Alberta has the highest reported rate of domestic violence in Canada. November is Family Violence Prevention month in the province. Many community agencies in Cal-gary observe it by holding events to raise awareness about the issue.
University of Calgary Brenda Strafford domestic violence chair Dr. Leslie Tutty defined the broad term of family violence as including child abuse, dating violence, elder violence and intimate partner violence.
"It's not necessarily a visible problem, but that's what makes it so difficult," Tutty said.
The Alliance to End Violence launched a poster campaign Nov. 4 to raise awareness about the issue and has been hosting school programs and community workshops throughout the month. The Calgary Women's Emergency Shelter is distributing a Wish Book Catalogue on Nov. 25 to 76,000 Calgary homes. The catalogue allows Calgarians to purchase gifts for victims of family violence when they first arrive at the shelter.
Tutty believes that Alberta's high report rates are partially a result of its young population. Young people in the 18-26 range experience the highest rates of domestic violence, followed by people in their mid-20s to mid-30s.
Student populations are not immune to family violence. Tutty and her colleague at Mount Royal College, Dr. D. Gaye Warthe, completed a survey on dating violence among the student population at MRC. As part of a MRC Turn Off the Violence event, they presented their findings that 34.1 per cent of women and 19.3 per cent of men with an average age of 22 reported that they had experienced relationship violence at some time in their dating history.
Tutty noted that the results are probably also highly reflective of the U of C student population.
"It's kept in secrecy," she explained. "There is a lot of shame attached to it and I think a lot of times, victims don't come forward. They're embarrassed about it."
Organizations like Home Front, which provides a co-ordinated community response to domestic violence, work to raise community awareness about the issue and get the public to recognize family violence as a serious crime.
"There's some stigma around the issue," said Home Front communication officer Erin Shrink. "Home Front believes that we can open the doors and start talking about domestic violence. I think our biggest goal is really to get people talking about it."
Home Front also works to prevent reoccurring violence by working with victims and offenders to ensure victims have the community support they need and offenders have access to treatment programs. Since Home Front's inception in 2000, reoffending rates in Calgary have dropped from 32 per cent to 12 per cent.
Home Front also has an early intervention program for cases where police have been called to a home, but no charges were laid. Caseworkers visit the family and work with them to prevent future violence by discussing the stressors in their lives that cause conflict.
Tutty stressed the importance of focusing on prevention.
"Every time there's a death it reminds us how serious an issue this is, but the problem is the momentum to do something about it drops away after a couple of weeks."
Both Tutty and Shrink stressed the need for increased funding for prevention programs and would like to see them more readily available. Tutty is currently studying the long-term effects of high school prevention programs. Many of these programs have proven successful in the short term.
"That's great," Tutty remarked. "But what about five years later?"
Shrink focused on the role the community has to play in reducing family violence.
"There are so many witnesses," she said. "There are children witnesses, there are family members that witness the violence, there's neighbours, there's co-workers, hairdressers. You know there is an amazing amount of people who know what is happening in those homes and we're just asking them to stand up and speak up."