TRURO – Recognition by a group in the United States has given two local women even more validation and encouragement for the work they’ve been doing.
Jeanne Sarson and Linda MacDonald were given the Women of Peace Award through the Women’s Peacepower Foundation, Inc., based out of Tampa, Florida, for the advocacy work they’ve been doing focusing on non-state torture (NST) and human trafficking.
“It’s been quite an emotional process,” said Sarson, adding the award signifies women supporting women.
“To have women supporting us, I find it very, very moving. It’s validation of the goodness that we can bring to each other as women.”
Sarson and MacDonald are now in their 25th year with a focus on NST and human trafficking, and it was a woman from Colchester County who led them to where they are now. They had been meeting one night a week with victims of abuse – both men and women – for about six months when a suicidal woman contacted Sarson.
“Her story was a whole different reality,” said MacDonald. “There was electric shocking, bestiality, gang rape….the extended family was involved.”
Through continuous meetings with Sarson and MacDonald, the woman started getting better.
“Evidence-based nursing practices had worked,” MacDonald said, adding they developed a model after five years of work.
Through the model, which would fit with survivors of NST, the duo started connecting with women throughout the world, as well as speaking with universities, at conferences, and the United Nations. Along the way, said MacDonald, there were no laws against non-state torture, however they’ve received support from across the globe – lawyers in South Africa and Wales, from activists around the world, and survivors as well.
“Victims are primarily born into it, but some are prostituted into it,” said MacDonald.
Sarson said the case of that first woman was a tough one, with them not knowing that she was still being tortured and trafficked in her late 20’s. While trying to help the victim, the women faced two malicious complaints, both coming from other women.
“It was a way to try and prolong the process,” said Sarson. “We realized it was a way to try and stop us from being connected with her.”
She said some were benefitting from the victimization of the woman through finances and pleasure, and wanted that to continue, which made the victim more suicidal.
“It was a risk to our livelihood,” said MacDonald. “Without our nursing degrees, we would’ve had to stop this work.”
The recent Women of Peace Award came with a certificate, but also a necklace, which Sarson wears with pride and emotion.
“The work we’re trying to do, it’s based on the human rights principle,” she said.
In Canada, the government discriminates against torture victims, said Sarson, unless tortured by the state, such as police organizations.
“They’re not even being able to speak the truth in the court of law,” she added.
“When you think of assault, it doesn’t capture what’s happening to these victims,” noted MacDonald.
“That’s why this award means so much more,” added Sarson. “It’s women supporting us. It highlights how the present government is dismissing the reality that this has been occurring in Canada.”
Sarson said a national study from 1993 named torture then, and a submission for Bill C242 also highlighted a female victim who fled after being tortured and trafficked by her father.
“It’s not like the government isn’t hearing from Canadian citizens,” she said.
Throughout the years, the work the women have been doing has gotten some support politically – the local provincial Member of the Legislative Assembly and federal Member of Parliament have shown support.
“But we’re not getting the federal support we need to change the laws,” said MacDonald. “It’s been a long road. We’re breaking ground and our long-term goal is to stay with it, and not get discouraged by the naysayers. We’re both Public Health nurses and we care about children, and it’s not acceptable we ignore this reality.”
MacDonald said there are laws in other countries against non-state torture, and that Canada could be seen as a leader if the government shifts its focus to the right places.
The women said a document was created 10 years ago following the two-week gathering of the Commission on the Status of Women through the United Nations that clearly stated girls do suffer non-state torture and exploitation, and that laws and policies should be changed.
“But it becomes ignored,” said Sarson, about the document. “It’s accountability, in my opinion. Canada, as a country of the UN, stated it would support those recommendations.”
To continue to raise much needed support across Canada, the women continue to write letters to those at the federal level, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and speak on the issue wherever and whenever possible.
“Activists around the world are waiting to see what happens here in Canada,” said MacDonald.
“Women in Tampa have no problem talking about non-state torture,” Sarson added. “The UN has said Canada should include non-state torture in the Criminal Code.”
Sarson also said it shouldn’t be a long battle to bring about equal rights, and that women also have the right not to be subjected to non-state torture.
“They have the right to speak the truth, and to seek the right care for what they’ve been through. We have to give them the care they need depending on the harm they’ve suffered.”
For MacDonald, the award raises the visibility of the work that’s being done.
“It’s important to know women are waiting to shine the light on their work,” she said. “People are interested in awards – they give survivors’ voices more volume.”
For more information on non-state torture and the work MacDonald and Sarson are doing, visit http://nonstatetorture.org/. A template of a letter in support of having non-state torture included in the federal Strategy to Prevent and Address Gender-Based Violence can be found on the website, by following the ‘Activism’ link at the top of the page, and ‘What You Can Do’.