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Informal Supporters and Social Service Support Key to Clare’s Law Success

On April 6, the Calgary Herald published a column by Catherine Ford with commentary on The Disclosure to Protect Against Domestic Violence (Clare’s Law) Act.  While we agree with some of the points Ford makes, we would like to provide further context and information on the topic. Read our response from Carrie McManus, our Director of Innovation and Programs, below. 

RE: Ford: “Time for men to take up the challenge of eradicating domestic violence

We completely agree with Catherine Ford on one point: men are essential to violence prevention. But Ford also argues that “Clare’s Law is aspirational and well meaning, but largely pointless.”

While Clare’s Law is not a cure to all difficulties, it does provide several avenues for violence prevention.

To start, the ability of informal supporters – friends, family, and colleagues – to act as third-party applicants is a key feature of the legislation. While Ford asserts that “the majority of domestic violence never comes to the attention of authorities or even to relatives, friends or neighbours,” this is not accurate. Research shows that the majority of people experiencing domestic violence – as high as 80 percent for women experiencing spousal abuse — tell an informal support first (Barrett & St. Pierre, 2011; StatsCan, 2013). Further, their support can help improve mental health outcomes (Latta & Goodman, 2011) and lead a person experiencing abuse to seek further help (Evans & Feder, 2014; Women’s Health West, 2015).

Empowering informal supporters takes the burden of responsibility off the person experiencing violence and involves their entire support network — including men — in violence prevention.

Informal supporters and increased information can help a person experiencing abuse to take steps to heal and build a safer, healthier life. When you add social service support to that mix, positive outcomes are more likely.

One of the largest successes of Clare’s Law in the UK is that it has acted as an entry point for victims of violence to receive supports and services. Alberta’s implementation of Clare’s law has, in part, been modeled on the UK, and includes funding for a social service response in the legislation. This has set the stage for Alberta to experience the same success in connecting victims of violence to supports and services.

With the click of a box in the Clare’s Law application form, people experiencing or at-risk of abuse can indicate they want social support. This offer of support is repeated at later stages in the application process. This is crucial, as every additional opportunity to connect with others removes the shame and stigma related to domestic violence and can prevent violence and coercive control.

Sagesse has been contracted by the Government of Alberta to coordinate Clare’s Law social service referrals across the province. We have already begun connecting Clare’s Law applicants with supports suited to their location and particular experience of violence.

These are encouraging signs, and we’re hopeful that Clare’s Law will prove to be a valuable domestic violence prevention tool.

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Clare’s Law Comes to Alberta

New Legislation Provides Crucial Window of Opportunity to Prevent Violence

On March 30, Sagesse’s CEO, Andrea Silverstone, was pleased to take to the stage with representatives of the Government of Alberta, the TsuuT’ina Police Service and a domestic violence survivor to discuss The Disclosure to Protect Against Domestic Violence (Clare’s Law) Act, which will come into effect April 1, 2021. Watch a clip from Silverstone’s statement, or read her full comments below.

Good afternoon.

I would like to begin by acknowledging Clare Wood, who is the woman this law was named after in the United Kingdom, who died at the hands of her partner. Her family started this law as a result, believing that if she would have known about his abusive past, she would have made different decisions to keep herself safe.

When Sagesse first learned about Clare’s Law from our colleagues in the UK, we were eager to talk about its potential with anyone who would listen. And thanks to the collaboration of the Government of Alberta, law enforcement, and the social service sector, we’re here today to celebrate the rollout of this new legislation in our home province.

The implementation of Clare’s Law in other jurisdictions has shown the importance of including a social service response. The disclosure of an intimate partner’s criminal record, alongside the support of friends, family, and colleagues, can help a person experiencing abuse to take steps to build a safer, healthier life. When social service support is added to the mix, a positive outcome is more likely.

The Clare’s Law application process provides crucial windows of opportunity for violence prevention. The bottom line is, if you are worried enough to fill out a Clare’s Law application, you can benefit from the support of social service agencies.

Sagesse is poised to connect Clare’s Law applicants with customized support, suited to their specific location and personal experience of violence and coercive control.

We urge anyone who is feeling afraid in their relationship, or who knows someone who is, to access the supports offered through the Clare’s Law application process. We’re here to help.

Thank you.

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Connecting with Calgarians in Crisis

Before Sagesse joined Community Connect YYC, an online booking tool empowering Calgarians to find and access support from multiple agencies, Andrea Silverstone, executive director of Sagesse, could personally attest to the immense value it provides.

