Increase efforts to stop abuse

The StarPhoenix, March 3, 2014 - Recent statistics that rank Saskatchewan as tops in the country in the rate of women with children showing up at shelters to escape spousal abuse, coupled with Statistics Canada data that peg its rate of violence against women at twice the national average, show that current mitigation efforts are falling far short of addressing the problem.

Even though the Saskatchewan government should be lauded for some measures it has taken in the area of social services, particularly when it comes to helping people with disabilities through its assured income program, it's time to extend that sense of urgency and commitment to address the wider social issues reflected in the shelter statistics.

As Diane Delaney, co-ordinator with the Provincial Association of Transition Houses and Services (PATHS), notes about more children than women being admitted to Saskatchewan's shelters, "That's a concern - to think about the future of children and what lies ahead."

Her group has identified several areas that need change, starting with the need to raise children in a secure environment and with a strong values system, economic equality for women, and education about the issues, along with the need for more affordable housing in cities such as Regina and Saskatoon that can ease the pressure on shelters by making it easier for women and their kids to leave sooner and reducing the need to turn away newcomers.

What's especially disheartening is that the rate of spousal violence in Saskatchewan, while it has declined slightly since 2010, continues to remain high - 32.98 per 100,000 residents in 2012 compared to the national rate of 24.86 - even though social acceptance or tolerance of such abuse has declined greatly.

The justice system, for instance, has made some helpful changes such as allowing police officers responding to domestic disputes to lay charges against someone based on evidence rather than leaving it up to victims to decide. However, enforcement of subsequent judicial orders of non-contact, for instance, are more problematic, particularly in more isolated communities without a close police presence.

Given the factors behind spousal violence, such as poverty and addiction, family dysfunction, and the social isolation of aboriginal women often disconnected from their culture and home communities, public efforts to tackle the challenge must go far beyond reacting to problems to taking action to mitigate them.

A promising area is the "Hub model" being adopted by police in Saskatoon, based on a successful program implemented in Prince Albert that brings together staff from more than a dozen social agencies, including police and social workers, to identify people potentially at risk and brainstorm to prevent problems.

While the talk so far has mainly centred on identifying youth at risk and diverting them from criminality, the concept holds promise to tackle such issues as spousal violence as well, providing that enough resources can be dedicated to the effort. The province, for instance, has funded police positions earmarked for combating gang violence. Family violence has a no less profound long-term impact on society, and is worth dedicated resources to head off problems before they occur.

The editorials that appear in this space represent the opinion of The StarPhoenix. They are unsigned because they do not necessarily represent the personal views of the writers. The positions taken in the editorials are arrived at through discussion among the members of the newspaper's editorial board, which operates independently from the news departments of the paper.

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