Calgary

Spike in Calgary's domestic violence rate 'incredibly concerning,' advocate says

Police say domestic violence in Calgary is increasing partially as a result of a severe economic downturn that has cost thousands of jobs in the oil and gas industry.

Calgary Domestic Violence Collective hosting conference as Family Violence Prevention month kicks off

Supt. James Hardy says Calgary police have handled 20,000 domestic investigations this year. (Mike Spenrath/CBC)

Domestic violence rates in Calgary have been higher than average every month so far this year, said the Calgary Domestic Violence Collective Tuesday as it launched Family Violence Prevention Month.

Calgary police received about 19,000 domestic calls in 2015, and Supt. James Hardy says they've already surpassed that number this year — partially as a result of a severe economic downturn that has cost thousands of jobs in the oil and gas industry.

"Right now we're at 20,000 domestic investigations that we've gone through this year in the Calgary Police Service," he said.

Around 2,796 of those domestic calls have turned out to involve suspected violence — which is a 36 per cent increase than the five-year average for this time of year.

"Based on these statistics, Calgary is on-track to have the highest domestic violence rate in our city since 2004," the collective said. 

Kim Ruse with the Calgary Women's Emergency Shelter agrees the increase is likely linked to the economic downturn.

"Before you might see violence or abuse in the relationship and there might be some other factors, like maybe mental health," she said.

"Now we're seeing the financial aspect is also compounding the situation in the family. And so you might have heightened levels of violence, you might have lack of resources, more isolation ... so a little bit more complex than maybe we were dealing with a few years ago."

Staff Sgt. Rob Davidson with the Calgary Police Service's domestic conflict unit says the numbers are likely much higher, given that experts believe only about 30 per cent of incidents get reported to police.

He says there's little doubt that the increase is tied to recent problems with the economy.

'Incredibly concerning'

He said because domestic violence crosses all socio-economic barriers, and has so many triggers like financial stress, addiction and mental health, it's not possible for police to handle the issue single handedly. 

"The collaboration is absolutely critical," he said. 

The collective is hosting a one-day conference Tuesday at the Coast Plaza Hotel that brings together professionals who work with families experiencing violence.

Ruse said the situation is "incredibly concerning" but she remains optimistic. 

"You know, that hopeful part of me is just hanging on to the idea that there is increased awareness, and as we change that conversation and awareness about what the issue is we can start seeing changes in what's acceptable in society and what people will tolerate, and that we'll start to see a decline at some point in the near future," she said. 

Violence could strike anyone, warns Ruse.

"We think we know what a victim or a perpetrator looks like, and typically we really don't because there is no typical victim or perpetrator. And so I think, educate yourself, understand what it looks like, and then also be aware of the resources."

With files from Natasha Frakes and The Canadian Press