“A friend of mine in the U.S. called me to share the news of the tragic loss of her brother, who lived in Calgary, in an accident. His family needed help, but with COVID-19 restrictions, his extended family in the U.S. couldn’t travel to support them. I knew Community Connect YYC could help.”

From a distance, Andrea helped her friend navigate to the Community Connect YYC website and set up appointments for grief counselling and financial supports for her brother’s widow and her nephew.

“During this family’s very difficult time, this website made accessing services much easier, and also allowed an informal supporter who was far away to help.”

Sagesse joined Community Connect YYC at the beginning of 2021 to provide increased access to support to anyone who has been impacted by domestic violence, including people who are at risk of being abused, informally support others, or are involved in sex work. With 24/7 direct online booking, Calgarians can reach out whenever they feel ready and book an appointment, usually within a week.

“Calgarians struggle to access the supports they need for many reasons, including waitlists or costs, but also feelings of shame or anxiety that make it hard to ask for help. The COVID-19 pandemic has only amplified these challenges, as Calgarians face more grief, financial struggles, family stress and isolation. More than ever, ensuring Calgarians have easy access to support is crucial,” says Andrea.

In the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic (April to August 2020), calls to Alberta’s Family Violence Info Line (310-1818) saw a 23 percent increase in calls compared to the same period of 2019.

At Sagesse, we have seen requests for peer-based services for abused women increase 30 percent and the demand for our REAL Talk program for informal supports go up by 200 percent.

“With COVID, we quickly pivoted to provide increased online and remote support, including expanded call, text and chat support, online peer support and webinars, and then joining Community Connect YYC. Beyond COVID, these supports will remain an important avenue for reaching out to people who are more comfortable accessing help online, or who live in remote areas that don’t have local supports.”

Visit our website for information about our individual and group peer support programs and REAL Talk, and visit Community Connect YYC today to find out more about all of the counselling and social supports services it offers.

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Help us get Enrico home

When Anna Barbosa left her relationship, she also left her dog, Enrico, with her ex-partner. After she moved out, he decided he no longer wanted the pet, so Anna was looking for a temporary housing solution for the dog until she could move into a new place that allowed Enrico to live with her. In the meantime, her ex-partner, who knew that Anna wanted to keep the animal, released Enrico to the Calgary Humane Society without Anna’s knowledge.

“I wanted to keep my pet with me,” explained Anna. “I love Enrico and would have taken him with me if I could have at the time. My ex knew this would hurt me, and he gave away my dog to show me that he still had control over me even though I left. Someone out there has my dog, and I’d really just like him back.”

Anna reached out to the Calgary Humane Society to explain the situation and attempt to get Enrico back from them. But, it was too late. The dog had already been adopted by another Calgary family.

“This is a form of domestic abuse called coercive control,” explained Andrea Silverstone, Executive Director of Sagesse. “It happens in places we don’t often think about, like pet ownership, and it can leave a lasting impression of loss of control and fear. There is a family out there who has this dog. I don’t understand how this family can, in good conscience, keep a dog that they know was given away as a form of domestic violence control.”

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Coercive Control: This Changes Everything

Coercive control is subtle but harmfulWhen is exerting control part of the give-and-take of a relationship, and when is it abuse? Is wanting your partner to let you know where they are at all times, or insisting on a strict budget, domestic violence?

If it is a pattern of behaviour used to regulate and dominate another person’s daily life, it may be. It’s called coercive control, and it is a common and harmful form of abuse.

“Coercive control seeks to strip away a person’s freedom and their sense of self,” says Andrea Silverstone, director, Sagesse Domestic Violence Prevention Society.

“The person using violence creates a world in which the person experiencing abuse is constantly monitored and criticized; their every move is checked against an unpredictable, ever-changing, unknowable rulebook.”

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Hello? How Are You?

Connect with Sagesse on LinkedInIt’s been a while (technically more than a year; is that still classified as “a while”?) since we posted a blog… and we have a lot to talk about.

On top of the public and economic crisis, the spread of COVID-19 was a catalyst for a shadow pandemic. Across the globe, instances of violence against women increased more than 30 percent. This also continued in our own backyard. While domestic violence calls to the Calgary police may have gone down in 2020, people in lockdown with their abusers needed more — and reimagined — support.

