London set to become first city in Ontario to adopt UN sexual violence prevention strategy

London is about to come the first city in Ontario to take an aggressive approach toward tackling sexual violence and harassment in public spaces.

"I need the assurance and I need the validation," says victim of sexual harassment

Richmond St. looking north from York St. (Dave Chidley/CBC)

London is poised to become the first city in Ontario to take an aggressive approach toward tackling sexual violence and harassment in public spaces.

City council will vote to add the city to the United Nations women's Safe Cities list, falling in line with Winnipeg and Edmonton.

If approved, Anova, an organization that provides shelter and support to victims of sexual harassment, would lead a steering committee to develop a five-year plan.

It would work to tackle unwanted sexual, verbal and physical incidents in public spaces, including city streets, transportation and schools.

City wide direciton 

AnnaLise Trudell, the manager of education at Anova, said the committee would bring together several supporting agencies that have been operating individually under one umbrella.

"None of us are coordinated on a city level… we all have a stake in this," she said. "This is a city issue and not only are we validating it but creating data that's locally specific."

Trudell said the city has its usual support systems including several social agencies and the London Police Service. However, the new plan could also include what she described as untraditional players, giving examples of Downtown London or the Thames Valley Conservation Association.

"The exciting thing for me is who's at the table," she said. "Street harassment in particular is widespread in London and we can (look at) how to engage (untraditional support systems) in different campaigns that are innovative."

Trudell said the new plan would take a proactive approach to prevention, which would use local data to help determine root causes of sexual violence and harassment.

'I need the assurance'

One in three woman experiences sexual assault at some point in their lives, and that number is much higher in marginalized groups.

Last year, the organization surveyed more than 300 people about incidents on public transportation in London. More than half experienced some sort of sexual assault or harassment, and the majority on routes often populated by university and college students.

Najwa Zebian, a teacher with the Thames Valley District School Board, supported the plan that was approved by a city committee last week.

"I would like every girl and every woman here in London to know that we do not accept any kind of sexual harassment and sexual violence. We don't accept it in private spaces and we don't accept it in public spaces," she said.

Zebian, who has experienced sexual harassment herself, applauded the committee for taking a strong stance toward a safe community, sending a strong message to survivors of sexual assault and harassment.

"I need the assurance and I need the validation of the public that any form of harassment and violence in public spaces and private spaces -- and in the place that I live -- are not okay at all," she said.