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Central Alberta women are fleeing from more dangerous domestic violence

‘It’s tremendously concerning,’ says shelter director
Rayann Toner, executive-director of the Central Alberta Women’s Shelter. (Contributed photo). Contributed photo Rayann Toner, executive-director of the Central Alberta Women’s Emergency Shelter, is concerned more women are facing potentially deadly domestic situations, and the shelter can only meet about a quarter of the local demand for safe accommodation.

More clients of the Central Alberta Women’s Emergency Shelter are fleeing life-threatening situations. The troubling finding is revealed by an assessment questionnaire that rates the potential for death or serious harm.

“It’s tremendously concerning,” said the shelter’s executive director, Rayann Toner — not only that more women are facing potentially deadly domestic situations, but also that the shelter can only meet about a quarter of the local demand for safe accommodation.

At a time when the Calgary women’s shelter is reporting a disturbing increase in the number of clients who report being choked or threatened with weapons by their partners, the Red Deer shelter is also seeing an alarming trend.

Corrie McKilligan, the operations manager of crisis intervention in Red Deer, said a “lethality” questionnaire women fill out at the shelter, to show if their home situations could potentially be life-threatening, has been coming up with higher danger scores in the past few months.

This means more women have been answering “yes” to questions such as: Does (the abusive partner) own a gun? Did he ever use a weapon against you in the past? Has he threatened to kill you? Do you think he is capable of killing you? And is he unemployed?

The last question suggests a possible reason for the escalation of domestic violence. A director at the Calgary women’s shelter told the CBC the province’s tough economy and the family stress caused by increased job losses could be a factor.

But while Ian Wheeliker, the former executive director of the Red Deer women’s shelter, who’s now with the Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters, confirmed to Calgary media the trend in intensified violence, he said more research is needed to uncover the root causes.

Toner agrees with Wheeliker that it’s a very complex issue. While the poor economy could be playing a role, so could the women’s empowerment #MeToo movement, she said.

Toner noted that discussions at a recent Third World women’s shelter conference centred on how effective the highly publicized celebrity stands against sexual violence are. More women around the world are now less willing to tolerate abuse, “so there could be more reporting,” she added.

Last year, the Red Deer shelter received 2,008 crisis calls, but only had shelter spots for 513 women and 185 children in need.

“We never like having to turn anyone away,” said Toner.

Those who can’t be accommodated are either referred to other women’s shelters, if space is available, or connected with various supports in the community.

Shelter staff have, meanwhile, been considering various options to increase the facility’s size beyond the current 14 bedrooms or 40 spaces. Financing is an issue, Toner admitted.

On Dec. 6, a 4:30 p.m. candlelight vigil will be held in Red Deer’s City Hall Park to draw attention to the need to stop violence against women.

Toner is hoping for a big turnout since it’s the 30th anniversary of the Montreal Massacre in which 14 women were murdered by a man who was “fighting feminism” at the Ecole Polytechnique.

In three decades, society hasn’t come far enough, she added.

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