Domestic violence calls reach all time high in past 10 years: Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters

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The Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters (ACWS) says in 2022-2023 shelters answered almost 60,000 calls — the highest number of calls of domestic violence cases in the past 10 years.

The new data suggests a 12.5 per cent increase in calls for help from last year. That increase is not only in numbers but also in severity.

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More than 65 per cent were at severe or extreme risk of being killed by a current or former partner. Fifty-one per cent believed their partner was capable of killing them.

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Meanwhile, 51 per cent experienced physical abuse and 57 per cent reported that the physical abuse had gotten worse over the past year.

Another 40 per cent had been forced to have sex, and 42 per cent were strangled by their partner.

The data also suggests that survivors living in smaller towns and rural areas experienced the greatest danger with 73 per cent of survivors who were surveyed being at severe or extreme danger of being killed.

Verbal, emotional, or psychological abuse were also experienced by two-thirds — 76 per cent.

Requests from moms with children have also risen significantly since last year — up around 50 per cent.

While 3,561 children were sheltered, 8,020 children were unable to be sheltered because shelters did not have enough space to meet the level of demand.

In 2022–2023, more than 2,000 newcomer survivors stayed in domestic violence shelters across Alberta.

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Pandemic, natural disasters, stagnant funding ‘made things worse’

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Jan Reimer, executive director of ACWS, told Postmedia in an interview the pandemic and natural disasters in Alberta have made things worse.

“During the pandemic, the message was stay home, stay safe. As pandemic restrictions lifted, we saw more and greater demand for help,” Reimer said.

She added they are trying to do more with less, noting that “women shelters themselves have been facing stagnant funding for almost a decade.”

Jessica Montgomery, strategic relationships adviser at the Jessica Martel Memorial Foundation in Morinville, told Postmedia in an interview the staggering numbers and severity are not surprising.

She added that like all Albertans, affordability is another trend survivors are navigating through.

“Imagine if you’re leaving with the clothes on your back, how would you restart your life with costs the way that they are right now?” Montgomery said.

She notes that the abusers use financial circumstances to control their victims.

“Our clients need more support in order to be able to move on and build a healthy life and, in turn, as they move on that frees up space in the shelter for new people to come in who need our help,” Montgomery said.

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Reimer added that while they’re forecasting the numbers to keep growing for the next decade, they are working on prevention techniques.

“We’ve developed Leading Change and we are working with men and boys to look at attitudes towards gender-based violence. I think we need to do more of that, but I think also what’s really key is working with children, particularly those children who have been exposed to domestic violence because it has lifelong impact,” Reimer said. “We all know how important child development is.”

Helping survivors of domestic abuse is crucial to the community and can’t be done alone, Montgomery said.

“It takes everyone, it takes the community supporting us, it takes the government supporting us. And it also takes our clients doing the hard work as well,” Montgomery said.

Rural areas have their own set of challenges

Linda McLean, executive director at Strathmore’s True North, said in an interview that women and children in rural areas face many challenges, such as distance from services and the ability to access transportation.

“Then there’s the challenge of finding housing because our housing situation is not better in the rural areas than it is in the cities. In fact it is probably even more challenging because of the limited supply, much lower number of purpose-built rentals in small towns and rural communities than there are in the cities,” McLean said.

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McLean added they “continue to see a disproportionate number of Indigenous women and families.”

“And I think that speaks to the ongoing intergenerational impact of the legacy of colonization, systemic racism and the fact that Indigenous people are facing more barriers in our society,” McLean said.

While the demographics of Alberta’s rural areas are changing, the number of new Canadians who are living in small towns and rural communities is increasing, McLean said.

She says helping those people overcome domestic violence comes with its own challenges.

“I think we also still see a lot of systemic racism that gets in the way of new Canadians being able to secure employment at all, and facing discrimination in housing,” McLean added.

Data and trends were announced Monday at ACWS’ new offices in Edmonton.

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