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'Sometimes the holidays aren't as joyful': High demand for domestic violence supports in Alberta

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The holiday season isn't safe for everyone in Alberta.

It can be a stressful and often dangerous time for those at risk of domestic violence, in particular for women and children.

Elsa Perry with Shelter Movers knows this all too well. The organization provides free moving and storage services to people fleeing domestic violence.

"Across the organization, there is generally an uptick in the request for our services around the holidays," she told CTV News.

Shelter Movers' Calgary chapter launched in September and offers support anywhere within an hour and a half from city centre.

"Moving and storage services are quite expensive now especially with the cost of living rising, so the fact we can provide these services free of cost is just a way we can help members of our community and make sure that is not a barrier for them leaving a violent situation," Perry said.

Perry says since launching in Alberta, it has been difficult to keep up with the demand for referrals.

"It is incredibly high the services that are needed within not just the city but the rural areas as well that we do support," she said.

"You have pets – you've got horses, donkeys, multiple dogs. Your whole life is there, your children's lives are there.

"I think we have to be compassionate and understand that domestic violence is closer to our lives than we think it really is."

CALGARY POLICE SEE REPORTS INCREASE

According to the Calgary Police Service, calls around incidents of domestic violence are decreasing while domestic conflict reports are on the rise.

Domestic conflict calls refer to people placing a call about a potentially dangerous situation, such as a verbal argument that escalates to where police are called but remains non-criminal in nature.

In 2020, CPS reported 4,000 domestic violence incidents, which has dropped slightly to 3,642 in 2022 and 2,552 between January and August of this year.

The CPS responds to around 20,000 domestic conflict calls a year, which translates to around three calls every hour each day.

According to latest statistics, the service has received 12,763 between January and August.

"Our statistics and reporting continue to show that citizens are calling police and looking for community support before the situation escalates to violence," said Staff Sgt. Glenn Andruschuk with the CPS domestic conflict unit.

"This allows us to connect them with a variety of resources that they may not know about and help navigate difficult conversations."

Reported Domestic Violence Occurrences (Source: Calgary Police Service)

 

2020

4,000

2021

3,718

2022

3,642

2023* (Jan. – Aug.)

2,552

 

Reported Domestic Conflict Calls for Service (Source: Calgary Police Service)

 

2020

15,829

2021

15,729

2022

18,737

2023* (Jan. – Aug.)

12,763

EFFORTS TO CRIMINALIZE COERCIVE CONTROL

There are efforts to make coercive control criminal in Canada with a new bill before Parliament.

Coercive control is defined as a pattern of behaviour used to regulate and control another person's daily life and to remove their personal agency.

This is a pattern that can take the form of emotional, financial, physical and sexual abuse.

"The criminalization of coercive control in our opinion is critical. It's another tool in the toolbox of the justice system in order to address the issue of domestic violence," said Andrea Silverstone with Sagesse Domestic Violence Prevention Society.

Bill C-322 had its second reading in November and will be revisited in the New Year.

Silverstone says coercive control is the most pervasive form of domestic abuse and in most cases of domestic violence it is present.

She points to a 2019 report by the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability, which found that in extreme cases of domestic abuse, like homicide, coercive control is almost always present.

"This is part of a continuum of puzzle pieces that come together in order to protect victims of coercive control, victims of domestic and sexually violence," she said.

"It's not a one off."

Many countries including England and Wales, Ireland, Scotland and some parts of the United States have enacted coercive control legislation.

(Supplied/Pexels)

'IT IS REAL': DIALOGUES AROUND DIGITAL ABUSE

Violence against women also extends to the online world, with one-in-five women experiencing online harassment according to the Canadian Women's Foundation.

The foundation has launched a new podcast called Alright, Now What? in an effort to raise awareness and combat the increased hate in digital spaces against not just women, but 2LGBTQIA+ people as well as targeted ethnic and religious groups.

Andrea Gunraj hosts the podcast, which features experts in many fields, including domestic violence and online harassment.

"What can we do about it? What can we do to change these things? What can we do to make things better? And why are they happening?” Gunraj said about the podcast's goal.

Gunraj says digital abuse and real world abuse intersect and it's important to recognize the trauma and impacts on victims.

"Because it happens in the digital space it can feel kind of not real," she said.

"It's all really going to impact us the way things like emotional abuse impacts us, the way physical abuse impacts us. It impacts us when we get it on an online basis."

Gunraj adds that violence in digital spaces does not just come from strangers, but can often be from a partner and ex-partner.

"Saying, 'you have to keep your phone on,' 'you always must be in contact with me,' this is an experience that especially shelter workers speak to that many of the people who come to the shelters looking for support and protection from an abusive partner, that digital violence is happening to them at the same time as well and it follows them around."

SUPPORTS AND RESOURCES

Anyone experiencing abuse or violence can reach out to Calgary Police and can call 211 for access to supports.

The Domestic Violence and Abuse Helpline is available 24/7 at 403-234-SAFE (7233).

The Family Violence Info Line is also available in more than 170 languages anywhere in Alberta at 403-310-1818.

There is also an Alberta Safety Chat Line if phone calls are not an option.

Sageese also provides REAL Talk webinars, which are free and available to anyone or any organization interested in learning how to recognize domestic abuse, understand its impact and how to respond to it.

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