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Creating Safe Spaces with Mary Lobson of REES Community

“Up until more recently, people didn’t necessarily see how tech might be able to be utilized to either support survivors, to create change, to create new pathways for things. And so I think there’s opportunities for creative thinking around gender-based violence and looking for solutions to some of the challenges.”

Mary Lobson, Founder + CEO of REES Community

In this episode

Join Mary Lobson, Founder + CEO of SheEO Venture REES Community, and Hannah Cree, SheEO Venture in Residence, as they discuss the need for survivor-centred and trauma-informed resources. REES bridges online incident reporting with access to critical information about reporting options, tools, and supports.

They also discuss:

  • The unique features of REES community that help to create safe spaces + reduce barriers to reporting
  • The importance of creating private safe spaces that provide options for survivors
  • Using data to understand the problem and help make change
  • How allies can work together + help to support survivors
  • The shadow pandemic, where gender based violence or domestic violence is occurring in homes
  • New opportunities with technology + creative thinking to create change
  • How we all need to be involved + be aware of opportunities in the spaces we occupy

We invite you to join us as an Activator at SheEO.World.

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Podcast Transcript:

The podcast is being transcribed by Otter.ai. (there may be errors, run-on sentences and misspellings).

Mary Lobson 0:00
Up until more recently, people didn’t necessarily see how tech might be able to be utilized to either support survivors, to create change, to create new pathways for things. And so I think there’s opportunities for creative thinking around gender-based violence and looking for solutions to some of the challenges.

Hannah Cree 0:24
Welcome to the SheEO.World podcast where you will meet women who are transforming the world to be more equitable and sustainable. Your host for today’s podcast is Hannah, SheEO Venture-in-Residence. Welcome to SheEO.World.


Welcome Mary Lobson, with REES Community, I am so excited you are a SheEO Canadian Venture this year. And I am so excited to dive in and talk more about your model. So thank you for being here today.

Mary Lobson 0:54
Thank you so much for having me, Hannah. I’m super excited to be here.

Hannah Cree 0:58
So I need to know first of all, can you tell us what is REES Community?

Mary Lobson 1:04
So REES is a simple secure online platform for reporting sexual violence. That’s, that’s short and sweet. That’s what it is. That’s my elevator pitch. Really condensed.

Hannah Cree 1:16
I love an entrepreneur that can give me a one liner of saying this is exactly what I do. And I have to tell you, I had chills when you said that. So tell me, how did you get there? Because this is such an important work that you’re doing. How did you get to creating that platform?

Mary Lobson 1:32
Well, I’ve worked in the gender based violence field for over 25 years. And, yeah, so that’s really my whole adult life has been spent in this space. And in 2016, I had opportunity to bring a few of the women to Winnipeg, which is where we’re based, who were featured in the film, The Hunting Ground, and I don’t know if you’ve seen it, Do you know, the film I’m talking about? Hunting Ground?

Hannah Cree 2:04
I’m pretty sure I do.

Mary Lobson 2:06
Yeah, it was it came out a few years ago. And it was it really brought to light the issue of campus sexual violence in the United States. Yeah, it was an incredible film, that really shone the light on the prevalence of this issue across campuses. And so I met brought to Winnipeg, a few of the women that were featured in it, and we had a screening in one of the schools. And it kind of, meeting them set me down a path of connecting with others kind of learning about other resources that were available in the US, I’m thinking about how do we make something like this available in Canada. And so got some funding, and really did a lot of consultation and collaboration across across communities and campuses, meeting with survivors and students and administrators, looking at kind of the gaps that exist within reporting, specifically on campuses, because that’s that’s what where we originally started in terms of the platform. And really wanting to meet that need. We know that sexual violence is so underreported, only about 5% of people actually report.

Hannah Cree 3:27
Five percent?

Mary Lobson 3:29
Yes, yes. So it’s a very low number that report. So there’s a real data gap around this issue. And so you know, part of our role in creating REES or goals is to reduce barriers to reporting to create safe spaces for survivors to report to increase reporting options, because we’ve, we’ve created some new pathways for survivors to be able to report and really wanting to kind of disrupt the space and do something different working towards change.