We quickly pivoted our programming at the beginning of the pandemic to provide online peer support and workshops. We also introduced text and chat support across the Province. It was an all-hands-on-deck response, which taught us valuable lessons about innovation and made us hold strong to one of our values: Trust in the Messiness.

We’re going to share these hard-earned lessons and insights in future blogs. But we don’t want this to be one-sided; we want to hear your take and learn how you’re tackling complex social issues. Follow us on our re-vamped LinkedIn page, where we’ll be keeping the conversation going.

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It’s time to Get Real about Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is at epidemic levels in Alberta with 1 in 3 individuals experiencing violence in their lifetime.  The impact of domestic violence knows no bounds. Incidents of domestic violence exist across rural and urban areas, within all cultural and faith communities, amongst university educated professionals with a roof over their heads and those who don’t know where their next safe place to sleep will be. 

All Albertans are impacted by domestic violence in our communities, this is an issue that is too big to be ignored.

It’s time to Get Real.

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World Suicide Prevention Day

Suicide rates in Canada have climbed to over 30 per cent since 2015. Relationship conflict and concurrent domestic violence is a factor in this rate. World Suicide Prevention Day is on September 10th – take the time to survey the people around you and do your part to support.

If you know someone who is experiencing thoughts of suicide, loneliness, hopelessness or is potentially in a situation of domestic violence, try utilizing some of these tools and resources to support them:

  1. Encourage them to share their thoughts and feelings in a safe space. Remember, it can be difficult to be vulnerable, but if you listen and are supportive, people are likely to open up.
  2. Try to work through the topic with them by listening and giving comments that are positive in nature. Be careful not to judge or place blame on their situation or thoughts.
  3. Connect them with some of the following resources:

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Why We Use Aromatherapy

Sagesse’s Use of Aromatherapy

By: Denise Watson, Allira Aromatics

Aromatherapy can be a very useful tool in life’s most challenging moments. Good quality essential oils are one of the only natural products that can be used to cross the blood/brain barrier (where the essential oil molecules go from the blood stream into the brain) and have a physical effect on our central nervous system and the limbic system (in the brain).

Our central nervous system is what connects our brain and spinal cord and is the pathway in which our brain tells our body what to do.

Our limbic system is where we store all our memories and the emotional responses we have. The olfactory bulb (sense of smell) is the first stop in the limbic system; therefore, memories attached to smells are quite strong. Our sense of smell is the fastest recall to our memories.

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Provincial Collective Impact Initiative to Address Domestic Violence in Alberta

The Government of Alberta has provided $140,000 in funding to Sagesse to support the Provincial Collective Impact Initiative to address domestic violence across the province. The initiative will bring together a network of service providers to address shared issues, enhance services and supports across Alberta and identify opportunities for large scale change.  This work will build the capacity of service providers across the province and enable Albertans affected by domestic violence to have access to high quality supports in their communities.

Preventing domestic violence is going to take a collective effort, no single organization can do it alone. Everyone has a role to play. Sagesse recognizes that large scale social change requires broad cross-sector leadership, coordination, collaboration and engaged citizens. Working together, we can change the prevalence of domestic violence and build healthy and sustainable communities throughout the province.

“Domestic violence is not secluded to one or two communities or pockets of the province, it is in every community, that’s why working collaboratively on the issue is paramount. The Provincial Collective Impact Initiative will enable all stakeholders to capitalize on the knowledge, wisdom and direction Sagesse can offer in the area of domestic violence.”

  Lisa Hannaford, Manager of Green View Family and Community Support Services

“We as Albertans need to address the complexities that underpin the structures that support violence and create deep and durable impact. A provincial collective impact initiative will allow us to identify and support high-impact opportunities, share knowledge and influence norms and practices to address domestic violence across the province.”

   Andrea Silverstone, Executive Director, Sagesse

“Fort Saskatchewan Families First Society has greatly benefited from the partnership that we have created with Sagesse and its members. Collective work on issues of family violence is important as it provides consistency in our approach, assists us with identifying gaps and patterns and it gives agencies and organizations a collective voice to use when we are advocating for change.  We never feel alone in the work we do, as we have a greater momentum when working collectively.”

   Jodi Heidinger, Coordinator Family Violence Prevention Program, Families First Society

“No Albertan should live in fear or suffer alone. Our funding will help build vital supports for survivors in rural communities. We are proud to work with partners like Sagesse to further our commitment to end domestic violence in this province.”

   Irfan Sabir, Minister of Community and Social Services

Click here to learn more about the initiative.

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