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More people in Calgary realizing that Fear IS NOT Love

Contributed by Kim Ruse, CEO, FearIsNotLove. Dec. 6 is the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.

Last month, the Calgary Police Service (CPS) released their annual domestic violence statistics to coincide with raising awareness for family violence prevention in November. The Calgary Police Service reported they respond to approximately 20,000 calls a year related to domestic violence.

While the total number of service calls for domestic violence incidents are down, the number of people reaching out for domestic conflict help is climbing. The overall number of calls to police remain high, declining slightly over the past two years, but the “mix” of calls is changing.  This new mix suggests that people are reaching out for help and they are doing so sooner, and that’s a good thing.

So, what’s happening with these shifting trends?  The statistics aren’t as straightforward as they were even just five years ago. Shifting stressors in the community, a global pandemic, changing family dynamics and relational patterns are all taking their toll on families and on relationships across our city.

In 2021, FearIsNotLove (formerly the Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter) served 20,626 individuals compared to 15,533 in 2020. All the individuals we helped were experiencing domestic violence and abuse in some form. Some were victims, others were those who used abuse or control in their relationships.

During the same period, the Connect, Domestic Violence and Abuse Helpline (operated by FearIsNotLove) received 14,846 calls – approximately 40 calls a day – up from 10,318 calls the year before – a 43% increase.  In the first quarter of 2022, this helpline answered 4,040 calls; a 37% increase over the same quarter the previous year (2,948).

Such increases are in line with the trends the CPS numbers indicate: People are reaching out sooner for help.

This is a good thing.

This also tells us that the combined intervention and prevention approaches we have taken in the violence prevention sector is working.

Coordinated effort to help

In Calgary, there has been a coordinated effort of anti-violence agencies, systems, and all levels of government to coordinate services, work collaboratively on innovation, and to jointly influence and increase community awareness. We are seeing increases in the numbers of people calling earlier for help; seeking help for themselves or someone they care about.

The trends I’ve shared indicate progress, but this does not mean we can relax or step back from our efforts. Despite increased awareness, the ways that domestic violence and abuse presents in our families and communities are constantly changing. We must pay attention to what the data and community trends tell us so we can continue to respond effectively.

This statistical trend in help-seeking does not reduce the urgency of the problem. 

While the numbers are changing and people are reaching out, it can be more challenging at times to address and provide service given advances in technology, the impact of a challenging financial context and the lingering mental health impacts from the pandemic. This shifting narrative invites us to provide support differently and more responsively than at any other point in time.

There is an opportunity to connect with and support those calling earlier to reduce the numbers of people experiencing domestic abuse in Calgary.

‘This statistical trend in help-seeking does not reduce the urgency of the problem.’ 

Kim Ruse, CEO Fear Is Not Love

Through the work we’ve done at FearIsNotLove and in the broader sector, the public discourse about domestic violence and abuse has shifted as information has become more accessible, raising awareness about the seriousness of the issue. It is no longer a conversation behind closed doors or in the dark, shadowy corners of society held by anti-violence advocates.

Societal movements and public attention have elevated the issue to everyday conversation, public campaigns and is inclusive of a myriad of voices. Communities are becoming more comfortable with engaging in this once avoided conversation and with offering support to those impacted.

An opportunity for you to help

Calgarians are interested in learning how to play an active part in ending domestic abuse. It is estimated that one in three Albertans will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. We likely all know someone who has – even if we don’t realize it. This is truly a community-wide issue that affects families regardless of socio-economic factors.

While victims of domestic abuse are a diverse group, we know that approximately 70 per cent of them will connect with family or friends before they ever reach out to formal services. This means there is an opportunity for all of us to make a significantly positive impact in our city.

How we respond to disclosures of abuse – by victims – matters – a lot. When someone discloses to a friend, family member or colleague, how we respond and support can help determine that person’s next steps on their help seeking journey.

Our social responses to those who disclose they are using abuse or violence are just as important. How we hold those conversations can reinforce the use of abuse or discourage it.

The increased calls for support provide an opportunity to connect and support before things are critical.

Coercive control, neglect, violence and abuse are life-altering and terrorizing. Domestic abuse is about fear – control through fear – it can make people doubt themselves and their own decisions and makes it difficult to see clearly.

While domestic violence and abuse is still a serious problem in our communities, that people are recognizing Fear IS NOT Love, and reaching out for help sooner is a very, very good thing.

Kim Ruse is the CEO of FearIsNotLove, a Calgary-based nonprofit organization working to end domestic violence and abuse. Fearisnotlove.ca

Learn how you can support someone you know or suspect is being abused, or support someone who uses abuse by accessing the FearIsNotLove – Take A Stand program.