The system is failing victims of spousal violence. And the socioeconomic price tag is steep. A 2009 Justice Canada study estimates the economic impact of spousal violence at $7.4 billion. In 2004, the Centers for Disease Control pinned the U.S. figure closer to $8.3 billion. Domestic violence is the number one cause of injury to American women with an estimated two million sustaining physical harm annually. In Canada, 2013 numbers show there were more than 90,300 victims of police-reported violence by an intimate partner.
Advocates working within the support service framework will tell you that there is little in the way of coordinated national planning to deal with the epidemic of domestic violence, and inadequate or outdated infrastructure to meet the needs of the growing number of victims desperately trying to change their circumstances. According to U.S. advocate Kit Gruelle, ‘…the systems that battered women have to turn to often are just as oppressive as the abuser.’ Quite simply, support resources are overwhelmed, and many women are not able to get access to the help they need. They are a burden on an already overburdened framework.
Housing is but one critical issue for women trying to get away from abusive relationships. But demand drastically outstrips supply in transition housing. On a typical day in 2015, 416 women and children in Canada sought shelter to escape violence. Of that number, shelters had to turn away 73 percent of those in need. Industry findings show many shelters chronically at over capacity with budgets stretched to the breaking point. Ontario-based women’s advocate Aruna Papp says she knows of shelters forced to get food from local food banks to feed the women and children they house.
And then there is the questionable effectiveness of the law and judiciary; the challenges women face in trying to get the courts to understand the complexities of their unique individual circumstances. The foremost hurdle for women complainants is, without question, being believed. In March, a UK judge said he did not believe a domestic abuse victim to be ‘vulnerable’ because she was ‘an intelligent woman with a network of friends.’ If she succeeds in being taken seriously, the law offers little comfort. Conflicting and contradictory efforts in different arms of the judiciary often keep victims and their children vulnerable. It was during a court-ordered visit in 2006 that Julie Craven’s 8-year-old son was murdered by her abusive ex-husband. Protection order applications are routinely denied, and, when granted, have limited power. 2015 Manitoba domestic homicide victim Camille Runke had a protection order. It was breached 22 times in the 4 months before her murder. In the U.S., estimates indicate that abusers violate protection orders up to 40 percent of the time. Accountability is a pervasive problem.
As bleak and problematic as the situation seems, an expanded dialogue is beginning to inspire a rise in action surrounding the issue. There are countless volunteers who have made it their mission to do what they can to fill gaps and holes in the existing infrastructure. Many offer tangible assistance directly to victims. The Royal LePage Shelter Foundation is a nationally coordinated effort dedicated to raising funds for Canadian women’s shelters and violence prevention programs. Company affiliates also regularly volunteer and donate needed supplies to local shelter residents.
In Toronto, Marc Hull Jacquin followed California’s Meathead Movers when he established The Shelter Movers of Toronto to help women leave abusive living situations. In Alberta, former oilfield worker Chris Ehret has also started Moving Forward, a similar service. In Vancouver, domestic violence survivor Elishia Perosa, frustrated by her difficulties in finding crucial day-to-day support, is galvanizing supporters to raise monies intended for local victims. Hopefully, the ripple effect from these deeds of human goodness will travel both outward and upward in order that meaningful systemic change will become inevitable. It is a big task that, in order to succeed, will rely on the smallest of everyday gestures.