Almost 600 people use the Central Alberta Women’s Emergency Shelter every year, driven there by domestic violence.
The numbers are as disturbing as they are astonishing — and they are worse in Alberta than all but one other province.
A Statistics Canada report released last year said that 1.2 million people reported being the victims of spousal abuse in the five years ending in 2009. That’s 6.2 per cent of all Canadians who were in long-term relationships, or had an ex-partner from a relationship.
The same StatsCan report said that spousal violence (involving men abusing women and women abusing men) was worst in Alberta and Saskatchewan, where eight per cent reported violence.
At the other end of the spectrum, spousal violence occurred in four per cent of relationships in Newfoundland and Labrador.
And the news gets worse.
This week, the Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters released the results of a survey that bring the statistics — and the attitudes behind those statistics — even closer to home.
The survey by Leger Marketing of 1,000 Alberta men was conducted last month and carries a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 per cent. In other words, these figures are both current and accurate.
The survey asked gender equity questions to get a better picture of men’s attitudes toward women and their roles. It included questions about education, leadership, workplace issues and household hierarchy.
The scale established gave half of Alberta men a medium score when it comes to equity. Thirty-four per cent received a low score. Only 18 per cent scored well when it came to equity.
Among the areas of concern pinpointed in the survey:
l 25 per cent of those surveyed said domestic violence should not be a criminal offence in some situations.
l 16 per cent said domestic violence is a private matter to be handled within the family.
l eight per cent said that a parent should remain in a violent relationship, to keep the family together.
l five per cent said forcing a partner to have sex was not an unhealthy behaviour.
l 40 per cent of respondents said a woman puts herself at risk of rape by wearing provocative clothing.
l 14 per cent said women often say no in sexual situations when they mean yes.
Clearly, gender equality remains a significant issue in Alberta. At a fundraiser during which the survey results were released, Alberta Premier Alison Redford said the results “made me sick to my stomach.”
She should not be alone in her revulsion.
There are two key components in the battle to minimize domestic violence.
The first, and overwhelming, issue is education. We can’t establish gender equality without changing attitudes, and we need to start with children. They need positive role models in the home and the community. And they need to understand that violence is never a tool in resolving conflict.
The second is society’s ability to protect the victims of violence.
Earlier this year, a collaboration between the Central Alberta Women’s Emergency Shelter and Red Deer RCMP was the focus of a session at the World Conference of Women’s Shelters.
The collaboration came after the murder-suicide by Josif Fekete of his wife Blagica and three-year-old son Alex in Red Deer in 2003.
A unique domestic crime unit was formed that includes police and a social worker from the shelter.
Officials say that no victim of violence who is in the program has subsequently been killed. And that’s good news.
But as long as 600 people a year are forced to seek shelter, in Red Deer alone, and as long as eight per cent of Albertans report being victims of domestic abuse, we still have a disturbingly long way to go.
John Stewart is the Advocate’s managing editor.