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Victims 'have no place to go'

On average, 167 women report they have been a victim of domestic violence to Brandon police every year.

About 150 women and 300 children seek refuge at the YWCA Brandon Women’s Shelter annually.

Another 500 women seek out non-residential services such as counselling and other programs to deal with crisis situations.

Domestic violence is an unfortunate reality everywhere, but here in Manitoba it appears that the number of cases is particularly high.

"I would say that our numbers are not only increasing, I would also say that the issues for women are far more complex than they were even just a few years ago," said Kim Iwasiuk, a domestic violence counsellor at the Women’s Resource Centre.

"Issues around housing, poverty, daycare, which keeps women in the violence longer … They have no place to go."

A Statistics Canada report released on Monday revealed that Manitoba had the second-highest rate of police-reported violence toward women for the 10 provinces in 2011.

The per-capita rate of violence against Manitoba women is almost twice the national average.

The crimes surveyed in the report include common assaults, serious physical assaults, sexual assaults, attempted murder, homicide, uttering threats and criminal harassment.

For 2011, Manitoba’s rate of violent crime toward women was 2,191 victims per 100,000 population; Saskatchewan had a rate of 2,681. The national rate was 1,207 victims per 100,000 people.

Iwasiuk said she was not surprised by the numbers, as Manitoba has had a high ranking for several years.

She said she finds the numbers troubling, but noted that the issue is complex.

"Sometimes those statistics are really scary but they also can be good in the way that more women are coming forward," she said.

Iwasiuk said she would like to see more government investment in social services.

"So that when women are finally able to want to leave, that they do have the opportunity of not waiting for a really long time to be able to get into a good, safe housing situation, that they’re able to get daycare," she said.

Const. Ron Burgess said the Brandon Police Service has a "zero-tolerance policy" when it comes to domestic violence.

"Charges are laid if there is an allegation of assault in a domestic situation," Burgess said. "Sometimes both parties are charged, depending on the circumstances."

Burgess said by laying charges in every case, it places the matter in the hands of the court system "to deal with the cases in a uniform manner."

The average of 167 reported female victims was taken from 2008 to 2012 data.

YWCA Brandon executive director Karen Peto said she would like to see better programming for children.

"Working with kids, making them understand what is an unhealthy relationship and having them able to recognize that," she said. "Not only children who are growing up in families where there is domestic violence, but children, period."

Manitoba Progressive Conservative justice critic Reg Helwer said the numbers released by Statistics Canada are "glaring."

"Obviously it’s a concern to a lot of people that we’re in such a bad situation here," the Brandon West MLA said. "At one time this was a priority for this government, and it seems to have just fallen by the wayside."

Helwer said he is also concerned about the NDP "cutting back on services in jails meant to reduce domestic violence."

Jane Ursel, a sociology professor at the University of Manitoba and an expert in the field of family and domestic violence, said the situation in Manitoba and Saskatchewan is the result of a combination of inadequate policing and a poor record of dealing with offenders.

Ursel, who has more than 20 years of research in family and interpersonal violence, said most violent crimes against women in this province are the result of domestic situations, adding Manitoba has one of the highest rates of domestic homicides in Canada.

Ursel said the Manitoba government has reduced the number of programs aimed at curtailing domestic violence, including a special unit at the Headingley Correctional Centre that was closed in 2004.

"We’ve done some backsliding when it comes to the correctional pieces," Ursel said. "And there are pieces in regards to policing that can be improved."

Ursel said Manitoba needs effective prevention and intervention programs.

Justice Minister Andrew Swan stressed that the provincial government takes domestic violence very seriously.

"Frankly, in Manitoba I do believe that people, women, know that if they come forward with their complaint it’s going to be taken seriously by the police," he said. "Obviously as minister, I’m never happy to see a result that is above the national average in terms of reports of domestic violence."

To address the issue, the province launched a new five-year domestic violence strategy last November.

"It’s focused on three main priorities," Swan said. "No. 1 is providing supports for victims and families so we can get people out of abusive situations. Secondly, it’s interventions for people with abusive behaviour to try and change their behaviour so they stop abusing, and third, prevention awareness and training."

Swan said the main message of the new strategy is "Be more than a bystander — break the silence on violence against women."

"We got the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on side to be part of the public service announcement campaign, to make people realize that you can’t just be a bystander," Swan said. "Even though most men are not abusive and wouldn’t think of abusing a woman, unfortunately many have teammates, co-workers, family members, friends, neighbours who do."

» jaustin@brandonsun.com

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition February 27, 2013

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On average, 167 women report they have been a victim of domestic violence to Brandon police every year.

About 150 women and 300 children seek refuge at the YWCA Brandon Women’s Shelter annually.

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On average, 167 women report they have been a victim of domestic violence to Brandon police every year.

About 150 women and 300 children seek refuge at the YWCA Brandon Women’s Shelter annually.

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