitely would” spend more time in Downtown Barrie if more safety measures for women and girls were put in place. 26% of men said that they visit Downtown Barrie “less than once a month”, while 17% of men said that they “definitely would” spend more time in Downtown Barrie if more safety measures for women and girls were put in place. If you care about nothing else, understand that you are leaving money on the table.

As the City of Barrie grows and a plan for the next 20 years is put in place, residents demand that women and girls are not forgotten and treated like second class citizens. Consider us in your plan, or watch your plan fail.

Take my Downtown Barrie Safety Survey

Survey Results as of October 5, 2020

Take the Barrie Police Service 2020 Community Safety Survey

Local Resources for Women and Girls

If you have any questions about your safety in downtown Barrie, contact Val Gates through the Barrie Police or directly by email: vgates@barriepolice.ca

The free mobile app JDoe lets you anonymously report the location, time, and description of harassment, assault, and rape as well as look into legal services.

Simcoe County Violence Against Women Coordinating Committee

Elizabeth Fry Society

Athena's Sexual Assault Counselling & Advocacy Centre

Women and Children's Shelter of Barrie

Other References

The Conversation

hollaback!

KPMG Global

The New Urban Agenda - Habitat III

Take Back the Night

URBANET

The Wire