Yukon policy keeps women in abusive relationships, advocate says

Diane Petrin of the Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre blames 'rigid guidelines' that social assistance case workers are forced to adhere to. But a government official says the guidelines aren't rigid at all.

Women 'often run back' to bad relationships, when faced with reduced social assistance

'Once they get going through all those processes and difficulties, they often run back,' said Diane Petrin, at the Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre in Whitehorse. (CBC)

A women's advocate in Whitehorse is raising concerns about Yukon's social assistance program, saying it causes women to stay in abusive relationships.

Diane Petrin, who has worked at the Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre for five and a half years, blames the territorial government policy of re-starting women's social assistance files after their marital or common law status changes.

She says the policy is unfair and results in real losses for women who leave relationships.

"They get less money, that's for sure, that's the first thing," Petrin said, "[At the same time] the rent, everything stays the same so they are like, 'oh how am I going to pay my rent?'"

Along with the increased financial burden, Petrin says women have to deal with paperwork and processes that add to an already stressful situation.

"For a woman to even come to the point to make that decision [to leave a relationship] and then to have to face all those things… it often brings them back to stay in the bad relationship," she said.

"Sometimes when they actually leave, they get really courageous and they start but once they get going through all those processes and difficulties, they often run back."

'Rigid guidelines'

Petrin wants the government to work with women's groups to overhaul and improve the social assistance process.

She believes part of the problem are "rigid guidelines" that social assistance case workers are forced to adhere to. A good start, she said, would be to allow workers greater discretion when dealing with cases that involve domestic abuse.

But that's already happening, according to a Yukon government official.

"Our social workers actually have considerable discretion," said Christine Tapp, the government's manager of income support.

"We have discretionary and emergency aid allowances that they can authorize to support somebody if there has been a change in their household circumstance."

Tapp could not explain why her account differs from Diane Petrin's, but said she's open to talking with women's groups to address their concerns.