There is high demand for domestic and sexual violence services in the Elk Valley. File photo

There is high demand for domestic and sexual violence services in the Elk Valley. File photo

Men need more support: Elk Valley violence expert

Service providers look to fill gap in domestic violence programming for men

Helping men heal from past trauma and change their abusive beliefs and behaviour is key to addressing domestic and sexual violence in the Elk Valley, an expert says.

For more than 40 years, the Fernie Women’s Resource Centre has been supporting survivors of domestic and sexualized violence.

This month, The Free Press reported the number of women accessing the FWRC’s counselling and outreach programs is at an all time high, while national domestic violence rates are on the rise after an eight-year decline.

Women remain the most represented group in domestic violence cases, however, local service providers believe more support is needed for men.

“In order to ultimately end gender-based violence, men have to be part of the solution,” said FWRC outreach worker Nicky Benzie.

“Domestic and sexualized violence is often seen as a women’s issue for women to solve, with men not entering into the conversation at all.”

Benzie is Chair of the Elk Valley Community Coordination for Safety in Relationships, a group of local service providers working together to advocate for larger systemic changes to policies supporting survivors of domestic or sexualized violence, as well as finding solutions to service gaps at a local level.

She said in the Elk Valley, women, trans-women and non-binary people have access to free counselling and outreach programs.

There is also specialized housing for women and their children fleeing violence.

However, the area lacks support services for men.

“While there are some services to support men in our community like adult mental health services, addictions counselling, family counselling, and private counselling providers, we don’t have spaces for men to access free support to heal from past traumas and to change their abusive beliefs and behaviours,” said Benzie.

She said there are many reasons a man might believe violence is acceptable in a relationship.

They may have been victims of violence as children, witnessed violence in a family relationship or have a belief system that says he is central or superior in the relationship.

“We can and do support children who have been abused and or witnessed violence in the Elk Valley, but we can do better in providing service to support adult men in healing from past traumas while holding them accountable for their behaviour and working towards changing their beliefs in favour of equality,” said Benzie.

How that support will be delivered is still unknown with the Community Coordination for Safety in Relationship still in the planning stages.

Benzie encouraged anyone with suggestions for men’s groups or programming to contact her via fwrc@shaw.ca.