Since 2018 approximately 36 per cent of femicides are committed in Ontario
by Cidalia Pereira, Violence Against Women Team Lead and Luciana Pache de Faria, Violence Against Women Counsellor | November 17, 2023
City council passed a motion July 20 presented by Mayor Olivia Chow that declared gender-based violence and intimate partner violence an epidemic in the city.
For many of us working daily with women facing violence and abuse, Toronto City Council’s recent declaration of intimate partner violence (IPV) as an epidemic is a positive, long-needed, step to help reduce this ongoing problem. More than 30 other communities across Ontario have also designated IPV as an epidemic. That’s progress but the real question is, what happens next?
This was the discussion we had during the Abrigo Centre’s Annual General Meeting held in September. We were fortunate enough to present and share the stage that evening with Carla Neto, Executive Director of Women’s Habitat, who led the charge pushing the city to adopt this declaration.
Recently, the murder of a woman and her three children in Sault Ste. Marie at the hands of her husband and murder of two women in Toronto and Brampton are prime examples of the danger many women and children face daily.
CANADA: 200 women and girls were killed by violence in 2022
In Canada, 200 women and girls were killed by violence in 2022. Currently, every two and a half days a female is murdered in our country. Since 2018 approximately 36 per cent of femicides are committed in Ontario, the largest total of any province.
Those are sobering statistics and begs the question why Ontario and other provinces refuse to designate IPV as an epidemic and commit to additional resources that invest in community awareness, prevention and outreach activities.
COVID-19 lockdowns, unemployment and barriers to resources created stressors for millions of people. Although the pandemic played a significant role in generating increases, IPV has always been with us.
More broadly, after the significant increase in domestic violence clients presenting to agencies during and post-pandemic, and with cases far more complex than ever before, why is IPV not thought of as a public health hazard? It truly has become the Shadow Pandemic. When will we understand and recognize the financial and societal cost of IPV?
Supporters for victims of femicide gathered at the civic centre in Petawawa, Ontario. Source: Avanthika Anand/CBC
Reactive response to IPV experience
Most of the work done at Abrigo and other agencies is reactive in response to those experiencing IPV, i.e., providing counselling, safety plans and instrumental services to women who have experienced abuse. Not nearly as much work is done on education and prevention.
Across the board there’s a lack of intervention models despite some incredible work being done, including by Abrigo’s own Youth Outreach program. This initiative educates over 1,500 young women and men annually in high schools about healthy and unhealthy relationships, conflict resolution and how to seek out support when feeling unsafe or in need of emotional support.
Many women who turn to Abrigo were referred by a friend or family member. A significant number did not know where to originally look for support, particularly support in their own language. Abrigo has the ability to support clients in both the Portuguese and English languages.
Many experiencing intimate partner violence often don’t recognize verbal, psychological or financial abuse, as IPV is often only associated with physical abuse. Many feel a sense of shame and guilt for being in an abusive relationship. They fear labels and are reluctant to come forward. This is often derived from other family members who tend to minimize and normalize abuse.
Resources are needed
Women are often in a heightened level of crisis on arrival. Most have been traumatized by the level of abuse they are experiencing. Today, more resources are needed for counselling and supporting their instrumental needs than ever before such as support in finding safe housing, legal services and income maintenance needs to name a few.
Even when a woman is ready and at the stage to leave their own home or apartment, with limited financial resources, they are often tied to their abuser. They also quickly learn that finding temporary supportive housing via a local shelter is a tall task at the best of times.
Women with precarious status in Canada often face further threats of a call to Immigration Canada or deportation by their abusers. They also have no opportunity for financial assistance from Ontario Works or Employment Insurance. And for the women who do qualify, they may face long wait times to receive financial benefits and services.
As you can see, the barriers abused women face are many. A wide-scale coordinated provincial response is needed as soon as possible. Simply, not enough support is currently available when a woman reaches out for help or decides to leave their abuser.
Despite these challenges our clients continue to demonstrate enormous resilience and hope for a better future. Remember, you are not alone. If you are experiencing any form of intimate partner violence, call us at 416-534-3434 or visit our website at www.abrigo.ca.