A research project created to identify and address challenges of intimate partner violence in the Northwest Territories is headed into its fifth and final year, and the results aren’t pretty.
Entitled Rural and Northern Community Response to Intimate Partner Violence, researchers from the University of Regina are partnering up with localized academics to collect data on violence rates in the prairie provinces and the NWT.
So far, territorial contributors have uncovered that domestic violence impacts households in every community of the NWT and that a similar string of obstacles in each place only help to facilitate that violence.
“We’re asking, what are the needs of victims – of women – who have experienced intimate partner violence? What are the gaps in services for women and how can we create non-violent communities?” said Aurora Research Institute lead researcher Pertice Moffitt.
Since 2011, researchers have gathered a plethora of data, ranging from environmental scans and RCMP statistics to interviews with frontline workers and community profiles.
“We were left feeling very overwhelmed by the barriers that the frontline service providers were telling us in the third year,” Moffitt said. “But, we were really encouraged to move their stories forward and to create tangible ways to reduce and eliminate violence in the territory.”
The NWT’s current system for dealing with intimate partner or family violence focuses on crisis intervention, however, a set of challenges identified in the research make that approach difficult.
Remote communities; limited access to the territory’s five shelters; a culture of violence stemming from the impacts of residential school; high rates of alcohol use; depleted resources; fast burnout on the part of frontline workers; all of these elements help to uphold the territory’s infamous reputation as a hotspot for domestic violence.
“The services themselves are non-collaborative. Service providers are doing the best they can and they themselves are coming up saying we’re not working together, we’re kind of silos and we’re patching work together,” said Heather Fikowski, co-academic investigator.
“We need to start providing seamless, collaborative service delivery for women.”
Geographers on the team have started to use the data to map out rates of violence in each community compared to available services – including shelters and RCMP detachments – using geographic information system (GIS) technology.
“The main message of the map is that violence is everywhere in the NWT, we can see that, it’s in every community,” Fikowski said. “That tells us we have a problem. It kind of validates it and it also, of course, highlights communities that have more violence than other communities, which means you could pinpoint and target strategies and help to a particular community.”
What do the numbers say? First of all, some communities – even the most remote – have more than 100 reports of domestic violence annually.
“We have 11 communities without RCMP, we have almost 80 per cent of communities without victim’s services in the community,” Fikowski said. “We have only five shelters to service everybody when they can’t even get there. It’s very difficult when you’re fleeing violence to actually make it to the shelter.”
Putting the data to work
The next step for the researchers is using the data to make a difference.
“Now we’re analyzing all of our data and we want to come up with an action model,” Moffitt said. “We’re developing a plan on how we can disseminate what we’ve learned and what we can do with that.”
Lorraine Phaneuf, executive director for the Status of Women NWT, has a few ideas.
“It’s all there in a territorial map and that is the first time we’ve seen that in the territories. We see statistics but we never see it in such a visual way and it helps you kind of interpret and analyze what’s actually happening,” Phaneuf said.
Some of the strategies identified as worth pursuing so far include education and awareness campaigns about violence and healthy relationships, increased efforts to encourage frontline service providers to work collaboratively and developing programs with long-term funding and getting funding for local programs in the communities themselves or in the territory.
“We’re going to look at ways that the Coalition Against Family Violence can work together to fill in those gaps in our lobby work and set some priorities on where the services are needed,” Phaneuf said. We are meeting as a coalition with the shelter directors on Oct. 6 and 7 to come up with a journey wall of what we’ve done and a journey wall of where we’re going. I think that those GIS maps will be crucial in things that we select as our priorities.”
Phaneuf noted, however, that it’s important to bear in mind that the maps are just a snapshot of a moment in time and folks shouldn’t get too caught up in the numbers, but rather, pay attention to the general patterns.
“Sometimes rates can change drastically,” she said. “Perpetrators can be perpetrating five or six times, it could be the same person.”
Fikowski agreed: “People have to handle it carefully,” she said. “Every single community is unique and complex. To talk about one or two communities specifically is not really going to move this research forward. I think that what we need to do is focus on what those challenges are that have come out and also what are some of the strategies that frontline service providers see as being helpful in trying to overcome those barriers.”
As the five-year project heads into its final stage, the Aurora researchers are looking for ways to extend its impact.
“An advantage might be that if we had maps for every year over time, say if we had 10 years of mapping, we would be able to plot out differences and what happens over the long run,” Moffitt said. “Are we improving? What does that look like? That’s kind of a nice, ambitious thing to think about doing.”
“I just feel that it’s such a good opportunity for us to use these maps to do lobby work, to apply for funding, we’re just very excited that this is coming to fruition,” Phaneuf said.