Domestic violence exists in every community in Canada. It doesn't discriminate against race, colour, religion or age. Perhaps the biggest challenge for police and other social services in dealing with relationship violence is that most of it, up to 70 per cent, is never reported.
Unfortunately, many victims — women, children and men — live with this dark secret and feel they don't have a way out. A collaborative project between the Delta Police Department, Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) and the Network to End Violence in Relationships (NEVR) aims to change that.
Delta Police, like most other police organizations, takes on interns every year. Most come from criminal justice or police-related programs, but as part of a partnership with NEVR and KPU, Delta Police has worked with students from KPU's nursing program. While I retired from the Delta Police Department in 2015, I've continued mentoring nursing students from KPU because I believe deeply in the work they're doing to respond to domestic violence.
This most recent project spanned a number of groups of interns and focused on a unique approach to reaching out to silent victims of domestic violence. The nursing students, who have a variety of career goals from working in emergency rooms to mental health to pediatrics, were tasked with creating a tool kit for beauty salons and restaurants and bars to educate stylists and bartenders on the signs and intervention strategies around relationship violence.
The reason for choosing stylists and bartenders is because of their frequent interactions with the public. A hair stylist comes to know someone as a client and often friendships are formed between them. Stylists have close physical contact with their clients and can observe anything out of the ordinary on a woman around her head, neck and face area. Bartenders were chosen for a slightly different reason: their involvement with an individual who may be intoxicated and more likely to display concerning behaviours. This approach has proven effective in the United States.
Dr. Balbir Gurm is a professor in the KPU Nursing Program, the founder and facilitator of NEVR, and the driving force behind the tool kit.
"Our nurses are at the front line when it comes to relationship violence," Gurm says. "Many of them will treat victims first hand, and this project helps them understand the scope of the problem. Creating a tool kit connects the nursing students with others who have an important role to play, such as hair stylists who are as well situated as anyone to recognize when there is a problem."
As a culmination of the project, one group of interns had the opportunity to train staff at a hair salon in Delta, B.C., which was very well received.
"Stylists may not think about how important their role is in detecting and helping someone who may be victimized, but once they see the tool kit, they realize not only that they are part of the front line, but there are impactful ways they can help," says Gurm.
The Stylist and Bartender Tool Kit was the second tool kit created. Previously, NEVR worked with the Provincial Office of Domestic Violence (PODV) and created the Healthcare Professional Tool Kit.
The latest tool kit created by NEVR, supported by KPU, DIVERSEcity and PODV looks a bit different than what the students created, but is an excellent resource for any community, police agency or individual who wants to help someone who they believe to be a victim of relationship violence. Relationship violence is any form of violence between the victim and someone who is known to them, such as family members, partners or employers/employees.
The Community Champions Tool Kit is broader than the original concept, but the message is still the same: say something. #saysomething is a project funded by the Province of British Columbia and leverages social media to get the message out about how to help a victim of relationship violence.
How to intervene
The tool kit describes what relationship violence is, warning signs and how to intervene. A common belief is that relationship violence is physical (hitting, choking, pushing, etc.), when in reality, it can be far more complicated. It can be physical abuse, but victims can also suffer from emotional, psychological, financial, sexual and spiritual abuse.
A person who witnesses abuse or senses that abuse is occurring may have no idea how to deal with it. The tool kit describes what to do and, just as importantly, what not to do. For an individual who wants to help, doing the wrong thing could put themselves and victims at increased risk. It also guides a person on how to have a conversation with a victim and how to support them as best as possible.
The tool kits are a wealth of information about relationship violence, but they're only useful if they end up in the right hands. A continued effort is needed by social services and police agencies to keep this document moving forward.
The unique approach of training stylists and bartenders highlights one of the basic principles of community-based policing: it brings the community and the police together to solve a problem.
The Community Champions Tool Kit allows the average person to learn how to intervene safely. It helps change the culture so that more individuals recognize abuse, intervene and start to say that relationship violence is not acceptable in their communities. All of NEVR's toolkits are free.
Overcoming hesitation about helping
Often, it seems difficult to talk to people about abuse. The following table addresses some common misconceptions and concerns about speaking up.
|Points of concern||Points to consider|
|You feel like it's none of your business||It could be a matter of life or death. Violence is everyone's business.|
|You don't know what to say.||Saying you care or are concerned is the best place to start.|
|You might make things worse.||Doing nothing could make things worse.|
|It's not serious enough to report to police.||Police are trained to respond to these situations and can offer more resources.|
|You are afraid the violence will turn towards you or your family.||Speak to the victim alone. Also let police know if you experience threats.|
|You believe the victim wants to stay in the relationship because he/she keeps going back.||The victim may not have had the support they needed.|
|You are afraid the victim may become angry with you.||Maybe, but he/she will know you care about them.|
|You believe that if the victim wanted help, then they would ask for it.||Victims are often too ashamed to ask for help.|
|You believe domestic violence to be a private matter.||It isn't a private matter when someone's getting hurt.|
—Adapted from "Help, Hope & Healing" by Government of British Columbia, 2006.