More Calgarians are reaching out for help before domestic incidents erupt into violence, police and shelter agencies said Monday.
However, the Calgary Police Service said it has not seen a significant increase in domestic violence-related calls during the COVID-19 pandemic, noting it responds to 30,000 per year.
“We haven’t seen the same increases in domestic violence reporting that other parts of our country have. Calls to police have remained within the average of what we’ve seen in the past five years,” said Staff Sgt. Vince Hancott with the CPS’ domestic conflict unit.
“What we have experienced is an increase in the number of people calling police before the particular situation escalates to violence. For this, we are very thankful because it allows us to connect citizens with the help they need when they need it.”
CPS is not seeing an increase in domestic calls, but its community partners are seeing a rise in people needing services to address family violence, Hancott said.
“As police, with our statistics, we haven’t seen a marked increase in the number of calls for service with respect to domestic conflict or domestic violence,” he said.
“However, what we are seeing in Calgary — and I think it’s as a result of our relationships with our community partners — is that there are more Calgarians — because of education, because of prevention, because of intervention — we’re seeing more Calgarians availing of family services.”
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“Within that increase, we’re also seeing the complexity and the level of danger is much, much higher in all of our programs,” she explained.
“We use a tool called the danger assessment, which measures lethality and the risk of death for people, and we’re seeing those numbers climb considerably over the last two years.”
Andrea Silverstone, CEO of Sagesse Domestic Violence Prevention Society and co-chair of the Calgary Domestic Violence Collective, said there has been a 30 to 50 per cent rise in domestic abuse in terms of access to services across Alberta.
“Abuse thrives in silence, so openly talking about this complex issue is critical if we are truly going to make sure that we’re all partners in ending abuse,” she said.
“Domestic violence is more than just a black eye or broken bones. It’s actually a series and a pattern of behaviours called coercive control that slowly removes personal agency, decision making and freedom from an individual,” she explained, citing verbal, emotional, sexual and financial abuse as examples.
The fact that people are recognizing dangerous situations is good news, but there is still work to be done, Ruse said.
“This means that Calgarians are willing to have difficult conversations, recognize that things could be dangerous and ask for help to learn about ways so they can prevent violence before it happens,” she said.
“This does not mean that we can become complacent, though. The calls for instances of domestic violence may not have increased, but the complexity of danger that people are seeing is absolutely heightened.”
Reach out to loved ones
Checking in with your loved ones is important, Ruse said.
“Saying something as simple as, ‘You don’t seem to be yourself’ or ‘Something seems to be going on. Is everything OK?'”
Domestic violence can happen “in any household, any income bracket, any age group, any gender, any sexuality and in any cultural community,” Hancott said.
“In many incidents, it occurs behind closed doors, making it difficult for people to come forward and even for the loved ones of someone facing domestic violence to know that something just isn’t right,” he said.
November is Family Violence Prevention Month in Alberta.
“Please take some time this month to talk to your kids about what behaviours are healthy in a relationship. If you know someone is struggling, please reach out to them,” Hancott said.
If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse or violence, you can reach out for help by calling 211, the family violence helpline at 403-234-7233, the police non-emergency line at 403-266-1234 or 911.