With November marking another year of Women Abuse Prevention Month, advocates are finding themselves raising the same concerns with the situation continuing to get worse.
As we mark another year with high femicide rates and intimate partner violence, many are asking: What will it take?
In the past 12 months, the Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses reported over 46 femicides. Last year in Ontario, on average, every seven days a woman or child was killed by a man known to them.
In the Simcoe County area, it’s much the same.
“Our emergency shelter has 27 beds for women and children who are fleeing abuse. We always run over that. We’re always over capacity. We run closer to 30 to 35 women and children,” says Teresa MacLennan, executive director of the Women and Children’s Shelter of Barrie.
MacLennan says due to the high demand for their service, they have to refer over 500 women and children each year to other communities because they don’t have the space.
“What will that actually take for us to declare this an epidemic, to put the funding toward women’s shelters where it’s needed so we can increase capacity for bed space,” MacLennan says.
Since the pandemic, the shelter, and others like it, have had more women reach out for help to escape abusive situations, and the need remains high.
“We have not seen that situation come down to what we would consider our normal levels at all. Even though COVID-19 seems to have just increased itself, the situation of violence against women has only continued to escalate,” she says.
The high cost of housing and food makes the situation all the more difficult, meaning women end up staying in the shelter longer, leading to fewer available spaces.
MacLennan notes while the need in the community is increasing, the funding to support those in need is not.
“It needs to be a multi-system approach that also has appropriate levels of funding for all of us to be able to do this work. We have to raise over $400,000 every year and fundraising just to be able to make ends meet for the women and kids who are coming to our shelter. That is because as we are over capacity, our expenses are overcapacity.”
MacLennan says the cost of not supporting women can end up being worse.
“A woman who is experiencing abuse will use the health-care system, she’ll use the court system, she’ll use police systems. She will miss time off work because of what’s happening to her. Her children will be impacted. There is a financial cost, a long-term financial cost to all of us if we don’t invest and put any kind of support towards immediate services and structure for women. Those long-term costs will only continue to build.”
With the need in the community high, MacLennan says Barrie and other communities should declare intimate partner violence an epidemic.
“It is very important that cities and municipalities use their voice wisely. The number one predictor that a woman is going to be successful when she tries to leave an abuser is a community of family, friends, coworkers, and her neighbourhood that is going to wrap around her and going to support her. One of the clearest ways that that can be done is by our city saying that this is an epidemic,” she says.
The Building, a Bigger Wave Ontario Network, reports that at least 72 municipalities in Ontario have declared Intimate Partner Violence an epidemic, but none of those communities appear to be in Simcoe County.
“Unfortunately, it’s still an epidemic. Our numbers actually for femicide are higher in 2023 than they were in 2022,” says Lisa Macey, interim executive director of Green Haven Shelter for Women in Orillia. “Unfortunately, the government funding doesn’t go up despite the fact that femicide and acts of violence against women particularly have gone up since 2022.”
Macey warns that their shelter always remains full, with a waitlist for women needing a bed.
“We’re seeing all kinds of violence against women. It doesn’t just include physical violence, it’s emotional, mental, financial,” she says. “I would say it’s a continuation of what was created in COVID, and then based on the financial landscape, it’s just increasing. It’s like a pressure cooker.”
Not unlike other shelters, Macey says they are also experiencing women needing to stay longer and the financial impacts of the higher cost of living.
“Honestly, there’s an urgent need for greater investment and action to end gender-based violence in our community and throughout Ontario. Without an investment, it’s going to be more and more challenging even for shelters to continue to provide the same level of service and not have to reduce service unless the funding increases.”
In a statement to Global News, the Ministry for Women’s Social and Economic Opportunity said: “our government has zero tolerance for violence against women and children in any form. We are focused on actions that deliver concrete, tangible results, and have passed laws—some of which were the first of their kind in Canada—that make it harder to victimize women. Our government has backed that up with investments and supports for crucial programs that support victims and address root causes.”
On Thursday Ontario worked with the federal government to sign an agreement as part of the National Action Plan to end gender-based violence in all forms in an effort to keep Ontarians safe.
The ministry says the agreement provides Ontario with $162 million over four years to support the implementation of the National Action Plan to End Gender-Based Violence in Ontario.
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