Hannah Cree 4:02
When you say disrupt the space, that means like nothing else was kind of out there like this in your area. And so you wanted to bring on this platform. Does the platform work with the police? Like how are you disrupting? Let’s dig in there?

Mary Lobson 4:15
Yeah. Well, we do a couple of things. When we think mostly on campuses, because that’s, as I say, that’s kind of primarily where we are right now, although, when we created REES, we created it, so it could be adapted for use across sectors and industries. So it can be used as an HR tool. It can be used in in workplaces, in community spaces and public spaces. So it really can be used kind of anywhere, people are. But as far as campuses go, there’s a real range of responses across institutions, and we’ve done a few things. We’ve created the opportunity for anonymous reporting, there’s behaviors that occur on campuses that, that support rape culture, that that are unwanted. But they’re not necessarily reportable. They’re not things that your campus is going to do anything about, or your institution or your workplace, or whatever it might be, are really going to do anything. But they really, they really can have a negative impact on the overall culture of an environment or the feelings of safety in a particular environment. So we wanted to create an anonymous space for individuals to report those kinds of behaviors. So that’s, that’s one of the ways. We also have a feature or function called repeat perpetrator identification, that actually is a matching system where where individuals that have experienced sexual violence can come in, they can identify the person that harmed them. And then if two people identify the same people, a match is made, and the institution is notified. So it helps, yeah, so it can help. We know that often perpetrators have multiple victims. And so this is an opportunity to, you know, gather, gather information about potential individuals who are, you know, causing harm to multiple people within a campus or even potentially workplace context. So those are kind of a couple of key ways. I think another thing that we’ve that we’ve done, and it’s been really important for us is, you know, we wanted the platform to be trauma informed, survivor centered, but we also really wanted to embed privacy and all of the design and development decisions. So we really, we really incorporated privacy and security into all aspects of the platform. And I think that’s, that’s another way that we are really different in terms of kind of how we were developed, really having those three things at the core of the work that we do.

Hannah Cree 6:57
Yeah, trauma informed, survivor centered, you know, those types of words and being able to provide a place, you know, you said anonymously, and so I find that really interesting and so important in the model, but when people do it, and they come in, and they do it anonymously, is it the hopes that you collect enough information about the culture and environment so that the organization can start looking at it, because it’s not like charges are laid, right? Like these, this sounds like multilayer because a lot of times we will go sexual assault need to go to the cops charges are laid and we all know, the system. And if people even get charged or go to court, or you know, all of those things, it really sounds like you’re going deeper than then that piece.

Mary Lobson 7:42
I think, again, kind of at the core, we’re wanting to create options for survivors. And so they can come into the platform, they can create a record of the incident that occurred, and they can do nothing, they can leave it, they can they can put it there, they can document, they can they can step away from it, and come back to it a time where they’re ready, they might choose then to you know, I’m going to do an anonymous report. And at least I’m I’m sharing that information with my institution that can help inform patterns on campus trends on campus, times of year that are particularly problematic, or maybe events where a number of people may come forward, particularly you know, relating to a sporting tournament or an event that’s held on campus or something like that. So we so we really wanted to create that space for people to, to hold the information, do anonymous reports if they want. There’s also a feature called connect to my campus where they can reach out and get supports, and resources and information that they might need. We do have an optional feature where we partner directly with law enforcement, so you can do a report to police if you want. And then we have the repeat perpetrator identification function. So we really wanted to create a space that survivors can use over time. It’s not a it’s not a one time and you know, when we think about competition in the space, sometimes that competition might be a Google form that an institution is using, which we know isn’t safe, it doesn’t provide opportunity to really gather those key metrics around prevalence on campus. Yeah, so that’s kind of my, you know, some thoughts around what we’re trying to do in terms of the really meeting survivors where they’re at, and providing as many possible options for them.

