MEDICINE HAT, AB – Domestic violence in Alberta is becoming even more prevalent and dangerous, this according to a new provincial report released by the Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters.
According to their 2017-18 numbers, 10,390 people accessed shelters in Alberta, which represented a jump of 360 people from the previous year.
Medicine Hat Women’s Shelter Society executive director Natasha Carvalho has dealt with domestic violence locally for over a decade and said it’s still a major problem.
“There is a lot of domestic violence in our city, there's over 1,300 calls a year that come into the police,” said Carvalho.
The new provincial numbers paint a picture of increased danger for those who suffer from domestic violence.
This year, the rate of women in shelters who were at risk of severe or fatal violence grew from 61.6 percent to 64.8 percent.
That number also marks a jump of almost 11 percent from 2011-12 numbers, with Carvalho saying they’ve been seeing more severe cases of violence locally.
“Strangulation and choking is what we're seeing definitely more on the rise,” she said. “I've been here 12 years now and I've been in this field forever, but that is what we seem to be noticing much more.”
Numbers aren’t on the rise for just women however, as the Medicine Hat shelter is seeing more and more children pass their its doors.
Carvalho said it’s a side of domestic violence that many people often don’t consider.
“We have 12 children in the emergency shelter and we have 20 children in the second stage shelter,” she said. “And, I think [it's important] for people to recognize that sometimes and understand that's the ripple effect of family violence.”
Lack of capacity is proving to be a big hurdle, with 16,722 women, children, and seniors being turned away from shelters due to limited space. That represents an increase of 2,225 people unable to stay in a shelter across Alberta.
Medicine Hat’s 30 beds are full, but Carvalho said turning away clients isn’t something they do often and is usually a last resort.
“We make sure that people are connected with other services if they can't come in to shelter per se,” she said.
One of those services is the Medicine Hat Community Housing Society, who assist those leaving the shelter find stable, safe housing.
It’s a trend that has been picking up steam across Alberta, with 68 percent of departing women finding stable housing compared to just nine percent prior to visiting shelter.
Jaime Rogers with MHCHS said she’s seen firsthand the impact that safe housing can have on victims fleeing from abusive partners.
“The ability to access supports and have them stabilize at their own pace, and meet them where they are at is critical,” said Rogers. “I think that's when you see people's lives change actually.”
Speaking in Edmonton on Tuesday, Minister of Status of Women Danielle Larivee said the province has contributed $50 million towards women shelters, but added more work needs to be done.
“No woman who is fleeing domestic violence should ever be turned away,” said Larivee. “We need to make sure and continue to work with our partners to ensure that they have a safe place to go when they make that decision.”
Carvalho called it discouraging, but not surprising to see these numbers on the rise.
However, she added early intervention can help address the core issues of domestic violence in Alberta and bring many of the skyrocketing numbers back down to earth.
“I feel like if we can start having those conversations and getting into people's lives earlier, that's really where I hope that we'll stop needing everybody to come in a crisis mode into the shelter environment,” she said.
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