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Interview with Jamie Kwong – Director at the ORCC and business leader

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Photo Credit: Claude Brazeau, MPA www.brazeauphoto.com

Born in Brampton, Ontario, Jamie Kwong moved to Ottawa 11 years ago and has taken the city by storm. She is a director with the Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre (ORCC). Kwong is the executive director of the Quartier Vanier business improvement association (BIA). She was formerly the executive director of the Orléans Chamber of Commerce. Jamie Kwong is a great fit for the mandates of this blog because as you will notice from the interview, she is passionate about social justice and using enterprise as a means to give back to the community. On April 12, I sat down with Kwong for an interview and she shared lots from her wealth of experience:

On her attractiveness for the business positions that she has headed 

Prior to that, I was at the sexual assault centre (SASC) doing their fundraising and some support work. I was there for a couple of years as a volunteer. I started doing more events there and then, connecting with local city politicians and I kind of realized that’s what I really like to do and make change at that city level. I like to promote really amazing things in Ottawa and so, an opportunity became available at the Orléans Chamber of Commerce. I knew no one there, I didn’t even know what the Chamber of Commerce did. I applied, I got the job, I moved and I met a whole host of people. 120,000 people in that community itself. In my work there, I got to work with small business owners and I also worked with city politicians, provincial politicians and federal (politicians). You really start to see the synergy between the importance of supporting your local business community – they are the ones that donate back to charities, they are the ones that donate back to various initiatives in the community and they also make use of those things in the community. So, its very cyclical and it’s a symbiotic relationship. I really fell in love with that community. After 3 years, I’m like – I want to try something different, I want to try more advocacy – so promoting what would be beneficial for that community and that could be anything from promoting transportation needs we need, to bringing in types of businesses that would help make our community more diverse. I signed a lease for an apartment in New Edinburgh and the job for Quartier Vanier came up. It’s more streamlined, so focusing on making three streets really attractive – Beechwood, Montreal Road, McAurthur.

On her sexual violence support work

The last year and a half, I have been volunteering at the Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre (ORCC), so there is a lot of overlap between the sexual assault centre and the Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre. It (the Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre) is the third sexual assault centre that opened in Canada, so they just celebrated their 40th anniversary. For the last six years, I have been working in violence against women, I meet amazing people and it’s funny, people have interesting misperceptions on the work and even of rape culture, in general and myth that I love to raise awareness on it. When I was working as a support worker, I met people that had gone through some of the most horrific things you can hear of and they are sitting in front of you, they are full of love, full of compassion, they wanna help people, they wanna just be heard and believed and supported.

Describing Ottawa with regards to sexual violence 

Ottawa, in general, is a safe city. One statistic that I want to get out there is that Ottawa is known as the city that is safest for women. Anecdotally and through our own statistics and I am not going to even say that I am an expert on stats, but sexual violence is still a major issue here. What stops women from feeling safe to come forward and reporting is sometimes, they’re put on the position of defending themselves. We also have other things that we are looking into at the ORCC – what kind of things can we do as sexual assault centres and the police to make it easier for women to report. So, I know that there are some initiatives that are coming forward. We are trying to push forward on models that other cities have used, that have been very effective in getting more women to report. One is the Philadelphia model thats built into their system, where the police work hand-in-hand with front-line workers. Women feel much safer coming forward.

There is a conception that women are not easily believed when they report rape. Thoughts?

In my work as a support worker at SASC, I found that the number one thing is that people do not automatically see why they need to report and nor is it any woman’s responsibility. They need to take care of themselves, so they need to do what’s best for themselves. So, often times, people are like, “Oh you should report”. Women make the best decisions for what they need and so, the most dangerous time for women is when they are living in abusive situations. So, they know these things. Sometimes, they need to take it step-by-step, according to what they feel they need. Often times, if they report right away, that is the very very last case kind of situation. We get a lot of women who waited 20 years – had their children grow up or other things factored in and then, finally get time to themselves. 20 years later, all this stuff is coming is coming up. It’s called triggers.
Advice for anyone who has been a victim of rape and is wondering – “What do I do?” 
There’s a lot of victim blaming out there. What I would say to anyone who has experienced it is – It wasn’t your fault, what do you need right now – ask yourself that. Here are some three resources that might be of help to you: CALACS (for Francophones), SASC and then there’s ORCC.

You can contact Jamie Kwong via Twitter, LinkedIn and/or Facebook! Also, check out this upcoming fundraising event, for the ORCC: http://www.orcc.net/orcc-4th-annual-spin-thon

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