On July 12th, 2023, Amy Maddess from DART, Joanna Piatkowski representing Ingamo Homes and Jen Weicker from Domestic Abuse Services Oxford (DASO) presented in front of Oxford County Council to declare intimate partner violence an epidemic. The motion was unanimously approved, and we are very excited to have taken this first step toward big change. To declare intimate partner violence as an epidemic throughout Ontario was the first recommendation for change to come out of the Renfrew Inquest (see related post outlining these recommendations). You may read our full speech from July 12th below.
Hello Oxford County council. We want to express our gratitude for having us here today to talk about the necessity of recognizing an epidemic of intimate partner violence in Oxford County. For those of you who don’t know, my name is Amy and I am the community development coordinator for Ingamo Homes and the Domestic Abuse Resource Team (DART) Oxford. I am here today with Joanna, who is the manager of programs and outreach for Ingamo Homes, as well as Jennifer, who is the residential services manager of Domestic Abuse Services Oxford, otherwise known as DASO.
On June 1st, we presented to the city council of Woodstock to declare intimate partner violence an epidemic. This motion was unanimously approved, and today we are looking to expand this declaration to all of Oxford. To date, 24 municipalities and regions have declared intimate partner violence an epidemic. We are hoping that in joining these municipalities, Oxford can become part of the movement to make this declaration Ontario wide.
Please be aware that today’s content may be uncomfortable and hard to hear. Please take care of yourself while listening.
You may recall that we mentioned the Renfrew County Inquest recommendations in our speech from back in June, when three women were killed by their former intimate partner. The need for Ontario to designate intimate partner violence as an epidemic was the first of the 86 recommendations for change that came out of that inquest.
We also went over the definition of intimate partner violence, when and where it happens, and some data on how often femicide occurs, how much money is spent on the aftermath, and how many people died last year, and in the first three months of this year.
It is estimated that six women have been murdered by their current or former intimate partner since that presentation.
We must make this declaration now and take action to prevent intimate partner violence or we will see that number continue to rise.
Today we will be going a little deeper and looking at what intimate partner violence looks like in a rural community and Oxford County specifically. Then we will discuss how intimate partner violence intersects with homelessness, the mental and physical impact to victims and survivors, and how it affects children in our community. There will be time after this presentation for any questions you may have.
You can view the powerpoint presentation we created on the screen. It includes information that we mention in our speech as well as supplemental information. Please feel free to ask questions about this content as well.
Studies note that women who live in rural regions experience a prevalence of intimate partner violence that is 75% higher than that of urban women, and that they endure physical abuse that is substantially more severe than their urban counterparts (Peek-Asa et al., 2011; Wright, 2023). IPV perpetrators in rural areas perpetuate more chronic and severe violence due to higher rates of substance use, unemployment, and life stressors (Edwards, 2014). Knowledge, beliefs, and attitudes about IPV vary across communities, but individuals in rural locales generally support less governmental involvement in domestic violence issues (Edwards, 2014). This lack of involvement is because stronger patriarchal values exist in rural areas, resulting in more traditional gender roles and more intense power imbalances between genders (Luke’s Place, 2022). The close-knit nature and small size of rural communities contribute to a greater level of community denial about the problem of violence within families (Luke’s Place, 2022). Denial in rural areas may also result from the perception of the area as a "haven," away from the negative aspects of city life – there remains many misconceptions about what intimate partner violence is and who is impacted by it (Luke’s Place, 2022). Many assume that violence is an urban issue that affects those of a specific socioeconomic status, ethnic origin, race, or age. This denial or lack of awareness becomes a significant obstacle to survivors in small towns with little resources due to the absence of other options (Luke’s Place, 2022). Rural women who do access services locally lack the anonymity and thus confidentiality that comes with living in an urban area (Luke’s Place, 2022).
Isolation is another reason why the prevalence and severity of abuse is significantly higher in rural areas. The distance from a woman’s home to the nearest IPV resource is on average three times higher in rural communities than in urban centres, with some women living more than 80 kilometres away from a crisis centre or shelter (Peek-Asa, et al., 2011). Lack of adequate public transport and other various services that characterize urban areas exacerbate this physical isolation. In fact, some abusers move to rural areas for the specific purpose of isolating their partner (Luke’s Place, 2022). This isolation is a significant barrier to fleeing – survivors can not receive the services they need in their own community. In addition to being inaccessible, IPV services in rural locations are generally less well-funded and comprehensive than their urban equivalents (Edwards, 2014).
Oxford County has one crisis centre, one long-term women’s transitional program, and one part-time sexual violence counsellor. These three services are intended to serve a population of 128,000 people. What this means is that women in our county that need these services are going without or are forced to travel to nearby urban center’s such as London, Brantford or Waterloo.
Nearly 3000 crisis calls were received by Domestic Abuse Services Oxford (DASO) in the previous fiscal year, and a sizable fraction of these callers were helped in developing safety strategies to withstand the abuse they were facing from their current or past intimate partner. 167 women who came to DASO in need of sanctuary to escape and survive abuse did not receive support.
Our only long-term women’s transitional program, Ingamo Homes, regularly has to turn people away due to capacity issues and has a waitlist of up to one year. Because of the housing crisis, women who do receive placements at Ingamo Homes remain longer than the intended program was created, and are unable to find new housing when they are ready to move on.
Research shows that domestic violence is the leading cause of homelessness for women (Ali, 2016). On any given night in Canada, over 6000 women and children sleep in shelters because it is not safe for them at home (Burlington City Council, 2023).
Women who attempt to leave violent partners in remote communities encounter more challenges. Especially with children, leaving a residence that is many kilometres from the closest paved road is not only challenging, but it also puts a family in danger of being caught in mid-flight. The act of leaving can result in severe, and potentially lethal violence (Luke’s Place, 2022).
