Shannon Phillips, MLA for Lethbridge West

Shannon Phillips is the NDP MLA for Lethbridge West

By Shannon Phillips for the Lethbridge Herald

May is Sexual Violence Awareness Month, and since awareness is ineffective without action, the Alberta government is taking concrete steps to end sexual violence. We know that sexual violence is the most under-reported crime in Canada, and that while it can affect anyone, 87 per cent of all survivors are women and girls. It is unacceptable in all cases, and the government has a responsibility to ensure that we uphold the right of all Albertans to live free from violence.

To launch this month, we released our new Commitment to End Sexual Violence. Developed in consultation with survivors, front-line workers, community organizations, and requiring action from 10 government ministries, the commitment represents a co-ordinated strategy to prevent sexual violence, respond when it does occur, and support those who have survived it.

This commitment rests on three fundamental pillars: Shift the Culture, Improve the Response, and Support Survivors.

We are shifting the culture by breaking the silence around sexual violence, promoting a culture of consent, and championing gender equality. We are funding awareness campaigns to educate Albertans about consent, gender equality and healthy relationships. We are including lessons about consent in the new school curriculum, so that young students learn about respect and personal space, and older students learn about sexual consent.

We are improving the response, by ensuring that government, social service agencies, health care, law enforcement and schools can respond effectively to violence and harassment. We are supporting sexual assault centres and agencies, providing training and resources to police, funding Sexual Assault Response Teams of registered nurses, and increasing access to the legal system by removing the time limit for civil claims.

Finally, we are supporting survivors, by making it easier for survivors to leave dangerous situations and improving access to services. We are boosting funding to women’s shelters, and providing funding to second-stage shelters for the very first time. We have made it easier for people fleeing violence to break a residential lease. No one should be forced to stay in a violent situation because there are no beds available near them, or because they have a lease. We are working with LGBTQ+ and ethno-cultural communities to develop specialized strategies for those communities.

Sexual violence is a violation of a person’s fundamental human rights. It is gendered, and it is rooted in systemic and structural inequality. Sexual violence is also a public health issue which effects entire communities and societies. Every survivor has the right to be treated with dignity, and not experience discrimination based on gender identity or expression, age, race, ethnicity, ability, citizenship or any other factor. I am glad to stand with the Alberta government and make a commitment to end sexual violence in our province, to make life better for everyone.

On another topic entirely, June is right around the corner and is busier than ever!

First up is Bike Week, which runs from May 28-June 3. Organized by BikeBridge Cycling Association, the week features films, workshops, rides, and a scavenger hunt! Find out more at www.yqlbikefest.ca.

Environment Week is June 4-10, and a number of organizations have fun events planned. Check out environmentlethbridge.ca/environmentweek to see the whole schedule.

The Lethbridge Jazz and Blues Festival runs from June 9-16, with Jazz at the Park on June 9, and other events all week at various locations around town. On June 15 you can even hear live jazz at the Food Truck Frenzy event at ENMAX! Learn more at lethbridgejazz.com.

Pride Fest is June 15-23 this year. While it is always a spring highlight in Lethbridge, 2018 is especially exciting as it marks 10 years of Pride! The parade starts at noon on June 23, and Pride in the Park follows immediately afterwards. Find out what else is happening at facebook.com/pg/ LethbridgePrideFest.

Wrapping up the month is the Dragon Boat Festival, June 22-24 at Henderson Lake. Races, entertainment, shopping, food, the KidZone and the beer garden all make for an amazing few days at the park. I look forward to it every year.

I hope to see you at some of our great local festivals next month! To contact my office, you can call us at 403-329-4644, or email us at lethbridge.west@assembly.ab.ca.