Kelowna reports highest volume of domestic abuse cases in B.C.

Statistics Canada places Kelowna third in the country for reported incidents of violence.

Local frontline workers are issuing a call to action in light of a report that ranks Kelowna third nationwide for incidents of domestic violence.

The Statistics Canada figures released Tuesday shows Kelowna had 346 police-reported victims per 100,000 people in 2010, which places the city behind Saint John, N.B. and Saskatoon, Sask., respectively. It ranks first in B.C., followed closely by Abbotsford.

“We have a community that needs to improve its response to family violence,” said Amy Thompson, co-ordinator of the Elizabeth Fry Society.

“There are a lot of women living in intolerable, unsafe conditions, and so are their children. These statistics show the women who are coming forward to seek support and safety from the criminal justice system, but it doesn’t reflect what’s unreported.”

Moving forward Thompson said she’d like to see these stats used as fuel for funding resources that victims of abuse can access.

“What would help would be having more specialized domestic violence workers,” she said.

The RCMP has employed one domestic violence officer since 2009. Their aim is to provide guidance to general duty investigators on appropriate structure, mandate and file criteria for the Kelowna, Lake Country and West Kelowna detachments. From there,  general duty officers are tasked with investigating cases of domestic violence on an ongoing basis.

“It’s not enough,” said Thompson, noting that it’s disheartening that the city recently announced plans to increase the local police force by 11, but didn’t highlight a domestic abuse specialist as a priority.

Also falling short of meeting demand is the Elizabeth Fry Society itself. It has two specialized victims’ service workers, but Thompson said a case could easily be made for more.

“They’re run off their feet. It’s not right to sit in front of a woman who’s not safe and not have enough time and resources to help them with what they need.”

Thompson added there are ways the courts could better deal with incidents of domestic violence.

“Some communities have dedicated court days and specialized Crown prosecutors,” she said.

“In Nanaimo there are domestic violence court days, and there’s been a marked improvement in offender accountability and co-ordination.”

Unfortunately, said Thompson, both federal and provincial governments have cut spending for programs that have proven to be helpful in curtailing the cycle of violence.

Although Stats Canada figures and the day-to-day view of frontline workers paint a grim picture of what many local women are facing, RCMP Const. Kris Clark said it’s important to take note of the positive side of these numbers.

“Does the high reporting show high incidence of violence or did victims maybe just feel more comfortable and confident with reporting?” he said.

Although local Mounties only have one dedicate domestic violence officer, they’ve rolled out an educational campaign aimed at making sure women who are at risk know the resources available to them. They’ve also trained general duty members who are first on site the best way practices for dealing with domestic violence.  Those factors combined could be why there’s a higher rate of reporting.

Not dismissing statistics entirely, however,  Clark also noted that 2010, the year the statistics are pulled from, offered a particularly high number of cases of domestic violence.

The first four months of this year compared to 2010, there was a 35 per cent decrease in reports of domestic violence, he said.

“Was 2010 and anomaly or was 2012 an anomaly? It’s hard to say,” he said.

“The important thing to note is that domestic violence oftentimes goes unreported. It takes an average of 20 incidents before the victim comes to us. … Anyone who has experience should call their local police, right away.”

According to police-reported data, about 99,000 Canadians were victims of family violence in 2010. Of these, almost 50 per cent were committed by their spouse.

An additional 17 per cent were committed by a parent, 14 per cent by an extended family member, 11 per cent by a sibling and nine per cent by a child, usually a grown child.

B.C. was 10th nationally with 302 reported cases per 100,000 population while Ontario had the lowest rate, 196 reported cases per 100,000 population.

Nunavut had the most reported cases, 3,409 per 100,000 population.