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How to provide, get help with domestic violence: ‘Believe them if they come forward’

Calgary’s latest homicide investigation has struck a chord among a community of people connected by tragic circumstances.

On Tuesday morning, a woman was found by police outside an elementary school with apparent stab wounds. Officers provided lifesaving measures, but the woman was declared dead.

The suspect was later found nearby, also dead.

Calgary police described it as a targeted incident.

“I can’t comment on the nature of the relationship between the two,” Duty Insp. Scott Nielson said Tuesday. “Only that it was domestic in nature.”

Click to play video: 'Sounding the alarm: Domestic violence trending upward in Alberta'

Sounding the alarm: Domestic violence trending upward in Alberta

For agencies who work to help people in situations of domestic abuse and violence, Tuesday was a challenging day.

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“It’s a story that we all hate to hear. It’s tragic,” Kim Ruse, CEO of Fear Is Not Love, said on Wednesday. “It’s been a rough 24 hours.”

Fear Is Not Love runs the Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter, one of three emergency shelters in the city.

“It’s challenging because we see these stories happen and we have the conversation, and it sort of takes this type of tragedy for people to start talking again about it, and then it disappears,” Ruse said. “But for the people that are living with this issue, it never disappears.”

Ruse said nearly every other woman older than 16 will experience sexual or domestic violence at some point in their lifetime.

Historic high number of calls for help

According to the Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters (ACWS), domestic violence is at a 10-year high in Alberta.

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In the ACWS’ most recent report, shelters in 2022-23 answered 59,215 calls for help, a 12.5 per cent increase from the previous year and the highest number of calls the council has received in the past decade.

That year also saw a 19 per cent increase in individuals staying at domestic violence shelters, according to ACWS. Of the 8,483 seeking those shelter services, 4,852 were women and seniors, 3,51 were children, 53 were men and 17 identified as gender-diverse.

“I think what we’re seeing is more people are reaching out for help. They are reaching out a little bit earlier,” Ruse said.

She said that Calgary police statistics show domestic violence incidence calls are down, but overall calls for help are up.

Click to play video: 'Remote testimony room now available for domestic violence victims in Alberta'

Remote testimony room now available for domestic violence victims in Alberta

“I believe it’s related to the complexity of the financial realities we’re dealing with in the community,” Ruse said.

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“We’re also seeing the complexity of the cases that we’re dealing with is much increased over the last couple of years.”

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The ACWS 2022-23 report said 11,227 requests for admission had to go unfilled provincewide, as shelters ran out of space or didn’t have spaces large enough to accommodate the family seeking admission. ACWS said that represents a 32 per cent year-over-year increase.

Ruse said the three emergency shelters in the city – the YWCA of Calgary, Fear Is Not Love and Awo Taan Healing Lodge – have partnered to commit to turn away no women who are fleeing violence and are seeking the shelters’ services.

“We currently have around 19 families beyond capacity of our shelters right now that are being supported through this imminent risk program,” Ruse said.

‘Off the charts’ danger

The ACWS said surveys of people staying in domestic violence shelters in the province show the danger to survivors is growing.

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Half of those surveyed said they believed their partners were capable of killing them and 42 per cent reported their partner had tried to strangle them. ACWS noted strangling is one of the most significant predictors of future lethal violence.

“We ask survivors as they are the real experts on abuse. Their perception of their partner’s capability to cause lethal harm is an essential indicator of the severity of the situation, as it takes into account their intimate knowledge of the abuser’s behavior, patterns, and potential for violence,” an ACWS statement reads. “Their belief is often based on direct threats, previous incidents, or a deep understanding of the abuser’s violent tendencies.”

ACWS also said when people try to leave or successfully leave abusive relationships, they experience an increased risk of lethal violence.

Ruse said Fear Is Not Love is seeing danger assessment scores that are “off the charts like they’ve never been before” from women coming to that shelter.

“We’re seeing more use of weapons, a higher risk of lethality, definitely.”

Click to play video: 'Family of murdered Calgary woman hosts event to raise domestic violence awareness'

Family of murdered Calgary woman hosts event to raise domestic violence awareness

Tell a friend

Alison McKendrick has a friend who she fears could have met the same fate as the woman who was found outside the John Costello Catholic School.

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“Her story is a carbon copy of this poor woman’s story. Her ex has had multiple protective orders that he’s walked right through. Her children have been going through domestic violence, not at home, but through situation and the court system and through the justice system for four years and there’s no resolution,” McKendrick said of her friend.

The Calgary mother said the only way she found out about the domestic violence situation in that home was because they were acquaintances.

“She felt safe telling me what’s going on,” McKendrick said. “I had no skin in her game. I was very removed. And we had a long working relationship together, so we had an element of trust there.”

Ruse said people experiencing domestic violence will often tell a friend or a family member about what they are experiencing before calling a helpline or police.

Click to play video: 'Alberta budget doesn’t go far enough to help sexual, domestic violence survivors: Advocates'

Alberta budget doesn’t go far enough to help sexual, domestic violence survivors: Advocates

She had some simple advice for people who are approached with stories of domestic violence.

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“It’s not that you have to have the right thing to say, but really just listen and be supportive because likely there are people in your network that are dealing with this issue right now, today,” the Fear Is Not Love CEO said.

There are signs of domestic violence to look for.

“Domestic violence can be really insidious,” Leslie Hill, executive director of Discovery House, said. “Maybe a family member or friend is less responsive and more isolated. Maybe they don’t have access to finances like they used to, or they’re concerned and afraid of what their partner’s reaction to something is going to be.

“Recognize that those could be signs of domestic violence and ask the person if they’re okay. Believe them if they come forward and they tell you that they’re experiencing domestic violence and then work with them to access the resources that they need, such as the services at Discovery House.”

McKendrick said her friend is now in a safe living situation and believes it’s everyone’s responsibility to help people experiencing domestic violence.

“There’s so many women out there that go through it, and there is absolutely no shame in sharing their story,” McKendrick said. “There’s nothing that these people have done wrong.”

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Calgary Police Chief Mark Neufeld on policing during a polar vortex

Resources for people experiencing domestic violence

There are multiple ways to access information and support for those experiencing domestic violence in Calgary and Alberta.

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Family Violence Info Line: Call or text 310-1818, or chat online

211 Alberta: call, text or chat online with 211 Alberta

Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter 24-hour family violence help line: 403-234-7233 (SAFE) or toll-free at 1-866-606-7233

YWCA of Calgary 24-hour crisis line: 403-266-0707

Awo Taan Healing Lodge Society: 403-531-1970 ext. 200

Discovery House: 403-670-0467

Men’s Helpline: 1-833-327-6367

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