November is Family Violence Prevention month and the Calgary Domestic Violence Collective (CDVC) is urging Calgarians to reach out to loved ones and offer support.

According to the CDVC during the first several months of the pandemic Calgary saw a decline in the number of calls to police, helplines and service providers for support.

However, Kim Ruse, CEO of the Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter warned against complacency, saying the data was concerning. “It's almost like a shadow pandemic," she said. "The calls are maybe decreasing - but the complexity of the danger that people are seeing is increased.”

Ruse explained that when someone accesses a service they do an assessment using a ‘danger assessment tool’ that rates the level or their risk of lethality, with the highest risk category being extreme.  “The extreme category is up 47 per cent compared to last year.”

That was confirmed by the executive director of a Calgary domestic violence prevention society.

“We’re seeing more weapons, we’re seeing more diversity and complexity in the violence.”  Andrea Silverstone Executive Director of Sagesse adds.  “Its also difficult for people to get out and report, when you’re in the same home as someone who is being violent or abusive how do you get out and make that call?”

Family Violence Info Line calls up

According to a police release, The Family Violence Info Line (FVIL) experienced a 23 per cent increase in calls between April and August 2020, in comparison to the time period in 2019. The chat service experienced an 83 per cent increase in use in 2020 over the same period in 2019.

In the first three quarters of 2020 (Jan to Sept.), the Calgary Police Service responded to 15, 038 domestic incidents, about nine per cent above average. However, the vast majority - 12,087 or 80 per cent of all calls - were verbal altercations that escalated to the point that police were called or were situations where one party asked police to be present during an interaction with an intimate partner or family member.

Reports of domestic violence (i.e. calls that involved some form of actual or threatened physical violence) during the same period are around 10 per cent lower than average at 2,051. Many things could be contributing to this decrease, including decreased opportunity to report as people are at home with their partners more because of COVID-19.

Silverstone wants to make it clear that just because we are fighting a global pandemic, it doesn’t mean we can’t get together and connect with someone as long as you’re taking appropriate precautions. “We all the time with our friends and family are checking in with them about COVID-19, this is just one more thing to say: You don't seem to be yourself or something seems to be going on, is everything okay?”

Silverstone also advised that “We shouldn't be afraid of naming the behaviors that we see, for example: It seems like your partner is controlling you and you're not able to be on the phone with me anymore, what's going on? Are you okay?”

Silverstone wants to remind Calgarians that the signs of domestic violence are not always visible. In a prepared document the Calgary Domestic Violence Collective defines domestic violence as;

"The attempt, act or intent of someone within a relationship, where the relationship is characterized by intimacy, dependency or trust, to intimidate either by threat or by the use of physical force on another person or property. The purpose of the abuse is to control and or exploit through neglect, intimidation, inducement of fear or by inflicting pain. Abusive behavior can take many forms including: verbal, physical, sexual, psychological, emotional, spiritual, economic and the violation of rights. All forms of abusive behavior are ways in which one human being is trying to have control, exploit and/or have power over another."

Silverstone says she would like to see Canada implement coercive control laws to help combat the epidemic of unseen domestic violence. Coercive control laws are relatively new but have been adopted in England and Wales under the Serious Crime Act 2015 and carry a maximum sentence of 5 years, a fine or both. REAL Talk, one of Sagesse’s programs plans to release more information of the campaign later this month.

Paul Wozney, Staff Sargent with the Calgary Police Service echoed the sentiment of Silverstone and Ruse adding, “Police are never too busy to come to these calls and will come anytime that we are called.”