Violence against women is an all-too-common issue across the country, but the most recent numbers indicate things were especially dire in parts of Saskatchewan, including Prince Albert.
According to Statistics Canada information, which was compiled and shared with paNOW by Vancouver-based Discourse Media, the rate of violence against women in Prince Albert was more than double the national average for the two most recent years with complete data available. In 2014 the national average for police-reported violence against women was 1,088 incidents per 100,000 people, while Prince Albert saw 2,658 incidents per 100,000 residents. In 2015 the Canadian average increased to 1,114 incidents per 100,000, and Prince Albert’s rate was 2,774.
The city’s high rates of police-reported violence against women did not come as a surprise to Sherry Bates, assistant director of the Prince Albert Safe Shelter for Women.
“Every year it goes up,” Bates told paNOW. “We’re at least at 94 per cent full at all times. We always have a waitlist that’s at least 23 deep. The need is increasing and we’re doing the best we can, but more is needed I guess.”
Prince Albert’s rate may be high for a number of reasons, Bates said, including the city’s high transient population and the numerous jails and prisons in and around the city. Poverty and substance abuse, two ongoing issues in the city and region may also contribute to the high rates, she added.
Jo-Anne Dusel, executive director of the Provincial Association of Transition Houses and Services of Saskatchewan, said violence against women can take many different forms including sexual assault, intimate partner violence (commonly called domestic violence), and abuse of children.
“There are a few different forms that this type of violence takes,” she said. “A common factor throughout all of them is this is violence where the perpetrator is known to the victim.”
Because the perpetrators are so often close to the victims, Dusel said many women who are victimized do not come forward. In some cases, she said, they may fear repercussions if they report the abuse or speak with police, and in other cases they may be convinced the violence is their own fault. A huge number of cases go unreported, she said, which make any statistics on the issue very difficult to interpret.
“I can tell you from my own personal experience of working in a women’s shelter in Moose Jaw for 20 years… approximately one in 10 had actually had involvement with the police,” Dusel said. “You’re looking at the vast majority not ever involving police, yet fearing for their safety enough that they would actually leave their home.”
The increase in police-reported violence against women appears to be a negative sign at first glance, but Dusel noted an increase in police reports does not necessarily mean more violence is occurring. In fact, she said, the increased reporting could be a positive sign. Several years ago the Montreal police ran an initiative encouraging more women to come forward and made concerted efforts to follow up on each case, she said, which naturally led to a spike in their numbers.
“Even though it looked as if the numbers had actually jumped in the city of Montreal in that particular year, it was actually probably a good thing, because police were taking it seriously and making sure there were consequences,” she said.
Both Dusel and Bates agreed public education is the best way to reduce the rates of violence against women. Dusel said that means educating women about their rights and how to get away from an abusive situation or relationship, and also teaching men – who are typically the perpetrators of violence against women – that such behaviour is unacceptable. Educating the public can also empower bystanders to look out for the signs of violence and abuse and offer support or intervention, she said.
Despite the city’s high rates of violence against women, Dusel said she has a positive outlook for the future. The current pushback against sexual harassment in Hollywood indicates a very positive trend, she said, where women are no longer accepting of victimization.
“We have some work to do to implement these education programs,” she said. “I am very hopeful that slowly but surely what we, as a society, are willing to accept is changing.”
While Prince Albert doubled the national average for police-reported violence against women, the city did not have the worst rates in Canada. Treaty Three Communities in Ontario had a 2015 rate of 10,082 incidents per 100,000 people, nearly 10 times the national average of 1,114 and the worst in the nation. La Ronge had the worst rate in Saskatchewan with 9,942 incidents per 100,000 over the same period, while the Southeastern town of Kipling had the lowest rate in Saskatchewan with no reported incidents.
On Twitter: @TaylorMacP
Note: The police-reported sexual violence data featured in this story was originally obtained by Discourse Media.
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