Calgary domestic abuse victim calls for stronger support as violence comes in many forms

CALGARY — A Calgary victim of domestic abuse, who wishes to remain anonymous, is coming forward with their story to highlight that violence comes in many forms and some services can be difficult to access.

For the purpose of this story, CTV News has agreed to protect the person’s identity and will refer to them by the name ‘Stacie’ to keep confidentiality.

Stacie is a co-caregiver for her adult brother who suffers from a mental disorder, but was regularly abused by him. While the violence was mild and infrequent at first, the abuse soon skyrocketed leading to Stacie having to call the police almost weekly.

“I was getting daily blows to the head, to the back, sometimes my brother would pick up a TV and threaten to throw it, and we had to hide all the knives,” she said.

“As a result of one of his assaults on me, I got badly injured about a month ago and ended up in emergency and for me that was my breaking point that I had to flee the situation.”

Naturally, Stacie called for support and got in touch with the 24-hour Family Domestic Violence Help Line. She said the support workers were helpful in putting her in touch with a community counsellor to access low-income housing.

However, everything changed once she received a call from that counsellor.

“She laughed at me,” Stacie said. “She said that she works with women who are in domestic abuse situations and that because it was my brother it didn’t count as domestic abuse and that there was nothing she could do to offer me any supports.

“Living in fear is not funny — I was just absolutely devastated for myself, but also imagining any other woman who’s in a situation like mine where maybe it’s not sort of the classic form of abuse that we think of or hear about.

Stacie filed a formal complaint regarding the incident, not out of animosity, but mostly to raise awareness for other women in similar situations.

“I was denied the supports that I’m entitled to and I was laughed at and I was treated with suspicion and to me that’s equally as problematic.”

The Calgary Emergency Women’s Shelter is unable to comment on details related to this specific case for privacy reasons.

‘RESPECT AND DIGNITY’

The Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter (CWES) says it has a very robust client grievance procedure and staff are trained extensively to handle difficult situations.

According to CWES CEO Kim Ruse, most staff members have a masters degree and vast experience with counselling. She says everyone is trained in what’s called ‘response-based practice’ which is about dignity and respect for an individual’s experience.

“It’s unfortunate this is happening, but my staff are very well-trained,” Ruse said. “Our values are really about respect and dignity for individual experiences and their unique experiences, whether that’s a woman, a child or a man.”

“It’s really important when you look at help-seeking behaviour and the success of services like ours, your level of success is directly related to the engagement and alignment you’re able to achieve with your client. In order to do that well, you have to be in conversation with your client in a very real and present way about what matters to them not in the moment.”

The number of crisis calls from women in acute danger increased by 27 per cent over 2019, which contributed to the steady increase of admissions to CWES since the last quarter of 2020.

There is an increase in reporting injuries as a result of the abuse including:

  • A 23 per cent increase in severe and extreme danger for women (according to a recently completed danger assessment which measures the risk of lethality to victims).
  • A 21.5 per cent increase over 2019 to violence against children.

On any given night, over 56 per cent of beds at the emergency shelter are filled by children.

EXPANDING THE DEFINITION OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

HomeFront Calgary is non-profit organization that deals with all of the charge files that come through the specialized domestic violence court.

About 25 per cent of those files are familial relationships, says executive director Maggie Mackillop.

“Domestic violence is certainly not only about intimate partner violence. Familial violence can involve an adult parent, an adult children, it can involve siblings, it can involve extended family members.

“We know domestic violence is about power and control and it’s the same in these familial settings.”

Mackillop adds that different scenarios around caring for individuals create added complexities and depend on a number of variables including the needs of the individual. She says that Calgary has seen an increase in domestic violence-related incidents because of the isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“They’re very challenging dynamics because you’re dealing with human relations, the important thing to do is certainly to reach out in immediate situations to call 911 if their safety and well-being is jeopardized, and seek out resources in the community.”

SUPPORT FROM CALGARY POLICE

Since April 2020, reports of domestic violence in Calgary have been 14 per cent below the same period in 2019, according to statistics provided by the Calgary Police Service (CPS).

Police say the reductions were driven largely by fewer reported Level 1 common assaults. However, there were higher numbers of victims reporting more serious assaults and sexual violence, along with domestic assaults involving a weapon or causing bodily harm.

The good news, according to Staff Sgt. Vincent Hancott with the Domestic Conflict Unit, is that police have seen a noticeable increase in reporting of non-criminal calls.

“What that means is individuals are recognizing that they’re not in a healthy relationship and actually contacting the police so from our perspective that is really great news – it’s a slight increase of 10 to 20 per cent which is a great thing,” Hancott said.

“We always want individuals to reach out and be self-aware of their relationship and reach out to police, we recognize that domestic violence is a social issue and we have phenomenal relationships with our community partners.”

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