Good afternoon. Thank you for inviting me to appear before this committee. My name is Dawn Clark. I'm the programs director at Haven Society in Nanaimo.
The Haven Society was incorporated as a non-profit society and registered charity on December 22, 1978. This year marks our 40th year of providing shelter services to women and children fleeing violence and abuse. In Nanaimo, we operate a 17-bed transition house and, in 2013, in partnership with the Society of Organized Services, we expanded our shelter services to include an eight-bed safe house in the Oceanside area.
Our mission is to promote the integrity and safety of women, children, youth and families and the development of a respectful and healthy community. Haven has a strong reputation in our community and in B.C. as a leading anti-violence organization and a respected leader, trainer and collaborator. We endeavour to provide a continuum of services, public education and advocacy.
I'm sure most of us have heard these statistics before, but I believe they're worth repeating, as these are the women we see daily.
According to the most recently published Canadian Women's Foundation fact sheet of August 2016, women are four times more likely than men to be victims of intimate partner homicide; indigenous women are 2.5 times more likely to be victims of violence than non-indigenous women; approximately every six days a woman in Canada is killed by her intimate partner; aboriginal women are killed at six times the rate of non-aboriginal women; and, 70% of spousal violence is never reported to the police.
Also, on any given night in Canada, close to 6,000 women and children sleep in shelters because their safety at home is at risk and nearly 300 women and children are turned away because the shelters are full. Women who identify as lesbian or transgender and experience spousal violence are less likely to access shelter services; women are at greater risk of experiencing elder abuse from a family member; and leaving an abusive relationship may involve a choice between remaining with an abuser or falling into poverty and risking homelessness.
As well, cyber-violence, which includes online threats, harassment, physical threats and stalking, is quickly emerging as an extension of violence against women; women with mental health and behavioural disabilities and chronic or debilitating medical conditions experience personal victimization at a rate four times that of women who have none; and substance use and mental health problems often co-occur among women, as many women identify substance use as a way to cope with gender-based abuse and trauma.
Many of the women who come to our transition house or safe home are dealing with complex traumas, various mandated services, health concerns, poverty-related issues and an unknown future. Their children may show a range of behaviours directly related to the violence these kids are exposed to, and many have difficulty living in a communal living environment with strangers and new rules and may isolate and become overly protective or exhibit aggression. Also, women with poor health, mental health concerns or alcohol or substance use may not disclose these concerns at intake for fear they may be turned away.
These intersecting barriers have made it necessary for our staff at our transition house and the safe home to be Jills of all trades, able to manage a crisis at any given moment and provide women with emotional support and safety while addressing immediate and future needs.
The heart of our work at Haven is to offer a safe place where victims of violence are heard, believed and supported. Foundational to the relationships we build with each woman is the belief that she is her own expert. Our intention is to provide a constellation of equitable services, and we presume that each woman and child is entitled to supports that address individual needs and are culturally sensitive and uphold their dignity.
To ensure a complete service to the women and children we serve, we believe the following recommendations are necessary to implement.
First, ensure that women's shelters and transition houses are fully funded and have professional capacity and the staffing numbers to provide appropriate emotional support and manage crises while safeguarding the well-being of all in the shelter or transition house;
As well, continue to advocate for increased second-stage housing that allows women the time to transition from a violent relationship to a safer place; provide housing options that enable women to preserve or re-establish their relationships with their children, with subsidized child care and family services; increase funding to trauma-informed programs, such as Stopping the Violence and children's programming, to address wait-lists and allow more women and children access to expanded counselling and clinical services; and expand education and agency development around women-centred approaches, trauma-informed practice and mental health and addictions.
In addition, increase community-based follow-up for individual and innovative support services, such as opportunities for women to provide feedback and input regarding program designs and influence service delivery; develop voluntary and mandatory programming for perpetrators of violence; and provide funding to develop and strengthen partnerships across sectors that support women.
Work with government agencies and community partners to promote a better understanding of the systemic barriers that many women face when fleeing violence, and implement ways to reduce barriers, including economic stability, and increase access to safe and affordable housing, support services, increased assistance rates, and culturally sensitive services, to name a few.
Provide mandatory school curriculum that includes Violence is Preventable programming for children at all levels in our school systems.
Research best practices and develop and implement innovative approaches of service delivery for women fleeing violence that have been successful elsewhere; examine current capacity in some key areas of women's services in order to gain a better understanding of the service shortages among agencies; and provide funding to address these gaps.
In closing, I would like to add that domestic violence will not be eradicated by interventions solely focused on women or survivors of domestic violence. We need to promote systemic interventions that circumvent domestic violence, and include measures directed not only at perpetrators of domestic violence but at the wider society as well.