© Jeff Harper - Metro Halifax
Halifax Regional Police Chief Jean-Michel Blais
The chief of Halifax Regional Police says he hopes a Sexual Assault Awareness month video campaign helps men recognize their role in gender-based violence – even if they aren’t actually a perpetrator.
“Guys, we have some major work to do,” said Chief Jean-Michel Blais. “We have to try hard to understand how our attitudes and actions might inadvertently perpetuate sexism and violence, and we have to work towards changing that.”
The ‘Don’t Be a Bystander’ video campaign includes local leaders and celebrities urging men to be “allies” for women, both in their individual interactions and in their interactions with broader social forces.
“As guys, we have to encourage one another to stop funding sexism by not supporting magazines, websites that show women and girls in sexually abusive or degrading manners,” said Blais.
The “Don’t be a Bystander” campaign launch comes a day after news about a Parrsboro woman who overheard several RCMP officers apparently mocking her domestic assault allegations.
Blais said law enforcement has an unfortunate history of a dismissive approach towards gender based violence that hasn’t built up confidence among women, noting that sexual assault and domestic violence are among the most under-reported crimes.
Blais said he’s working to change that through relationships with community groups and a trauma-informed approach to training.
He said there’s now six officer per watch with specific training on responding to sexual assaults.
“(It’s) learning how to deal properly wtih the victims to allow them…to come forward and to want to lay charges,” he said. “We want to create a climate of confidence so that victims will feel comfortable coming to us to denounce these crimes.”
Ultimately, Blais said he hopes the training and awareness campaigns will make it socially acceptable to call out the perpetrators of gender-based violence in the same way it’s become acceptable to stop someone driving drunk.
“Twenty-five years ago, was it socially okay to tell somebody, I’m taking your keys from you?” he said. “It wasn’t socially okay then. So these are things that are going to take time, and if we don’t do anything, then nothing’s going to progress.”