Despite the somber topic of the event, the tone and mood of the Breaking the Silence conference last weekend was undoubtedly one of resilience and hope.
Hope for a future where men and women, boys and girls are no longer victims of sexual violence and harassment, hope for more services in Williams Lake, and most of all a hope that the momentum of this movement will not be lost.
A sign posted on the wall with the title “Random Thoughts” was covered in bright orange and yellow sticky notes posted to the shiny laminated surface over the course of the weekend. One read, “Together we are strong.” Another, “Honour each other, honour yourself.”
The two-day conference saw more than 30 residents of Williams Lake and surrounding area come together in solidarity at Thompson Rivers University Friday and Saturday for panel discussions, presentations from various guest speakers, and a brainstorming session on various questions surrounding the topic of sexual violence.
Spaced out around the gymnasium were brightly coloured signs with queries such as, what services are needed? Where are the gaps? What services already exist in Williams Lake? What needs to happen next and who is going to do it?
The Committee for Action Against Sexual Violence began in January 2017 and according to member Eva Navrot, they had several goals that they wanted to see accomplished when they came together.
“We wanted to raise awareness for victims so they know what is available to them,” she said on Saturday, adding that having conferences like this one on an ongoing basis and setting up a support group for those affected by sexual violence are also among the committee’s goals.
With those objectives in mind, the committee encouraged those in attendance to help brainstorm not only how to meet them, but to come up with other goals they would like to see accomplished. The group of 30 people worked their way around the gymnasium, stopping at the different colourfully written questions, sharing ideas amongst themselves and writing them down on giant pieces of paper.
Some of the most poignant suggestions came at the station dedicated to looking to the future. What next?
The suggestions poured forth, the attendees bolstered by the stories they’d heard at the conference, and from their own personal experiences. Rallies and marches, fundraising and education campaigns, a yearly conference, training more counsellors and collaborating with more groups were just a fragment of the idea put down on paper. Others called for more lobbying, a halfway house where survivors of assault could go to recuperate, a greater presence on social media to involve more members of the community, and most of all, more services.
Some of the services already existing in Williams Lake were on display on a table in the middle of the room. Many leaflets and pamphlets were arranged, describing the various help that the services could provide. One of these pamphlets looked quite different from the others. It was black, with touches of red and a tattooed fist breaking through the cover. It stood out against the soft and comforting pastels of the other displays.
So did Hooligan and Bubbles, president and secretary of the Williams Lake chapter of Bikers Against Child Abuse. They gave an impassioned presentation on Saturday afternoon informing everyone of the various services the club provides, as well as their mission to empower children who have experienced abuse.
In order to protect themselves so that they can continue helping and protecting children, they use their road names. They also give the children they protect road names to make them feel as if they’re part of the squad.
“They know we have their back and we will do anything to make them safe,” said Bubbles. “BACA wasn’t there for me when I was a child. But we are now.”
The members of BACA will do anything from riding up on their bikes and standing watch over a child’s house all night so they feel safe enough to sleep, to sitting in court in silent encouragement of the child while they testify against their attacker. Sometimes, Bubbles noted, it’s just being there to pick up the phone and chat at 3 a.m. There is a total commitment to the child, added Hooligan.
The bikers are a service in Williams Lake that not many people know about but that was the point of the conference, to bring some unknown services to light.
“Hopefully after today there will be more individuals who are interested in joining the committee,” said Navrot. Anyone wanting to get involved in stopping sexual violence in Williams Lake can contact the Women’s Contact Society.