Facts Support Family Violence Prevention

Dear editor:

The week of February 13-19, 2011, is Family Violence Prevention Week on Prince Edward Island. This year, we are asked to consider how neighbours, friends, and families can help prevent and respond to abuse in our community. The PEI Advisory Council on the Status of Women is giving serious thought to how violence in families and violence against women intersect.

In this year’s Purple Ribbon Campaign Against Violence, we “faced facts” about what kinds of groups are most vulnerable to violence in our society. Many individuals are at greater risk of violence as a result of age or gender, ethnicity or ability. Looking at these facts gives us a basis to prevent and respond to abuse. The facts help to show us that to stop abuse, we must work together to build equality.

The provincial government has created a new tool that helps us see the facts. Late in 2010, the government’s Interministerial Women’s Secretariat published “Women in PEI: A Statistical Review 2010,” with data about the female population of PEI: their households, education, work and income, health, place in the justice system, roles in leadership, responsibility in caregiving, and experience of violence against women. This was the first statistical review of Prince Edward Island women since 1996. This invaluable resource is available at http://www.gov.pe.ca/photos/original/Women_Stat2010.pdf, and we congratulate government for publishing it.

This document tells us that in 2010, women still make up about half our population, but they make up far more than half of the clients of services for victims of abuse. For instance, in recent statistics, women made up three-quarters of referrals to Victim Services for sexual assault cases and more than three-quarters of referrals to Victim Services for abuse cases.

In each of the past five years, women sought at least 95% of the Emergency Protection Orders given out under PEI’s Victims of Family Violence Act. These Orders are issued when immediate danger exists due to family violence, and they can even result in an abusive person being removed from a home.

Despite these facts, there are signs of change and of hope. When the 1996 statistical review of women was released, families did not have the choice to seek Emergency Protection Orders. They did not yet have the Victims of Family Violence Act. Without these protections, even more women and children had to flee their homes for services like Anderson House women’s shelter. While the numbers at Anderson House have fluctuated year to year (and have not evenly declined), in 1996, 363 women and children used the shelter; in 2009, only 135 did.

Even some increased numbers may be good news: they may be due to more reporting. The number of cases Victim Services deals with has increased since 1996, but these numbers have increased as Victim Services staff have continued in a dedicated and professional way to make it safer for victims to report crime and be supported as their cases move through the justice system.

There is more to do to prevent and respond to violence against women and, especially, violence in families. In the past, changes have come about thanks to devoted community members and community organizations. These Islanders, who are concerned about equality and eliminating violence, have helped guide our governments to better policy. Better policy also relies on good, up-to-date, factual information about women and men in our province. Tools such as the statistical review of women help us join together to face facts – and stop the violence.

Isabelle Christian, Chairperson, PEI Advisory Council on the Status of Women

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