North

'Women have nowhere to go': New report shows picture of intimate partner violence in N.W.T.

A new report is giving the first big picture of what intimate partner violence looks like in the Northwest Territories, through the lens of frontline workers.

Frontline workers in 12 communities talk about gaps in services, needs of women facing violence

'We've done something quite rigorous,' says Heather Fikowski, who co-led a five-year study on what intimate partner violence looks like in the Northwest Territories. (Kate Kyle/CBC)

A new report is giving the first big picture of what intimate partner violence looks like in the Northwest Territories, through the lens of frontline workers.

Researchers interviewed 56 frontline workers in 12 N.W.T. communities, including RCMP, social workers, nurses and victim service workers. The researchers asked them about the needs of women who face violence, gaps in services and what they need to create non-violent communities.

The report found there's been little documentation of intimate partner violence in the N.W.T.

"I think what is exciting is that we've done something quite rigorous," said Heather Fikowski, with the Aurora Research Institute, who co-led the five-year study.

Intimate partner violence happens between people who have a close relationship, such as a partner or ex-partner, and includes physical, sexual and emotional abuse, even stalking and intimidation.

In 2013 the rate of violence against women in the N.W.T. was nine times the national rate, according to Statistics Canada.

Eighty percent of communities in the N.W.T. don't have access to victim services; 85 per cent don't have shelters. Those that do are often at full capacity.

The study also found that some women don't have access to phones.

"What happens is that women have nowhere to go. It silences them," said Pertice Moffitt, the report's lead investigator.

One RCMP officer who was interviewed for the study recalled an incident when a woman fleeing violence ran across the community and pounded on his door in -40 C, wearing just one boot.

"She could have died," he said.

The woman didn't have a phone.

"Just thinking about it angers me," the officer said.

Funding for shelters, healing programs

Frontline workers said their "hands are tied" when trying to get women into court, which in small communities often rotates out of the local arena.

"There's family pressure. There's community pressure. There's political pressure sometimes," said one RCMP Officer.

The high turnover in frontline workers makes it hard to improve rates of violence in the N.W.T., the report found.

Fikowski said workers often work in silos and don't always know what services they each offer.

"We need to do it better by working together," she said.

The report suggests creating an electronic archive system of the territory's services and resources. It calls for more culturally relevant screening tools to help determine if a woman is at risk, as well as more long-term funding for shelters.

With alcohol and historical trauma at the root of violence, the report suggests lobbying for restrictions on large amounts of alcohol going into communities, building on existing healing programs, and getting more help for perpetrators.

The report is now in the hands of leaders across the territory, along with policy makers and frontline workers.

"[It] gives policy makers something to sink their teeth into. It's not opinion or based on experience," said Fikowski.

"It's supporting what that experience is about."

Reach kate.kyle@cbc.ca.

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