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Peterborough County declares intimate partner violence an epidemic

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Following the City of Peterborough’s declaration in late November, Peterborough County on Wednesday unanimously approved a resolution to declare intimate partner violence an epidemic.

The motion was similar to the one the city approved on Nov. 27 that acknowledged more than 85 recommendations by a jury following the coroner’s inquest into the 2015 murders of Nathalie Warmerdam, Carol Culleton and Anastasia Kuzyk in Renfrew County to help prevent similar tragedies. Among the recommendations was for Ontario to formally declare IPV an epidemic.

The county’s motion says to refer the recommendations to county staff for consideration and where appropriate, integrate them within the county’s Community Safety and Well-being Plan.

The vote came following a joint presentation by executive directors Brittany McMillan with Kawartha Sexual Assault Centre and Kim Dolan with the YWCA Peterborough Haliburton.

They noted that in 2022, using data from police and other social services and programs, 80 per cent of people in the region who have experienced intimate partner violence never report the incident(s) to police.

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Click to play video: 'Domestic violence ‘an epidemic’: Peterborough Domestic Abuse Network'
Domestic violence ‘an epidemic’: Peterborough Domestic Abuse Network

Police data showed 2,046 occurrences of domestic violence.

“Only one in five people are reporting IPV, which means the total number of occurrences of domestic violence in our community can be estimated at 10,230 per year,” Dolan said.

Both advocates said communities and municipalities need to help provide support for more intervention, counselling and supports.

McMillan said staff and other organizations will set up community hubs in rural communities throughout Peterborough County to help provide services to victims.

“Unfortunately there’s a lot of risk of sending counsellors into homes if someone is experiencing domestic violence so we’re taking actionable steps to get into our catchment areas,” she told council. “However, we have a very small team base so quite often it’s limited, but those county hubs are brilliant and something we utilize.”

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Kim Dolan, top, with the YWCA Peterborough Haliburton, speaks via Zoom while Brittany McMillan with the Kawartha Sexual Assault Centre speaks at Peterborough County council on Dec. 13, 2023. YouTube screenshot/Peterborough County

Dolan also noted one recurring theme is victims living in rural communities with lower population face geographical isolation where abusers can “cut off” access to friends, neighbours and family.

“The lower the population density (in Peterborough County), the more isolated a woman is,” she said. “And the longer it takes for services to get there and the less likely she is to access services.”

Peterborough County Warden Bonnie Clark says the declaration shows the county recognizes the urgent need for action on intimate partner violence both locally and across Ontario.

“With this declaration, we acknowledge the immediate threat this crisis poses to the safety and well-being of vulnerable residents and commit to supporting measures to address this issue,” Clark said. “Through solidarity, effective policies focused on survivors, and collective action at all levels of government and society, we can create a safer community for all.”

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The motion also includes sending a copy to Premier Doug Ford, Ontario Minister of Health Sylvia Jones and MPPs Dave Smith (Peterborough-Kawartha), David Piccini (Northumberland-Peterborough South) and Laurie Scott (Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock).

They highlighted a “snapshot” of 2022 data that showed that only six per cent of survivors of sexual assault in the region reported the assault to police. One in five people experiencing gender-based violence said they called police.

“Eighty per cent of the people don’t report — in our community, that’s over 10,000 people who are victims of gender-based violence last year,” Dolan said.

McMillan says their organizations are part of the Peterborough Domestic Abuse Network (PDAN), consisting of more than 30 organizations in Peterborough city and county working to support survivors of domestic abuse.

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate assistance. Find a more comprehensive list of resources here.  

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