Women who leave an abusive partner sometimes struggle to obtain housing, employment, or a support network. They either sleep on the streets, couch surf, or go back to their abuser after being turned away at shelter.
Women stuck in this revolving nightmare begin to experience mental illnesses such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and suicidal thoughts due to the psychological distress of abuse, and the bewilderment of feeling trapped. With every service at capacity and no new funding coming in, Oxford County is dropping the ball for these women. We are sending the message that they do not matter to us.
It's crucial to keep in mind that this means we are failing the children in our community as well. A woman who decides to leave her partner is determined to find a way to take her kids with her. Her abuser may tell her that if she takes them, he will charge her for kidnapping. He may convince her that she will lose custody or threaten to take the children before she can. In many situations, an abuser will threaten to harm or even kill the children, and our legal system has failed to catch up to the realities of IPV on families.
In up to 60% of cases where there is spousal abuse, there is child abuse (Canada, 2009). Children who live in situations with family violence can suffer immediate and permanent physical harm, or even death (Canada, 2009). They can also experience short and long-term emotional, behavioural, and developmental problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder (Canada, 2009). In 6 out of 10 cases of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, child survivors have considerable problems with behaviour, negative peer involvement, depression, anxiety, violence to others, irregular school attendance, and inappropriate sexual behaviour (Canada, 2009). It is now widely known that witnessing family violence is as harmful as experiencing it directly.
Last year, the family violence program of Oxford County received 80 counselling referrals for children from Children’s Aid. Wellkin Child and Youth Mental Wellness serving Oxford and Elgin counties reported 205 referrals of individuals having experienced traumatic life events. They estimate that 50% of their referrals are from Oxford County.
Moving further upstream, prevention and education about gender-based violence have also been identified as longstanding gaps in Oxford County. We have fallen behind other communities in implementing these initiatives, meaning that our school boards, service providers, criminal justice sector and healthcare partners do not have the adequate information that they need to educate and advocate for the people that they serve. Oxford County should commit to engaging with community partners to educate and support our residents about the seriousness and long-term danger of violence in our community.
Violence against women costs the justice system, health care systems, social service agencies, and municipalities billions of dollars per year; municipalities are on the front lines in addressing gender-based violence. Let me say that one more time, violence against women costs the justice system, health care system, social service agencies and municipalities BILLIONS of dollars every year. Family violence, in general, has increased every year since 2019 (Charlebois, 2023). Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, instances of intimate partner violence have become exponentially prevalent (Charlebois, 2023).
We know that the information we have presented you with today is bleak; it’s unfortunate that IPV and the murder of women in our community and society as a whole still needs to be discussed. Municipal governments can no longer remain silent and on the sidelines. Our community wants change and so we will advocate for change. Change begins when we all agree that intimate partner violence is wrong and denounce it.
We are not here to discredit Oxford County. Quite the opposite. All three of us are proud to be a part of this community, and know that we have many great strengths. Oxford County comes together when it needs to in order to protect our community members from harm, hate and violence. We are here today to tell you that this time is now. Passing this declaration announces that we want our community to change, and that we embrace, endorse and pursue change.
This declaration entails that the County of Oxford review the Renfrew Recommendations and develop a workplan on how the county can advance the objective of ending intimate partner violence. Here are our asks:
Many municipalities across the region have declared intimate partner violence as an epidemic, after seeing a drastic rise in cases and a dwindling of funding and support. By declaring intimate partner violence an epidemic in Oxford County, we will become the 25th municipality in Ontario to do so. This means that one day, intimate partner violence will be declared an epidemic throughout all of Ontario, and this will allow us to get the services that we need for our residents who need it the most. Today, we ask that all voting members of county council approve this declaration so that we can take one step forward toward ending intimate partner violence. We sincerely thank you for this opportunity, and would like to open the space for questions.
Administrator. (2023, June 14). Burlington City Council declares intimate partner Violence & Violence Against Women an epidemic. A Better Burlington | Mayor Marianne Meed Ward. https://mariannemeedward.ca/burlington-city-council-declares-intimate-partner-violence-violence-against-women-as-an-epidemic/
Ali, N. (2016, October 3). Domestic Violence & Homelessness. Domestic Violence & Homelessness | The Homeless Hub. https://www.homelesshub.ca/blog/domestic-violence-homelessness
Canada, P. H. A. of. (2009, April 9). The Effects of Domestic Violence on Children. Canada.ca. https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/health-promotion/stop-family-violence/publications/effects-domestic-violence-children-hurt.html
Charlebois, J. (2023, June 6). Kincardine Council supports Prince Edward County resolution to declare intimate partner violence as epidemic. Bayshore Broadcasting News Centre. https://www.bayshorebroadcasting.ca/2023/06/06/kincardine-council-supports-prince-edward-county-resolution-to-declare-intimate-partner-violence-as-epidemic/
Edwards, K. M. (2014). Intimate partner violence and the rural–urban–suburban divide. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 16(3), 359–373. https://doi.org/10.1177/1524838014557289
Luke’s Place. (2022, December 8). Intimate partner violence in rural communities. Family
law support for women fleeing abuse.
Peek-Asa, C., Wallis, A., Harland, K., Beyer, K., Dickey, P., & Saftlas, A. (2011). Rural disparity in domestic violence prevalence and access to resources. Journal of Women’s Health, 20(11), 1743–1749. https://doi.org/10.1089/jwh.2011.2891
Wright, A. (2023, May 12). Pec Council declares intimate partner violence epidemic in the county. PEC council declares intimate partner violence epidemic in the county. https://canada-info.ca/en/pec-council-declares-intimate-partner-violence-epidemic-in-the-county/