Community leaders need to step up to fight violence against women: shelter director
'The single most important thing, if a woman says she’s likely to be killed, you’d better believe her'.
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The Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters is calling on community leaders to speak out to stop violence against women, after a Statistics Canada report showing Alberta’s homicide rate for Indigenous women is higher than any other province.
“I can’t find words. It’s just absolutely appalling that we’re seeing this. And we just don’t seem to be making the gains,” said the council’s executive director Jan Reimer.
“We do need systemic change, we do need institutional change. And that means people who are making decisions and who are providing examples in the community really do need to step up and provide strong leadership.”
Reimer said it would be helpful for leaders, from sports teams to workplaces to the criminal justice system, to talk about how women who have been assaulted and abused are treated.
She cited MLA Maria Fitzpatrick going public with personal stories of domestic abuse as an example.
The council is working on initiatives to help women who are in immediate danger, including a recent training session for staff on decolonization and intergenerational trauma, aimed at heightening awareness and understanding of what Indigenous women are up against.
Its five on-reserve shelters across Alberta have also led work to redevelop danger assessment tools – which assess a woman’s likelihood of being killed by an intimate partner – to better reflect the experiences of Indigenous women who come to shelters.
“You want to be able to, knowing what her risk factors are, be better able to put the protective factors in place to keep her and her children safe. And I think sometimes that’s a game where those institutional biases and concerns come into play,” Reimer said.
Josie Nepinak, Executive Director of Calgary’s Awo Taan Healing Lodge Society, is also working to reshape danger assessment tools to reflect factors like colonization, residential schools, the Sixties Scoop and the child welfare system, in hopes that more accurate assessments will lead to greater understanding and eventually changes in the justice system.
She said Indigenous women’s perception of their own danger and homicide risk tends to be lower than it should “because, quite frankly, we have been kicked around long enough.”
“We really need to capture the Indigenous woman’s experience in a better way to decrease the number of homicides and victimization of Indigenous women,” Nepinak said.
Reimer said women, and especially Indigenous women, are often not taken seriously when they do share information that they feel they’re at risk.
“The single most important thing, if a woman says she’s likely to be killed, you’d better believe her,” Reimer said.