This is part one of a four-part series on domestic abuse in Winnipeg. Here’s part 2 and part 3.
It’s not robberies, it’s not stabbings and it’s not break and enters — the biggest reason Winnipeg police are called is for domestic disturbances.
Winnipeg Police Service Patrol Sgt. Susan Desjardine works in the domestic violence division. She says every year the force receives about 16,000 calls related to domestic violence, or about 44 calls per day.
“Domestics have been our No. 1 call for service for decades,” she said.
In 2017, police were called to 14,997 check well being calls, investigated 14,094 thefts, 5,108 break and enters and 501 arsons.
Domestic related calls, however, sat at 16,332 for that year.
Desjardine says those calls aren’t just issues in a family but specifically issues between a pair who are or were romantically linked.
“It’s not just that these abusers are meeting women and punching them on their first date, like this is something that builds over time and the control builds over time and sometimes the isolation builds.
“[Abusers are] very good at manipulating whoever they’re abusing to isolate them within the community so they’re less likely to get help.”
One of the myths about domestic violence is that it’s a socioeconomic issue, but police data shows that’s not the case.
“Almost 55 per cent of our calls for domestic are happening throughout this city, like through the Tuxedo, Charleswood, East Kildonan area, West Kildonan, it’s not just happening in one area.”
The vast majority of the victims are women, at 84 per cent.
“I think there are a lot of men that don’t come forward and it’s not because we wouldn’t believe them if they did, but it’s just the male, man up, right? Take it and move on.”
“I know police officers who have been assaulted by their spouse and they never reported it. They just left the relationship,” Desjardine said.
Editor’s Note: The voice of the caller in the CJOB interview has been altered to protect his identity. Hal’s voice has also been affected.
Leaving a relationship can be the most dangerous time for victims, says Desjardine, because the abuser feels they have lost control. However, staying in that cycle of domestic violence can also have deadly consequences.
“I don’t think then that anybody is safe. If you’re in a relationship where somebody doesn’t respect you and has been physical against you, you’re at risk of homicide.”
“There’s lots of risk factors that will escalate the chance of you being taken by your partner, however I don’t think that is set in stone … we’ve had cases in Winnipeg where women have been killed by their partner and we’ve never had a call for service to their home before, ever.”
If you or someone you know is in a relationship involving domestic violence there are supports available. You can see a list of supports in Manitoba on our website.
One form of domestic violence that police can’t charge over is emotional and psychological abuse. But Desjardine said it’s still important people disclose those forms of abuse when talking to officers.
“Sticks and stones may break your bones, I can’t charge you for calling me a name. However, in conjunction with everything else that’s going on, that evidence is then presented if it ever did go to court and some of that information could sway a sentence.”
Since October, Winnipeg police have been trying a new approach to try to rehabilitate offenders by diverting some of their domestic violence cases to a restorative justice program.
“They’re going to work with the accused for a three month period or longer if necessary to change his mind set as to what a healthy relation would look like and how he should properly respond in an agitated state. If he passes that program then he doesn’t have to answer to that charge,” she said.
“I think we need to be able to look at other ways of resolving domestic violence other than sending them to court or to jail.”
So far 15 cases have been diverted through this initiative.
WATCH: Domestic Violence Awareness – What is considered abuse?