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Domestic violence, rural N.S. and how transition houses remain a crucial lifeline for women

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WATCH: There’s been higher demand during the pandemic for agencies that help people experiencing intimate partner violence. Those services are essential, but many say they’ve had to scale back from critical supports. Now, the push is on to expand resources for survivors once the pandemic is over. Alexa MacLean has more – Jan 14, 2022

Isolation has always been a barrier on the front lines of support for women experiencing intimate partner violence have strived to break through in rural Nova Scotia.

“There are more resources and services available in the city and in many instances, women have had to travel to the city to access these services,” said Ann de Ste Croix, the provincial co-ordinator for the Transition House Association of Nova Scotia (THANS).

“So, having transition houses in rural areas of Nova Scotia is extremely important so that these women, and these families, are being serviced.”

Read more: Western University to develop new app to support survivors of intimate partner violence

She says there are 11 transition houses across the province and they provide a crucial lifeline for women fleeing the early stages of violence.

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“Our transition homes are communal living arrangements where women, and their families, fleeing violence can come. Typically, these are shorter-term stays, between three to five weeks, but of course, women are welcome to stay longer if they need,” she said.

De Ste Croix says the COVID-19 pandemic is happening during a time when other intersecting crises have also hit a tipping point.

“One thing that we have seen with the pandemic as well is because of the lack of affordable housing, we do have women staying in our transition homes for longer periods of time,” she said.

Read more: Online course educates Nova Scotians on how to recognize and prevent sexual exploitation

De Ste Croix says THANS also offers second-stage homes that are less communal in nature and geared towards longer-term stays for women and families in need.

She says society’s increasing dependence and interaction with technology has created additional layers of violence that women may encounter.

“Whether that’s trafficking, or revenge porn, or digital stalking,” she said.

She adds that the flipside to technological harms is the benefits that access to technology can provide.

“Calling a crisis line or reaching out to us online but we’ve also noticed an increase in ways that technology can be used to harass, coerce or control women after they try and leave,” she said.

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Nova Scotia RCMP say all aspects of intimate partner violence complaints they receive, including digital and online activity, are included in their investigations.

“RCMP Nova Scotia Victim Services provides support to victims/survivors of intimate partner violence and works with community based supports to assist victims/survivors with safety planning,” Cpl. Lisa Croteau wrote in an email, the public information officer for Halifax District RCMP.

Croteau says assaultive behaviour in the form of harassment that puts victims in fear for their health and safety can lead to criminal charges.

She adds that intimate partner violence complaints are investigated by a specialized team that works with police services across Nova Scotia.

Cape Breton Regional Police and Halifax Regional Police have their own team of domestic violence case co-ordinators.

“It’s not so much a question of the law because we have laws related to harassment, we have laws related to the non-consensual distributions of intimate images,” said David Fraser, a privacy lawyer based in Halifax.

Fraser feels further investments in expanding access to resources needed to meet modern-day challenges are what’s needed the most.

“It might be kind of IT consulting services that have never been required before. You can think of just the example of cyberstalking. You can install software on somebody’s phone that would report their location. There’s so many things to keep on top of,” he said.

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Fraser says regardless of what form intimate violence comes in, it’s important for victims to know there are resources available.

“We do have organizations in Nova Scotia and across Canada that are devoted to providing critical assistance to individuals of intimate partner violence. I think I would strongly advocate for additional funding so that resources related to the complicated technological components that can come into play (are available) in order to provide that sort of assistance to victims,” he said.

THANS says support for people experiencing intimate partner violence is available 24/7 by calling or texting the provincial toll-free line  1-855-225-0220.

Anyone experiencing an emergency situation is asked to call 911.

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