Hannah Cree 9:39
The options and when you said over time, really hit me and I and I should, you know, I want I feel like in this conversation, it’s important to disclose not something I talk about all the time. But, you know, at 16 I was also sexually assaulted. So I’m going back to these moments where you’re as as someone who’s gone through it going, “What if I had a platform like this?” And when you said I could go in and log in, write down the incident and then maybe step back and choose what I get to do with that. I can, yeah, the the overtime, I had chills. I was like, yeah, there’s also this respect it feels like around survivors, and how they report and what they choose to do with the information. Because we all know, this is like a multi layered layered issue. I’m wondering around it, from what I’m hearing your core customers are universities, institutions, or like, who’s using this platform? And I’m really interested in Have you seen changes at the universities because of this information coming in.

Mary Lobson 10:44
So we launched in September, so just this past year, we are almost across the entire province of Manitoba. We have, yeah, it’s super exciting. We’re just about to launch in French. So we’ll be available in French and English. So very excited about that. And then we have one final institution in Manitoba that we hope to bring on very shortly, which means it’s province wide, which is kind of significant, having an entire an entire province using this and I have to say my son, my youngest son is in grade 11. And he’ll be grade 12, next year graduating and he just said, you know, Mom, no matter what, no matter where I go to, you know, whether I go to university or college, whatever he decides to do, he said, as long as I stay in Manitoba, REES is going to be an option for me when I get there. And I was just like, you know, I think I think as a parent, nobody wants their kids to experience sexual violence. But he said, You know, this is a place that I can direct my friends. I know, its resources. And so, you know, it’s exciting that we’ve, we’ve launched in Manitoba, we’ve recently launched in British Columbia, at an institution there, and then we’re launching in Ontario, later this month. So we’re super excited that we’re talking to really institutions across the country, post secondary institutions. We also, we also, as I said, earlier, we created REES so that it can be used across spaces. Sexual violence occurs everywhere we live, learn work, sadly.

Hannah Cree 12:18

Mary Lobson 12:19
And so we’ve also been in some in conversations with some municipalities, talking about online reporting in public spaces. So we’re excited about that work. You know, I think we don’t have to look too far. In the news these days to see sexual violence coming up. Pretty much on every on every day on any given day, in sports, in workplaces, in the military, you know, it’s just, it’s it’s everywhere. And, you know, we believe that REES is a solution for most of these places, to, you know, to assist either their members or their employees or their students or whatever it might be.

Hannah Cree 13:02
Yeah, I was just thinking about, like, the big corporations, right, where they really don’t have a handle on that, or the tech companies that have, I mean, big companies and tech companies definitely could use also something like this for people. And so I love that it’s, you know, there’s so many uses of it, and how far you can go. And as an entrepreneur, let’s just take a minute to celebrate that you’re going to be province wide, you’ll be countrywide by the end of this, right. Like, and, and going into the US and all the universities, I’m sure there’s like a lot of opportunity there. And as entrepreneurs, sometimes we don’t even take a deep breath to be like, Oh, I did this thing. But that story about your son, how you’ve also equipped a man with these tools, where he will have women that are friends or other males can be sexually assaulted, but we know the majority are women, that he feels like, Oh, I can do something about this. That’s what struck me about that. It’s like, Oh, I can actually be a part of a solution which offering solutions for men to help. That’s actually what we need in this area.

Mary Lobson 14:11
Absolutely. It’s so it’s so important to be engaging men and boys, you know, younger on the issue of gender based violence, just generally, you know, at the end of the day, I have five sons, and so we were house full of guys. Five. The reality is, it’s it’s men predominantly who are perpetuating violence against women. And so we, we need to engage with them in order to actually bring about change. You know, I think women have been talking about these issues for a long, long time, but we’re not the ones who can really affect the change. And so it’s our ability to partner to work together to come up with solution. Together, and I think part of part of what we’ve tried to do as well, we have a Youth Advisory Board, which has representatives, you know, of students from across institutions in Canada, and making sure that there’s, you know, representation in there that’s intersectional, that’s diverse, but also where we’re we’re purposely seeking out young male voices to find out what are messages that resonate with them? How do we help them be allies in creating safer campuses, or creating safer spaces. And so it’s a it’s an important part of the work that we’re doing. And and before you asked about change, and I think, you know, change, change in this area is, is challenging, you know, entrenched in systems for a very long time. You know, SheEO is about making change in systems. And it’s difficult, you know, we have small kind of wins that we’ve had over the last few months where schools, school, some schools that we’ve partnered with, don’t have immunity policies. And an immunity policy is a is a policy that an institution has, where they don’t discipline a student who has been using drugs or alcohol, illegally, or in some way that that’s prohibited on their campus. And so there’s a few schools that haven’t had those, and they’ve developed them as a part of our partnership. And so that really, it benefits their students. It’s one more, you know, kind of one more way that students are protected on campus, that they won’t be sanctioned, or in any way disciplined for, you know, breaching policies that may exist on their campus, whether it be drinking in a dorm, or in some of our faith based schools, if it’s a dry campus, or even sometimes related to COVID, where maybe they weren’t supposed to be gathering and they gathered, and something happened. So there’s lots of ways for, you know, for for change to come over time. And I think we’re just beginning to see those things.

