Edmonton

More needs to be done to help domestic abuse victims: advocate

Following the deaths of four women in six weeks in the Edmonton region, each believed to be related to domestic violence, a shelter advocate is calling for more to be done to protect victims of abuse.

'A piece of paper is not going to keep somebody away'

Speaking on CBC's Edmonton AM morning radio program, shelter advocate Pat Vargas had a message she wanted to share with any victims of domestic abuse who might be listening. “You don’t have to come to the shelter to get help,” she said. “Whenever you want to phone, there will be someone there to answer your call.” (Pat Vargas)

A local shelter advocate is calling for more to be done to protect victims of abuse.

The call follows the deaths of four women in six weeks in the Edmonton region, each believed to be related to domestic violence.

Earlier this week, CBC News revealed that the most recent victim, Colleen Sillito, had sought a restraining order against her alleged killer, her ex-boyfriend Paul Joseph Jacob.

"I have to say, for us, we know that a piece of paper is not going to keep somebody away," said Pat Vargas, executive director of A Safe Place Women's Shelter in Sherwood Park.

"Women do everything they think will keep them safe, which is they leave the abuser," she said "They follow the law, they get restraining orders, they contact the police. So these are women who are doing everything in their power to keep themselves and their children safe and yet somehow it does not work."

Vargas said the first step to help abuse victims is for officials, friends and family to take their fears seriously, so that abusers are held accountable.

"We know that women are the best predictors of their safety," she said.

'Just by the fact that you are a woman, you are at risk'

According to Vargas, 75 per cent of women who access shelters in Alberta are at a "high risk of fatality." Many have already been threatened or hurt when they start seeking help.

"Women don't access shelters just because they had a fight with a boyfriend or their partner. They come to us when they're really afraid for their safety."

Part of the problem, she said, is that there is still a strong stigma surrounding women who try to leave an abusive relationship. She said it's important to see past the stereotypes.

"Violence against women does not have a class, doesn't have an economic background, doesn't have a race. It is really pervasive in all those areas, everywhere.

"Just by the fact that you are a woman, you are at risk."

People often fail to realize how many factors there are that may contribute to keeping a victim from leaving an abusive relatiionship when she wants to. Many don't have somewhere safe to go, Vargas said, or are faced with the possibility of having to leave their possessions or even children behind.

"The message that we've been saying for a while is that we need to believe what women are saying to us," she said. "We need to protect them and do everything in our power as communities and neighbours and friends to keep those families safe."

Vargas said A Safe Place is nearly always full to capacity. But they will always find a room, even if it's in a hotel, for someone fleeing abuse in Strathcona County and Fort Saskatchewan, she added.

She wants it known that the shelter does far more than just provide a roof. Staff can also help victims do risk assessments, help plan a safe exit strategy and counsel victims through the process of alerting police and dealing with the courts.

"You don't have to come to the shelter to get help," she said. "Whenever you want to phone, there will be someone there to answer your call."

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