Women’s shelter use on the rise

By Morgan Haigler

The Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter has been flooded with phone calls through its Family Violence Helpline, making it a very busy safe haven for Calgarians who need counselling and information about abuse.

There were 1,366 calls to the helpline in February, a 300 per cent jump from the year before.

Women are also reporting more severe cases of sexual, physical and emotional abuse — including hitting, using weapons, constant criticism and threats that jeopardize the lives of both women and children.

According to CWES communications manager Theresa Rothenbush, the Calgary Police Service spends more time responding to calls about family violence than any other crime in the city. CPS said 27 per cent of Calgary homicides had some connection to domestic violence between 2002 and 2007.

“It’s a real serious issue for our community, but it doesn’t get as much attention as something like gang violence or crimes that might be enacted by a stranger,” said Rothenbush. “Really, people in our community are much more vulnerable to being hurt by someone they know than someone they don’t know.”

To educate more women about family violence, CWES launched a year-long education and information campaign as part of its 35th anniversary. The purpose was to encourage women in violent relationships to seek help, openly discuss their problems and end the cycle of abuse.

Not only does the CWES help women and children fleeing family violence, but perpetrators are offered guidance on how to end their abusive behaviour. Men can visit the CWES’s male counselling service.

Although it’s hard to determine what caused the escalation of abuse in the first place, the shelter has speculated on why violence becomes more dangerous over time. Their possible reasons include women suppressing their concerns about the abuse or becoming dependent on their partner’s financial income. An abuser’s increased drug use or need to resort to violence as a form of control could also reasons.

According to a 2007 Statistics Canada report, common-law partners have a higher chance of killing their significant other than married spouses.

“One in three women is going to be abused by their intimate partner,” said Rothenbush. “We want to change that before little girls and little boys grow up and become adults.”

She added that CWES helps 12,000 individuals annually. More than half of the 800 victims who stay at the shelter are children.

“There’s lots of ways that [a woman] can get help without actually leaving,” said Rothenbush. “We absolutely don’t ask women to leave their relationship. It’s their choice, it’s their life and we’re just here to support them to get safer.”