Informal Supporters & 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.