Hannah Cree 17:10
You’ve been in this for 25 years, you said?

Mary Lobson 17:14
Yeah, yeah, I’ve been around a while.

Hannah Cree 17:16
And like systems change work. Is generational? Right. And, and, really, you mentioned that, you know, SheEO is about building a new model, because we know like working within systems is really, really difficult to do. A lot of times you got to be on the outskirts. What do you see in this type of system? And in the area that you’re working in with gender based violence? Like, how do we move through this? Like, what does it take? In the next five years? Like, do you see that movement? Do you see changes? Or or, I mean, is the reality our numbers are going up? There’s more violence, like I also have—well, what I’ve seen even in COVID, is because so much disparity happens, right? You know, and there’s so much more stress, we’re seeing more violence. I don’t know if those stats are true or not. But like, is that what you’re seeing? Has it gotten worse or better over 25 years? And what does it look like in the next five?

Mary Lobson 18:25
Well, certainly, yeah, certainly numbers, numbers have gone up. Certainly COVID. You know, we talk about the shadow pandemic, where gender based violence or domestic violence is occurring in homes, where people have limited access to resource as resources and supports. You know, I think, looking specifically at sexual violence, the rates really haven’t changed for about 30 years. It’s one of the most underreported crimes that hasn’t changed, the numbers haven’t gone down. So we really, we really need to start thinking about, you know, how we can do things differently. And I guess, from from the perspective of REES, we hope that, you know, gathering data is, is a is a part of the solution, in that it gives us insights into really what’s happening. Because without the data, it’s hard to make change without to really have a habit, you know, without having a good understanding of the problem, or what the issues are, it’s hard to move things to move things forward. You know, I think, again, you know, looking at domestic violence, just broadly gender based violence for a long time, men were left out of the equation. Yes. And, you know, they’re, they’re, you know, you know, leave your partner, you know, go and go into shelter. It was a very kind of exclusionary model and it was about supporting women and helping women be safe, or helping the effective person be safe. It certainly can be men as well. Or people of all genders.

Hannah Cree 20:08

Mary Lobson 20:08
But what I think is is happening more recently, you know, is the recognition that that really men have to be part of the solution and part of making change. You know, there’s also new initiatives coming out around, you know, restorative justice, alternative justice models, and those things are important, because not everyone wants to go to police. Not everyone is—

Hannah Cree 20:35
I didn’t.

Mary Lobson 20:36
Yeah, like, you know, it’s not an option for a lot of people. But, but there can be other ways of having I’ll say, maybe justice, or having a response, that there can be some kind of closure in a situation. And, of course, everybody’s needs are different. But it’s, it’s being creative. I was on a call earlier today, with some folks out of Alberta who are kind of doing some innovative things using technology in some smaller communities, in a way that’s bringing multiple service providers again, so are together for me. So, you know, I think technology has a place in gender based violence, that, that I think probably up until more recently, people didn’t necessarily see how tech might be able to be utilized to either support survivors to create change, to create new pathways for things to gather resources differently. And so I think there’s opportunities for creative thinking around gender based violence and looking for solutions to some of the challenges.

