BY Jim Byset
The mission to end violence against women received another boost last week with the news that White Ribbon Canada is to receive $300,000 in funding from the Canadian government. The money, donated by the Minister of Labour and Minister of Status of Women, Dr. Kellie Leitch, is to be used to fund the development of an “online toolkit” that will help men end violence against women. Todd Minerson of White Ribbon Canada and Minister Leitch made the announcement in front of assembled press in Ottawa.
The news comes as something of a fillip for the White Ribbon Campaign (WRC) amid increased scrutiny regarding its financial affairs, the accuracy of its claims surrounding domestic violence and rape, and the methods used to draw attention to its mission. Both White Ribbon Australia and White Ribbon Canada have recently had their financial records investigated, with the findings showing that the overwhelming majority of the WRC’s funding goes directly to staff salaries. In the case of White Ribbon Canada, this amounts to $528,101 from a total of $1,108,850, paid out to just 11 staff.
The next-largest tranche of funding is used for further fund-raising efforts, the net effect of which is that most of the money that the WRC makes goes into staffers’ pockets and most of what is left over is used to make sure that it keeps going there. Neither set of records shows how, or where, funding is spent on serious anti-violence efforts. For now, the WRC has two main campaigns—the most visible being “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes,” the purpose of which is to raise awareness through symbolic gestures of solidarity for women who suffer domestic violence. Yet, despite significant fund-raising, White Ribbon does not operate or offer any counseling services, helplines, or legal advice to those who are victims of sexual assault or domestic violence. According to White Ribbon organizers, their job is simply one of “awareness raising,” but if recent efforts in the Republic of Ireland are anything to go by, they’re failing.
White Ribbon Ireland is also taking fire for making grossly exaggerated claims on the prevalence of rape in Irish society. The Irish arm of the advocacy group has apologized for a recent “error” that inflated the Irish government’s Central Statistics Office (CSO) rate of 451 reported instances of rape in 2013 to a massive 3,500. White Ribbon Ireland made the claim in a press release prior to its official launch, stating that “[a]ccording to CSO statistics, there were 3,500 reported rapes in Ireland in 2013.” It is difficult to see how such an “error” could take place within a group whose expertise is supposed to be on these very issues. White Ribbon has not as yet fully explained how the number found its way into print or what it’s doing to ensure that such obvious falsehoods aren’t repeated—a worrying sign indeed. If White Ribbon’s mission is truly to raise awareness on issues such as rape and domestic violence, then it behooves them to ensure that data is accurate. Exaggerating data on crimes such as rape will only have one result—spreading fear.
But perhaps worst of all is White Ribbon’s insistence that domestic violence is an issue that only affects women. It is a well-established fact that men are just as likely to be victims of domestic violence. However, White Ribbon’s framing of the issue is one that ignores the male reality of suffering. This is completely unacceptable, especially so in an environment where the overwhelming majority of men do not feel able to speak out regarding their abuse. Police authorities are not trained to deal with male victims of abuse, and there are practically zero resources from which men can seek help. Tonight across Canada, and Australia, and Ireland, men will suffer their abuse alone, behind closed doors.
If White Ribbon is serious about its mission, then it’s time to acknowledge ALL victims of abuse.
It’s time to put all money into the direct provision of services. It’s time to stop manipulating figures. It’s time for honesty and transparency.
Unfortunately, Minister Leitch’s announcement may not prove to be as helpful as we’d hope, despite all of the fanfare. As long as Canadian taxpayer money goes to groups like White Ribbon, we will never be free of domestic violence and we will never, ever have a fair and equitable approach to these issues. The men, women, and children in our lives deserve so much better.