The executive director of the Howe Sound Women's Centre (HSWC) is calling on the Whistler community to do its part in reducing domestic violence after an RCMP report showed an uptick in reported incidents over the first six months of the year.
"As a non-profit society, we can educate the public, we can house, feed, clothe and support women and children fleeing violence," HSWC executive director Sheila Allen wrote in an email. "But to stop the intergenerational cycle of abuse, it takes a societal shift."
RCMP Inspector Neil Cross presented Whistler's semi-annual crime statistics to council last week (see page 28 for related story), showing 28 reported incidents of domestic violence in the first six months of the year, compared to 20 during the same period in 2013. There were 37 reported cases in the resort for the entire 2013 calendar year. Cross said this year's total reflects a similar trend across the Sea to Sky as well as the whole of B.C. Squamish, for instance, saw a spike in domestic violence in 2013, with a total of 71 reported cases, up from 38 cases the year before.
The challenge for police in tackling the issue, said RCMP Sgt. Rob Knapton, is that a significant portion of the reported domestic violence cases in Whistler typically involve tourists and seasonal workers.
"With tourists and seasonal workers we have less chance to impact with those things because they're only here for a limited period of time," he said, adding that RCMP works closely with other community programs to educate seasonal employees on the issue.
Knapton also noted the difficulty in determining whether the jump reflects an actual rise in the number of incidents of domestic violence, or an increased level of awareness of the need to report abuses. Whatever the case, the HSWC is hearing from an increasing number of women seeking support. Staff at the Pearl's Place Transition House in Squamish saw 11 per cent more women using the facility in 2013, and fielded 70 per cent more crisis support calls. The centre does not track the percentage of calls originating from Whistler. The Women's Drop-In Centre in Whistler, meanwhile, which offers everything from crisis support to legal advice, assisted 720 women and 218 children last year.
The "alarming" crime figures underline the need for the resort to have its own transition house for women in need, Allen said, something the HSWC Society has been pushing for more than a year, although funding for the facility has yet to be found. In October, the HWSC reported that Pearl's Place was forced to turn away several women and children in need of shelter because the facility was at capacity.
"BC Housing has increased the funding they provide annually to our current programming and is aware that our goal is to have a safe home or transition house in Whistler," she wrote. "With their support, and the support of every person in the community, we can make a difference."
There are many ways for the community to do its part, Allen said, starting with recognizing what healthy relationships look like and practicing these positive behaviours in the home, donating time or money to your local community service providers and lobbying the government for improved programming around domestic violence. She also urged the public to refer friends and coworkers in need of help to the appropriate community programs.
"If every person acted in some small way to end domestic violence, I propose that we would see a dramatic decrease in health care costs, an increase in overall wellbeing and enjoyment of life for our communities' residents," she said.
A 2013 Justice Canada report found that spousal violence alone costs the country at least $7.4 billion a year. An estimated $6 billion of that is for medical treatment and psychological services.