Olympics committee angers anti-violence women groups

Sheryl Nadler
Shine On
July 3, 2012

London-based groups working to end violence against women are up in arms, this week, claiming the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) reneged on a promise to include a sexual assault helpline number on information packages being given to athletes, reports the Guardian.

The London 2012 committee says it has included a paragraph on violence against women in information packs being given to the athletes, but critics say it isn't the specific information that was promised a year ago. The anti-violence groups claim recent research shows a correlation between high profile sporting events and an increase in violence against women.

"Campaigners fear that a desire to focus on positive messages for visitors is preventing Olympic organisers from tackling the issue of safety," reports the Guardian.

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The notion that issues around sexual violence get swept aside so as not to put a damper on the party atmostphere is not news to Stephanie Reifferscheid, a counsellor at Vancouver's Women Against Violence Against Women centre.

Reifferscheid sat on the Victims Services Advisory Committee for the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, which did community consultation with the Ministry of Public Safety and the Solicitor General to determine if additional funding would be needed for victims services during the games. She claims counsellors have anecdotal knowledge that incidents of sexual violence tend to increase during major events and sporting events like the Olympics. But because they didn't have any proof at the time, they were turned down.

"We noticed here that there was a big push for the party theme to pervade the Olympics -- come to town and party. We saw as very dangerous for women because sexual assaults tend to increase on weekends and at party venues," she says. "There was sort of an expectation that we wouldn't put a damper on the Olympics by saying that women could be at higher risk of violence."

She offers this as explanation as to why the London 2012 committee might not have included a sexual assault helpline in its information packs.

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Jenny Ofrim, from Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse, says coming forward to report a sexual assault is a very courageous act under any circumstances, but for athletes who are competing in the games, it can be particularly difficult.

"They're under a great deal of pressure to achieve," she says. "And they're representing their country, all eyes are on them. [It] could put them at risk of not being able to participate in their sport anymore, depending on who the perpetrator is."

She points out that athletes are often looked at in such high esteem, as strong and invincible, and they may fear reporting a sexual attack would make them appear weaker.

Ofrim says the London 2012 committee had the opportunity to step up and be leaders in this area, but they blew it.

"If you ask the everyday person, is sexual assault a terrible crime, everyone would agree that it's a terrible crime, yet there seems to be a reluctance to address the systemic issues around it," she says. "We live in a world of denial and only wanting to think it happens to other people."

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