Service providers in the NWT must work together more closely to support women experiencing intimate partner violence, a new report states.
The report, entitled We Hear You, is the work of the Status of Women Council of the NWT. It was compiled over three and a half years and is informed by conversations with women who have faced intimate partner violence.
Many of those women said trying to find support and navigating the territory’s services was overwhelming, the report declared.
“When you’re going through this, it’s amazing how much you’re on your own,” said one woman, who was quoted anonymously in the report, said.
“Instead of being told shortcuts of how to get somewhere, or who to talk to, you have to figure it out all on your own.
“You’re not eating, you’re not sleeping, you’re scared, you’re a mess, and you have to do everything yourself. I was just in sheer survival mode.”
Louise Elder, executive director of the Status of Women Council, told Cabin Radio the system could be improved “within existing resources” by ensuring services did more to collaborate.
“When you’re in the midst of that situation, knowing who you can turn to for help, is critical,” Elder said.
“Collaborating, improving our communications, ensuring that staff are trained and know who does what and who to make referrals to – those are types of changes we can implement now.”
Women ‘feel blamed, shamed’
Women interviewed by the report’s authors identified a need for more awareness, understanding, and non-judgmental support from all service providers. They said more help was needed in planning how to safely escape violent situations, alongside more support for children experiencing violence at home.
“Women don’t feel people understand intimate partner violence,” Elder said. “They feel blamed. They feel shamed. They feel powerless, often, that the decisions are being made for them.
“They’re not being provided with information in a manner that they understand and in a timely manner, so they can make informed decisions that are right for them and their family.”
The report documents the need for immediate, in-person help. While people across the territory can access services by phone, not every community has staff of its own.
“We face challenges that most of the rest of Canada doesn’t face,” Elder said. “We all struggle with having enough resources. But each community is trying to do their best, and each organization is trying to do their best.”
Elder said many communities do have Elders and others who can provide support, while communities without a shelter have access to territorial government funding for transportation.
The Status of Women Council considers intimate partner violence to define a range of behaviours. Controlling someone’s finances or their access to transportation are examples, as are instances of psychological violence, physical violence, or threats to family members or pets.
In the 2018-2019 fiscal year, 338 women and 213 children were admitted to the five women’s shelters in the NWT. Some women also travelled south to emergency shelters in the provinces.
In 2018, the rate of family violence in the NWT was the second-highest in Canada behind Nunavut. The rate of police-reported intimate partner violence in the territory is 10 times the national average, and at least four of every five victims were women.
NWT wants ‘ground-up’ approach
The report outlines 21 recommendations for government leaders and service providers, a group which includes healthcare workers, the RCMP, and housing and income support offices.
Among the recommendations are calls for consistent, trauma-informed training related to intimate partner violence, and the establishment of a child and youth advocate.
The report also proposes an inter-agency response team involving the RCMP and victim services staff, or a specialized RCMP response unit similar to one created in the Yukon in 2013.
“It will take all of us working together,” Elder said. “We as service providers, community partners, governments, relevant agencies, entities, and us as individuals all have a role to play.”
Caroline Wawzonek, the NWT minister responsible for the status of women, said while the report is new, the government is already doing work that addresses some of the recommendations – including improving collaboration among departments.
She pointed to the integrated case management pilot project in Yellowknife, which helps people with mental health and addiction needs more easily access services from multiple government departments.
Caroline Wawzonek, NWT minister responsible for the status of women. Emily Blake/Cabin Radio
“I think there is a lot of effort right now to really look at what’s working there and try to take that model and expand it,” Wawzonek said.
The minister said her government is also creating a domestic violence action plan and an action plan in response to the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
Wawzonek said the territory has reached out to non-governmental organizations and service providers, but cautioned that those groups must be allowed to lead their work without an imposed government structure.
“Short answer? I think we can do better,” Wawzonek said. “The longer answer is how we get there. It has to be less top-down and more ground-up.”