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Supporting survivors of gender-based violence

​Today marks a grim anniversary in Canada.
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​Twenty-nine years ago, 14 women were killed, and another 10 women and four men wounded at École Polytechnique in Montreal. Now known as the Montreal Massacre, it was the deadliest mass shooting in Canada’s history. The shooter specifically divided men and women in a classroom at the school before opening fire and blamed feminists for ruining his life in his suicide note.

While this mass murder is a horrific example of gender-based violence, women experience it in less public ways every day.

To raise crucial awareness about the impacts of gender-based violence, the United Nations has launched the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence Campaign, which runs from November 25 to December 10.

Health care providers play an important role in identifying and supporting survivors of gender-based violence. According to the World Health Organization, care providers are likely to be one of the first points of contact for survivors of sexual assault and intimate partner violence.

Ensuring health care providers have the information and tools they need to support these vulnerable patients was the impetus behind a curriculum developed by BC Women’s Hospital + Health Centre’s Population Health Promotion team, in partnership with the Ministry of Health and Ending the Violence Association of BC. The four-part series was launched in March 2018 and to date 194 people have taken all four courses, including 17 at PHSA.

BC Women's and BC Children’s psychiatrist Dr. Deirdre Ryan says the curriculum is a great way to prepare those working in the health sector for disclosures of violence from patients.

“In psychiatry, we screen for abuse, past and current. When you screen for something, you need to ensure you are equipped to deal with what a patient shares,” said Dr. Ryan.

“The great thing about this program was it talked about how to do it in a culturally sensitive, trauma-informed way. And if there is a positive screen, what services to refer them to. I would highly recommend it.”


Dr. Brenda Wagner, a member of the Perinatal Services BC Steering Committee and the medical director of Maternity for Vancouver Coastal Health-Providence Health Care, also found the curriculum helpful, particularly in supporting a group recognized as being at risk for this type of violence.

“In my training as an OB/GYN, I got some knowledge and a little bit of training on how to support women that are experiencing gender-based violence. But I needed more. The gender-based violence course is a great way for OB/GYNs to get the skills that they need to be able to listen to, respond to, and support women experiencing gender-based violence,” said Wagner.

Gender-Based Violence: We All Can Help Improving the Health Sector's Response is available on Learning Hub. This four-course training series for health sector workers is focused on understanding, identifying, responding to and addressing the impacts of gender-based violence. The course is free and you can take any course on its own, or all four in the series.

Register online at:

Children's Health; Women's Health
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