Recent B.C. tragedies a reminder to call for help

We write as a group of concerned women representing anti-violence and women-serving organizations doing what we can to end violence against women, and help women recover from violence they’ve experienced in their lives. We want women who are experiencing violence to know we’re here, we care, and we can help.

The tragic incidents of domestic violence that have made headlines in the past six weeks are devastating, and our hearts go out to the children left motherless, the families left reeling, and the communities left wondering what more they could have done to prevent these senseless tragedies.

The reality of violence against women is not surprising to those of us who do this work. Thousands of women are assaulted and abused by their intimate partners in B.C. every year. These women come from all walks of life — gender-based violence affects women of all classes, races, ages and ethnicities — but women who are also marginalized by a lack of immigration status, a disability, or other forms of social isolation are especially vulnerable. Indigenous women living on reserves, without access to many community-based resources, are at particular risk.

The B.C. Coroner’s Service reported that between 2003 and 2011, 87 women were killed by a current or former partner. Across Canada, an average of one woman is killed every week by an intimate partner. This must stop. We want women to know help is available.

Women-serving organizations and anti-violence workers want women across B.C. to know we are here for them if they need someone to talk to, to get support, or to access practical resources. Women, please call us if:

• You are thinking of leaving and are nervous about how he’ll respond;

• You have left and he’s reacting in ways that make you afraid or nervous;

• You are alone and have no one to help you through this process;

• You are afraid he will call you crazy, take away your kids or use your past against you;

• You aren’t ready to leave, but want to talk about what might happen if you leave;

• You want to access legal advice about what to do if you decide to leave;

• You want to know what your options are;

• You want to know that you aren’t alone;

Remember, the time a woman is most at risk is when she becomes pregnant, has a child or leaves an abusive partner. The most serious assaults tend to happen in the two years after a woman has left. Sometimes there are assaults after separation, even when there was no physical violence during the relationship. Most important, women should trust their instincts if they feel nervous or afraid. They should know that they can reach out for help.

Despite statements from B.C.’s attorney general that domestic violence is on the decline, we know the vast majority of domestic violence cases are never reported to the police. We know the number of women calling us is not declining, and many of us find our waiting lists and appointment times filling faster than ever.

If you cannot reach us immediately, please call back, or call another anti-violence or women-serving organization. If you haven’t received the help you need, try us again. We are busy and under-resourced, but we do this work because we want to help, so please, keep calling.

To find a local anti-violence organization, call BC211 by dialing 211 or by calling VictimLink at 1-800-563-0808.

Most of all, remember that we have your back.

Jane Doe Legal Network, a group of anti-violence and women-serving organizations working to end violence against women.

This opinion letter was originally published on Vancouver Sun on May 15, 2014.

 If you could do something to end violence against girls and women, wouldn’t you?

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