St. Marys Journal Argus
A new report by a Kitchener-based research agency, commissioned in Huron and Perth Counties by the United Way-funded Social Research and Planning Council, makes a series of recommendations meant to boost services for women suffering from various forms of violence.
Representatives of the Social Research and Planning Council made a presentation to St. Marys Town Council in mid-October, highlighting the findings of the report.
“This report is a snapshot of violence against women (VAW) in Perth and Huron Counties,” states the Introduction to the document, which was made available to Town Councillors prior to the meeting.
To collect information for the report, Kitchener-based not-for-profit organization Community-Based Research oversaw the creation of an advisory committee consisting of members of the Social Research and Planning Council as well as representatives from community agencies. The advisory committee received regular updates regarding the project and were given the opportunity to review the findings and the report.
Two online surveys were developed for service providers and women with “lived experience” in the two counties. “The survey for service providers was focused on VAW to gain insight into the current state of services and supports, any gaps that may exist, and barriers women face in accessing these services,” the report explains.
A second online survey was developed for women with lived experience of violence to report what type of abuse they have experienced, the services they have accessed, and any barriers they have faced in accessing services.
Seventeen representatives from agencies serving women who experience violence completed the survey for service providers. The majority of agencies that completed the survey were located in Stratford, meaning the survey responses were skewed to describe results mainly from that city.
The second survey was completed by women who have experienced violence. However, only four participants completed the survey.
“It is not clear why the response rate was so low, but, it is possible that women did not want to complete the survey due to the sensitive nature of the topic,” the report suggests.
Three focus groups with 8-12 purposely-selected service providers. And five individual interviews with women who have lived experience of violence were conducted to gain an understanding of their experiences, how they responded, and their thoughts on services available in Perth and Huron Counties.
The participants were interviewed in Perth County and were connected to a service agency. The age range of women was from 27-47 years old, and four of the women had children. All of the women had low income, with four women relying on social assistance as their primary source of income. Education levels among the women included one with no formal education, three with high school diplomas, and one with a college diploma.
“Available statistics about the prevalence of violence are limited,” notes the report. “According to the Stratford Police 2009 annual report, there were 443 intimate occurrences (violence which occurs between intimate partners or ex-partners) and 175 non-intimate occurrences (violence which occurs between any two people in a domestic situation i.e., parent to child) of domestic violence, for a total 618 occurrences. A total of 161 charges were laid in these occurrences.”
A cautionary note is added that “these statistics are only applicable to the city of Stratford and cannot be generalized to other areas of Perth or Huron Counties.”
In addition, the Huron Perth Children’s Aid Society reports that in any given year, 13-15 per cent of the referrals they receive are related to incidences involving woman abuse.
The report suggests, however, that it’s quite likely VAW is under-reported in this region. “One key informant perceived that attitudes about VAW tend to be more negative and conservative around recognizing women as victims to their abusers,” it says. “The conservative attitudes may point to denying that VAW exists or that women who experience violence may in fact have done something to provoke the perpetrator.
“This finding echoes what was found (by the) Public Health Agency of Canada about VAW in rural areas; attitudes about VAW and stigma attached to victims result in a lack of recognition that a problem exists, resulting in an under-reporting of violence.”
At the Town of St. Marys meeting, Councillor Carey Pope praised the Social Research and Planning Council for the depth of the report. After making the notable admission that she herself is “a statistic” of violence against women, Pope added that the most meaningful portion of the report for her were the personal stories provided by the survey and interview participants that had experienced forms of violence in the past.
The stories are included under pseudonyms to protect the identity of the study participants. But they certainly do provide an open window into the lives of women in Perth County who have been or are still experiencing abuse in their lives.
“The purpose of this section is to illustrate the prevalence of violence that was experienced by women in Perth County,” the report explains.
Four of the women reported experiencing multiple forms of abuse from childhood into adulthood, and one woman reported multiple types of abuse when she was in one adult relationship.
The Executive Summary of the report describes violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.”
Among the negative effects of the VAW, the Executive Summary notes that “socially, there is often stigma attached to women who experience VAW. Economically, VAW impacts the community as services, including healthcare are drawn upon. Also, women who experience violence face challenges in maintaining employment or entering the labour market. (And) the legal impact of VAW is the back- log that is created within legal services, particularly in the court system.”
The main recommendations of the report, meanwhile, are to increase number of beds in emergency shelters and second stage housing; increase program funding for VAW services for women, children, and men; expand sexual assault and forensic services; establish a harm-reduction approach for women in shelter with substance abuse issues; and increase collaboration between VAW agencies in the two counties.