Ian Wheeliker  the executive director of the Central Alberta Women's Shelter (CAWES) stands in the midst of the Children's Healing Room at the shelter.

Ian Wheeliker the executive director of the Central Alberta Women's Shelter (CAWES) stands in the midst of the Children's Healing Room at the shelter.

From tragedy comes hope

Domestic violence stains everything it touches with a dark cloud — but there is hope.

Domestic violence stains everything it touches with a dark cloud — but there is hope.

For the victims and offenders, there are group therapy sessions designed around domestic violence that have shown success.

There is also a movement for the healing of this segment of society with a stronger push towards prevention as opposed to just playing catch up.

To accomplish that, the generational cycle of domestic violence has to be stopped.

Ian Wheeliker, executive director at the Central Alberta Women’s Emergency Shelter, believes the key battleground in this regard should be elementary schools.

“The elementary schools know the kids and families that are having trouble, they’re already good at engaging families,” he said.

“We’ve got to partner up with the elementary schools and develop an effective early intervention and prevention program that gets to families early and interrupts the generational cycle of violence.

“The longer that these kids are exposed, the more likely it is they are going to be the next generation.”

Red Deer has the highest rates of reported domestic abuse in the province.

The vast majority of offenders and victims of domestic abuse were victims of domestic abuse or witnessed it as children.

According to a 2012 Justice Canada report, family violence costs Canadians $7.4 billion every year, taking into account everything from policing and health care to funerals and lost wages.

Just from a financial standpoint, Lana Wells, the Brenda Strafford Chair for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, and faculty of Social Work at the University of Calgary, completed a study in 2012 that says:

“Investment in quality prevention and intervention initiatives can be very cost effective, returning as much as $20 for every dollar invested.

Recent research on preventative programming in the context of domestic violence shows promising results in reducing incidents of self-reported domestic violence.

The economic analysis of this preventative programming suggests that the benefits of providing the various types of programming outweighed the costs by as much as 6:1.”

Prevention goes beyond just working at elementary schools.

Support systems need to be beefed up to effectively help those who are trying to get out of abusive relationships.

Victims have often been cut off from friends and family, and usually have little or no financial means due to the controlling nature of their partner who strives to keep them under their thumb.

The judiciary process can further drain what’s left in the bank accounts for both parties. So even things like housing can be difficult to procure.

Since 2005, Red Deer has changed how it deals with domestic violence through the Red Deer Collaborative Court Project, creating specialty units with the RCMP and the Crown prosecutor’s office, while working together with CAWES, probation officers and Jim Freeman Psychotherapy.

Gary Gibbens is domestic violence specialist for the Calgary YWCA. His is one of the biggest domestic violence programs in Canada, and it deals with both men and women in 18 or 19 groups a week for 15-week runs. Between 200 and 300 people are enrolled in the program at a time.

Gibbens says it comes down to a desire to change. First people must realize they have a problem and then be willing to work on their issues.

“It’s not whose fault it is, it’s more about who’s going to make the changes,” said Gibbens, emphasizing that both men and women are susceptible to being victims or offenders — or sometimes both.

He does say the program is not always 100 per cent successful. But internal studies have shown that offenders who complete the program are four times less likely to re-offend inside a year than those who drop out.

Gibbens says there are also parenting groups within the domestic violence program to help retrain men and women in healthy, non-violent ways to raise their children.

“Hopefully people will start learning that solving problems is not done through the use of force, especially in the family,” he said. “Really, we’re talking about power and control issues, and using power or using abuse to control or resolve problems doesn’t work.”

The YWCA also integrates substance abuse programs when necessary.

When Tiffany finally came to terms with her need for help and to get away from her abusive ex, it was under threat of having her kids taken away by children’s services.

Even still, she did not think she really needed help but entered the Jim Freeman Psychotherapist group program for victims of domestic violence run by Sue Parcels in Red Deer.

Tiffany (not her real name) admits that in the early stages she lied to therapists and took advantage of the program by just going through the motions. But working with others in the group, some of whom had been in abusive relationships for decades, it finally dawned on her that could be her if she didn’t do the work honestly.

She learned how to disagree with people. That was formerly a foreign concept, since she worried that she would offend somebody. But most importantly, she is happy, and it’s been a long time that she has been able to say that.

“I’m starting to talk about it, I’m comfortable talking about it,” she said, adding she will even be speaking at a conference in Edmonton about the program in the coming months.

The total transformation did not really come into full view for her until she was finishing the program and there were new women just starting it who were in the exact same stage of denial she had been in.

But it’s a journey they will have to go through, just as she did.

“I don’t have advice for these women, only because you’re told so many things — ‘You can’t let someone treat you like that,’ or ‘You can’t be spoken to that way’ or ‘It’s not alright for him to hit you,’ ” she said.

“Of course you know all those things, but until you learn how to be happy with yourself, your true values, there is nothing no one could have said to me the last three years that would have made me leave. It was my own growth and using my resources and wanting to be out of it and knowing you’ll be OK once you’re out of it.”