The number of Calgarians seeking support for domestic abuse has nearly doubled since the pandemic

While the police haven’t seen a significant increase in calls, local organizations have

By Krista Sylvester | November 1, 2021 |11:44 pm

November is Family Violence Prevention Month.

Photo: Shutterstock

Calgary police respond to over 30,000 domestic violence calls each year, and while that number hasn’t significantly gone up, there is major cause for concern when it comes to this issue in our city.

Surrounding jurisdictions have reported up to a 30 per cent increase in domestic abuse calls, but Calgary hasn’t. Instead, here in our city, the number of people accessing help for domestic abuse has in some cases doubled since the start of the pandemic.

While officials believe there have been fewer calls to police because victims are getting help sooner, there is still a very big problem of domestic abuse in Calgary, according to the executive director of Sagesse and co-chair of the Calgary Domestic Violence Collective, Andrea Silverstone.

“We’ve heard anecdotally that across the province the rise is anywhere from 30 to 50 per cent,” she says, adding at Sagesse there has been a rise of about 100 per cent since this time last year.

There’s been a “massive” increase for the Equally Safe program that pairs social agencies with Calgary police responding to domestic violence calls.

Not only that, but the complexity and seriousness of the calls are also increasing, says Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter CEO Kim Ruse.

“Within that increase, we’re also seeing the complexity and the level of danger is much, much higher in all our programs,” she says, adding the “danger assessment” tool the organization uses paints a dark story as those numbers are also increasing.

Officials believe one of the reasons these numbers are climbing is due to stress from the pandemic.

The silver lining

While the city’s domestic abuse agencies are facing mounting pressure, Calgary police say their calls have remained steady over the pandemic.

While city police say the number of domestic violence calls has remained within its pre-pandemic range, they have noticed an increase in calls seeking help before situations turn criminal or violent, Staff Sgt. Vince Hancott of the CPS’ Domestic Conflict Unit tells us. 

“We haven’t seen the same increases in domestic violence reporting that other parts of our country have,” he says, adding the levels have stayed within the average of what we’ve seen in the past five years.

“What we have experienced is an increase in the number of people calling the police before their particular situation escalates to violence,” he says, adding while there has been an increase in non-violent calls, this shows situations are being tended to before they get out of hand.

Hancott says it’s encouraging that people are finding the help they need within social agencies.

“We know police can’t and shouldn’t address these issues alone — it takes a whole community to support families and relationships that are heading along a path of conflict and potential violence.”

November is Family Violence Prevention Month

Each year the Calgary Domestic Violence Collective (CDVC) recognizes Family Violence Prevention Month in November, along with other communities across Alberta.

That’s why the police teamed up with several local agencies to raise awareness about these issues Monday.

“Domestic violence is more than just a black eye or broken bones, it’s actually a series and a pattern of behaviours that slowly removes personal agency, decision-making, and freedom from an individual,” Silverstone says.

Calgarians experiencing abuse or violence in an intimate or family relationship are always encouraged to reach out for help.

“The victims of domestic conflict and violence are not just numbers. They are people — someone’s mother, daughter, sister, brother, so, or a close friend. They may feel alone, and they may have nowhere to turn, especially in these challenging times,” Hancott says.

There are countless agencies ready to offer support that can be contacted by calling 211.

The Family Violence Helpline is available 24/7 at 403-234-SAFE (7233) and is prepared for an increase in the number of calls.

Victims of domestic violence can also contact the Calgary Police Service anytime by calling the non-emergency line at 403-266-1234, or 911 if they are in immediate danger.

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Krista Sylvester

Reporter at Calgary Citizen

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