In search of a solution to domestic violence

With domestic violence statistics staggering, what will it take to reduce the numbers?

In 2012, six of Winnipeg’s 30 homicide victims were women allegedly killed by their domestic partners. Those kind of stats are common across Canada, says Nikki Trimble, the provincial coordinator for the Manitoba Association. Dani Finch/Canstar

A recently launched provincial campaign is working to stop violence against women.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have teamed up with the Manitoba government in an effort to encourage people to speak up about domestic violence.

Break the Silence features video clips of Blue Bomber players encouraging people to be “more than just a bystander,” and urges them to speak out when they witness violence in their homes.

The campaign, which targets men, was officially launched last November as part of Domestic Violence Prevention Month.

This effort to end domestic violence comes in the wake of some staggering statistics.

In 2012, six of Winnipeg’s 30 homicide victims were women allegedly killed by their domestic partners.

Nikki Trimble, the provincial coordinator for the Manitoba Association of Women’s Shelters, said she’s not surprised by this, and that these statistics are likely consistent across the country.

“The stats are fairly stable and have been for the last 10 years,” Trimble said.

“There will always be a percentage of women that will lose their life at the hand of their partner. That figure is not going down, but is not going up, either.”

There must be an overall societal and cultural change to reduce these numbers, she added.

“Our tolerance level to violence against women as a culture (needs to change). We’ve become immune to violence against women,” she said.

“We’re almost saturated with it being acceptable and there’s nothing in society telling men they shouldn’t be violent,” Trimble said, adding while she knows most men would never be violent towards their partners, statistics show it’s mostly men who commit domestic violence.

Large-scale campaigns such as Break the Silence are a part of the solution, Trimble added. She said it’s these types of campaigns that encourage society to challenge men’s behavior.

Like Trimble, Shannon Sampert isn’t surprised by the statistics and agrees that a solution lies in a societal change.

But Sampert, an associate professor in the department of politics at the University of Winnipeg, said while the government works to address gender violence, changing society’s perspective on women’s rights isn’t up to them.

She holds the Winnipeg Police Department accountable for the fact that so many cases of domestic violence have ended in homicide.

“If you are in a relationship with a man and you hit him because you know he’s going to hit you, you get charged,” Sampert said.

There’s a dance of intimacy that comes along with domestic violence, said Sampert, and police don’t have the time, resources or education to figure it out.

For Sampert, the means to a solution lies in police taking seriously early reports of domestic violence.

“The courts need to actively incarcerate those who are violent,” she said.

Gorete Tavares fled an abusive relationship with her ex-husband and now runs the Butterfly Project, a counselling service for women in similar situations.

She agrees with Sampert’s solution. According to Tavares, consequence is key.

“The justice system doesn’t lay harsher consequences therefore enabling the behaviour and sending the message that the consequence (for domestic violence) will be soft, if any at all. So in turn (the perpetrators) continue the behaviour,” Tavares said.

Part of the reason for this is a lack of education, Tavares said, and she thinks the government should be spending money educating those within the justice system about the dynamics of domestic violence.

“There needs to be more understanding, and a better approach taken by the police and the courts,” Tavares said.

Until abusers are held accountable for their actions, Tavares said the steps in combating domestic violence will be small and not make much of a difference.

Status of women minister Jennifer Howard could not be reached for comment.

Published in Volume 67, Number 18 of The Uniter (January 30, 2013)

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