Hannah Cree 21:46
Yeah, I think technology is a huge play. And I think how you’ve built your platform and the thoughtfulness and obviously, it shows because of the experience that you’ve had, that it’s not, I went in actually just assuming, oh, it’s just so I can report and it gets easier to the police. And and so the beautiful way that you described it, and how you’re showing up for people that it is really becoming a community. You know, like, we talked about it, like your company was really, is it REES technology, like you had technology in there, right? And it’s like, no, it’s and you’re using technology in such an important way. But it’s really a community because you’re providing space, safe spaces for people. And we know that in trauma, healing, safety, is really the primary piece that we have to provide first in order for any healing, possibility of healing to begin. And so I thank you for providing that space. For people it’s so so important. I want to ask, Do you have an asked to the listeners to our community?

Mary Lobson 22:48
I we at REES are so grateful to be part of the SheEO community and to have been, you know, invited in to to be part of this really incredible group of women coming together to work on some pretty important things in the world. And I guess my, my ask to them, which could also I can flip it and make it a give as well. But it’s, it’s to think about the spaces that you’re in, whether it be you know, for any listener out there, whether it’s where you work, whether you’re a student, and you’re going to school, whether you’re a teacher, and you teach K to 12 you know, whether you’re an event promoter or a fundraising professional engineer, regardless of what space you occupy, think about is there a place to do things differently? Relating to sexual violence? Is there an opportunity to, to come together in conversation and see, is there a way that we can support whatever space you might be in towards, towards creating change? You know, you talked about community and certainly, the risk community is something that we we hope will grow and evolve over time, but we believe that it is really going to take all of us to make change. It’s not about you know, a platform that we’ve created. It’s not just about survivors using it, it’s about administrators, it’s about employers, it’s about supervisors, managers, principals who want this in their schools, you know, in their school environment. Because it can be used in in so many different places, really just encouraging people to, to think about the spaces that are in and you know, certainly reach out to us if there’s opportunity to you know, potentially partner.

Hannah Cree 24:38
If anyone knows universities or you have the in, let’s go, let’s do this. This needs to be everywhere. Yeah, absolutely.

Mary Lobson 24:46
But also just to you know, to think about how can you, how can you raise awareness about sexual violence in the spaces that you’re in and the communities that you’re in. You know, standing up and saying something, you know, the by bystander upstander intervention model and just you know, the joke, the joke that gets said or the uncomfortable comment, those kinds of things. So there’s just so many places that we can we can respond. And it’s, it’s, it’s the small actions over time. That will also help make change.

Hannah Cree 25:19
Yes, absolutely. I love how you’re like, just how can I think differently about this? How can I look at this in a different way? And that is actually the systems change work is how do I think differently about this? How can this be implemented? Also, in a more heart centered way? Really, I think trauma informed work is heart centered work. And so how can we do that in those pieces? And so I want to how can they find out more about REES? Where do they find you? What’s your website? Yeah,

Mary Lobson 25:51
they can find us at our website, which is REESCommunity.com. You know, when I, I’ve had opportunity over the last year to talk to a lot of different folks in different spaces. And in almost every space, I’m in just like, tonight, meeting here with for you for the conversation, right? I didn’t, I didn’t know that, you know, what my work touches you in some way and your experience. And there’s just so many folks who’ve had this experience not you know, not just women, just folks generally. And yeah, we believe that we can, we can work together towards a better way, and a safer way for people in a way you know, forward where there can be some healing, we hope.

Hannah Cree 26:41
Beautiful, Mary, you’re a beautiful human, thank you for using your amazing superpowers to work towards something that is so important that is happening. And so please check out REES Community and become a SheEO Activator. Because these are the types of things that you are supporting, you are literally voting for the things that you want to see in the world that we need to have happen. And we’re seeing even more craziness through COVID that we know that this is even more important to double down on on models like yours. So thank you for the work, check out REES Community. Until next time.

Mary Lobson 27:15
Thanks, Hannah. Take care.

Hannah Cree 27:20
Thank you for listening to the SheEO.World podcast. Like, comment, subscribe, and share this podcast with your friends. We invite you to join a global community of radically generous women at SheEO.World.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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