Speaking out. Actions Matter. Communicating about interpersonal violence

Derek Kilbourn

Sounder News

Wednesday, December 4 2019

Given what Gabriola RCMP see in what they are called out for, Gabriola either has a low rate of interpersonal violence - or we have a lower rate of reporting of it.

Cst. Patti Evans, who has spent 14 years working in rural communities in BC, says it’s more likely the latter.

“It is very under reported.”

December 6 is National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women. December 6 falls within the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence and this year’s campaign, #OurActionsMatter, calls on Canadians to share the concrete actions being are taken in their own communities to question, call out, and speak up against acts of gender-based violence.

Interpersonal violence is what RCMP term violence against partners in domestic relationships, and violence against children.

Evans said the RCMP knows that interpersonal violence and sexual violence is, “incredibly under reported.”

That can be for different reasons - lots of times because of the social stigma, or the financial cost of ending a relationship, or many other factors.

“There’s finding a safe place to live, a safe place to be away from the abuser, and potentially putting children at risk, because of fear if they were to leave an abusive partner, or even to report.”

There is also the fear, according to Evans, that reporting the abuse could bring an escalation of the violence - which in some cases she says, it can.

Starting in 2010, police in BC were mandated by the BC Ministry of Justice to use a checklist entitled Summary Of Domestic Violence Risk Factors.

Every officer is asked to consider factors such as the offender’s previous criminal history; previous domestic violence history, if there’s a court order, if there is employment instability, if there has been any suicidal ideation, whether the potential victim has perception of a risk to personal safety, or if children are involved.

Evans said the use of the checklist is absolute.

“It means we don’t have leeway in dealing with someone who has harmed their partner. We’ve taken away the ability for police officers to use a soft approach - because in the past that has not gone well.”

Evans says that scares some people from reporting.

“What that means is when it is reported to police, there are safety procedures put in place....a lot of times, that’s a scary thing. That person could be the financial provider, the support for the family. But the issue is are they unsafe?

“Violence can mean emotional violence. Physical violence. It can mean threats to harm. Clear threats to the victim themselves. But it can be implied threats to other family members. Children, pets, all kinds of victims who didn’t choose to be there, but who are potential victims.

Evans said her experience so far on Gabriola is RCMP are not getting a lot of reports in the door - but the island is also not talking about it on a regular basis.

“One of the things we see as police officer is when we talk about things, that haven’t been talked about before, we get an uptick in reporting. That isn’t to say that we have a big epidemic of violence. It means we have enabled a safe place for people to report.

“We do education, and I have done this in other places, in education on sexual violence, in encouraging people to stand up for themselves, and it has resulted in a spike in the year following because people are now realizing that coming to the police, or reporting it in another way, reporting it to community-based victim services, to doctors, that they can get help.

“They feel more confident in reporting it. I’m hoping having these types of conversations encourages people.”

She said obviously, RCMP want to keep people as safe as possible and prevent any victimization.

“But for us - it’s having the conversations to recognize when someone is going down a road that is not safe for them. Giving people the ability to recognize it in other people as well - and finding ways to support them.

“For us that could mean offering people help if they see something that is concerning to them. Standing up for a person who they think might be getting victimized.”

Evans said the start of this discussion right now isn’t something that came from the RCMP - but rather from community members.

“This is not top down, us coming because there’s a huge issue here. This is [Gabriola] starting a conversation. 

“Acknowledging that interpersonal violence is a reality in every community, and starting that conversation is really important, because the only thing it can do is keep people safer.”

She said if RCMP, and community members, can potentially prevent a violent incident, get people supports in place earlier, and prevent someone from going down the path of entering the criminal justice system - that’s the right direction to be headed.

“For us it’s not just about supporting the victims involved in those relationships - but also supporting the potential offender and getting them connected to the appropriate community supports.”

In some cases, the offender could be a victim of inter generational trauma - someone who grew up in a household where they experienced violence.

“Helping that person have a better relationship with their partner and not pass those behaviours on to their children.

“A win is not getting someone charged and found guilty in court. The win is being able to talk about it openly, being able to acknowledge that it is a reality in every community, at every socioeconomic level, and that it can happen to anyone, and there is help to prevent it from getting worse.”

Gabriola does fulfill the isolation risk factor - and for many on the island, it’s also a place where they don’t have the same support from extended family members who live further away.

Evans said, “we all live on beautiful streets, we have these places that we live, but we’re not connecting street by street in neighbourhoods like we would in denser places.

“People have to reach out to make those connections and build those chosen families for support.

“But people can’t see that is an issue until someone tells them they can see they are struggling, and help them relieve the stress.

“I think on Gabriola, the way we are set up, we’re rural, we’re no super centralized, we’re not seeing our neighbours on an hourly or daily basis, it adds to the potential isolation for families and people.”

There’s also the consideration that the people involved in interpersonal violence didn’t start that relationship with violence.

Evans said, “I know when a victim is calling us, they’re not generally calling because they want the person locked up and thrown in jail. 

“They want the violence to stop. They generally want that person to learn to be a better partner, so they don’t choose violence every time.

“Of course, as a police service, our first priority is safety and preventing anything further from happening.

“However, we recognize most people who call us into an intimate interpersonal violence situation, they just want that person to stop hurting them.”

In saying that, Evans also said there are definitely people who are serial abusers.

“They will pick a similar type of person over and over again, and victimize that type of person. I would consider those to be the people that need constant monitoring. Police agencies do share information on those type of people. Because there are the people who aren’t going to change.

“But the majority of people are just stuck. They just don’t know another way, so for us, we need to swoop in, put things in place, and have that breathing space for the victim, and give the offender time away as well - and just give everyone a moment to breath, some clarity.”

It’s also a case of creating a community where people are able to talk to their friends and neighbours when they have concerns. Evans said that kind of conversation, “wasn’t the case for my parents’ generation.

“There were situations that my parents knew weren’t happy, but it was a private matter. Now we know the impacts of the violence. Even if the children aren’t the physical victims. It used to be people thought if the children weren’t the one being hit [they were ok]. But we know that’s not the case. Children are sponges. They become peripheral victims. They learn that early in life.”

Sometimes, reaching out to talk to the offender can be too big of a leap for friends and family.

Evans said, “if people don’t feel comfortable speaking to someone who has a temper, or has been known to say threatening things to their partner or children - talk to the other person in that relationship. Acknowledge that their partner’s behaviour is not safe.

“That might be enough to allow that victim they need the space to get out, if not for themselves, then for the children.”

Evans, “there are safe places available, people just need to reach out.”

When it comes to creating safe places for victims to seek refuge, Evans said these are places that are needed, but which don’t often see the offender showing up after the victims arrive. Evans said in her 14 years, she has never had a call where someone has then come and sought out their victim.

“The violence is happening in their own homes, in every community. If someone has taken the steps to get themself safe, their kids safe, they are doing their best, they’ve made great steps. And there are safety protocols in place should someone decide to show up.”

For those needing help, the RCMP are available 24/7. In an emergency, call 911. Gabriola RCMP Detachment can be reached through 250-247-8333.

In Nanaimo, the Haven Society has a 24 hour crisis line, 1-888-756-0616. 

There is also help through Victim Services at 250-754-3146. 

Victim Link, for emotional support/resources is at 1-800-562-0808. 

On Gabriola, resources are available through the PHC office, and at the Gabriola Community Health Centre on Church Street, and connections to these places can also be made through the Sounder office.