Suffering in silence: An inside look at Canada’s stance on violence against women

As it stands in Canada, currently 15, 000 women each year are being turned away from emergency shelters as they attempt to escape the hands of domestic violence. According to the Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk’s 2013 annual report, this means that 56% of women requiring help are being turned down. Based off this statistic alone, it is clear that not enough is being done in Canada to support women struggling to free themselves of a dangerous living environment for them and in most cases for their children as well.

In an effort to bring more awareness to the issue, The Canadian Network of Women’s Shelters and Transition Houses (EndVAW) begun a survey in November 2013 called Shelter Voices. EndVAW, which stands for ‘end violence against women’ is an organization that gives a national voice to the survivors of domestic abuse. The network was established in 2009 and currently represents 350 individual shelters across Canada. The purpose of Shelter Voices is to, “shine a light on the issue of violence against women and to break barriers by revealing what is happening.” It provides an inside look to a day in the life of women’s shelters and of the women and children seeking these services.

Domestic violence is happening in our own backyards, however it is a touchy subject that goes under the radar with good intention, to protect the victims. With that being said, the Shelter Voices survey is the first of its kind. This is the first survey to allow an inside scope of how Canada’s women’s shelters are shaping up, although the statistics are not as enlightening as one would hope.

In the most recent survey results, which were shared March 2014, 242 of the 350 shelters participated in every province and territory except Nunavut. The study was conducted on November 25, 2013 and on this given day 4138 women and 2490 children sought emergency help, however, 286 women and 205 children had to be turned away to a lack of resources and space. One must also take into account that EndVAW does not represent all of Canada’s women shelters and in addition, 108 of the represented shelters did not participate meaning the stats are much higher and much more alarming.

Shelter Voices also outlines that one of the biggest contributing factors to this issue is a lack of government funding. Seventy per cent of shelters believe that the funding is the leading cause of their inability to meet the needs of their clients. In addition, 60% of shelter workers are concerned about their ability to address the increasingly complex issues their clients face, and again, this is due to a lack of resources.

Kathleen Wynne is in agreement that more resources are needed to fight abuse on all levels. She has launched the “It’s Never Okay” campaign, which is devoted to ending sexual violence and harassment. The action plan aims to supply 41 million dollars over a three year period that will be allocated towards increasing capacity at all of Ontario’s 42 sexual assault centres, boosting funding for Ontario’s 35 hospital-based Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Treatment Centres, increasing workplace safety and keeping Ontario’s services up to par on the international scale.

Lise Martin, Executive Director of Shelter Voices recognizes Wynne’s initiatives, however, there is always more to be done.