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How to support family violence victims

No one likes to talk about the elephant in the room: that uncomfortable feeling of knowing something difficult needs to be addressed but feeling unsure of how to talk about it or what to do. In some cases, though, that “elephant” can become dangerous and damaging when ignored or mishandled.

According to Statistics Canada, Alberta has one of the highest rates of family violence and abuse in the country. A study conducted by the Canadian Women’s Foundation showed over 74 per cent of Albertans personally know someone who has experienced a physical or sexual assault in their lifetime. Family violence and abuse affect all of us and many of us want to reach out and be supportive, but we don’t know how.

The number one reason identified by community members for not intervening is that they weren’t sure how. The good news is that numerous worldwide studies prove that with the appropriate education and training, bystanders increase their capacity and confidence and get involved supporting victims more often. This can make all the difference in the world.

The majority of victims of violence turn to someone they know first for help, as opposed to a shelter, police, or another formal service. How those family, friends, neighbours, or co-workers respond is incredibly important in shaping what the victim does next. These reactions, or “social responses” as they are known, can have very positive or very negative impacts for the victim.

Victims who receive positive social responses:

  • Tend to recover more quickly and fully
  • Are more likely to work with authorities
  • Are more likely to report violence in future
  • Are more likely to access safety services and supports

Victims who receive negative social responses are:

  • Less likely to cooperate with authorities
  • Less likely to disclose violence again
  • More likely to receive diagnosis of mental disorder
  • Less likely to access protective measures

In the community, we all play a role in ending family violence and abuse. The Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter—a registered charity serving 15,000 clients a year and an authority in the space—places critical importance on strengthening our education and awareness, along with “taking a stand” to address this growing issue.