More women are accessing counselling and outreach programs than ever before as the Elk Valley follows a disturbing national trend of increasing domestic violence rates.
In 2017, over 650 women sought support from the Fernie Women’s Resource Centre (FWRC).
The not-for-profit has remained “incredibly busy” over the past year, according to FWRC Executive Director Lauren Fox, with numbers accessing FWRC’s stopping the violence counselling and outreach programs at an all time high.
She said this could be partly attributed to growing awareness of domestic violence services and women’s willingness to come forward.
“With the #metoo movement there has been a lot more public dialogue and support for victims of domestic and sexual violence,” she said.
“The breaking of the silence has helped to remove a lot of the stigma and shame for people who have experienced domestic or sexual violence.
“However, this does not mean the problem is solved. Domestic and sexual violence are still occurring at alarming rates.”
Victim blaming is also still an issue, according to Fox, while conviction rates for domestic and sexual violence remain low.
It follows the release of a Statistic Canada report, which shows rates of domestic violence have edged up over the past year after an eight-year decline.
The agency said police-reported rates of abuse for seniors, children, youth and intimate partners all increased slightly, with women once again being overrepresented as victims.
Fox fears numbers are much higher in reality.
“We know that domestic and sexual violence is extremely underreported, so one thing that is important to understand is that there is a lot more domestic and sexual violence happening than what the numbers in the report reflect,” she said.
“We are actually pleased to see an increase in police reporting rates because that means more women are getting help from the RCMP.
“Sadly it is no surprise to us that women are overrepresented as victims of domestic and sexual violence. That has always been the case.”
According to Fox, one in three women have experienced domestic and/or sexual violence in their lifetimes.
Those who have minimal financial means or support can be more at risk.
“If they are experiencing domestic or sexual violence in their relationship they have fewer options to escape the violence,” said Fox.
“It makes leaving this relationship significantly more challenging. How will they afford rent, food, childcare if they leave their partner?
“These are the questions women have to face when trying to decide to leave. Once you put this in perspective you start to understand why women might feel they have no other option but to stay in an abusive relationship.”
FWRC chairs a committee of local service providers called Community Coordination for Safety in Relationships.
The group works on identifying needs in the community and ways to fill those needs, with projects including creating comfort kits for the local emergency department and education for service providers.
FWRC is also a member of the Interagency Case Assessment Team, a partnership of local agencies, including police, victim support, child welfare and other organizations, that responds to referrals of suspected highest risk domestic violence cases with an aim to increase safety.
FWRC provides confidential, non-judgmental practical and emotional support to women who are experiencing abuse.
Fox said staff do not pressure women to leave their situation if they are not ready.
“We work with women wherever they are at in their journey,” she said. “A big part of our work is safety planning with women.”
FWRC also offers an emergency support program, where women can access a small amount of funding if they are unable to find financial support elsewhere to help them get through a crisis.
Fox said in many cases, this program ensures women’s basic needs of safety, food, shelter and medical care are being met.
“This program is unique in the Elk Valley and there is not another agency that provides immediate support for a financial crisis in this way,” she said.
If you are dealing with or have dealt with any sort of abuse at any point in your life, help is at hand. Drop into FWRC at 1592 10th Avenue, Fernie, or call 250-423-4687 or 1-800-339-7393 toll free from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday to Friday and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Wednesday.
Safe Homes provides free temporary shelter for women and children fleeing violence. Available 24/7, call 1-800-200-3003. The Canadian Mental Health Association Crisis Line offers free support services for any crisis situation, call 1-888-353-2253.