In the first nine months of 2011, Community Based Victim Services workers in the Comox Valley saw more cases of sexual violence than in all of 2010 — and it looks like the number of domestic violence case could rise this year, too.
Community Based Victim Services domestic violence worker Jennifer Woods and sexual violence worker Isabel McKinnon spoke to Courtenay council Monday, to shed light on sexual and domestic violence in the Comox Valley.
Woods works with victims who are primarily 18 and older, although she says she probably gets about five criminal domestic violence files related to teenagers. She works with two RCMP officers and only opens a file if criminal charges have been laid.
McKinnon works with the RCMP, and all sexual assaults are referred to McKinnon even if there are no charges.
McKinnon also works closely with the Sexual Abuse Intervention Program — two counsellors involved with Comox Valley Family Services.
“With my cases, it’s basically doubled in the last year, and that’s because there’s been multiple victims and one perpetrator,” she told council.
There are two victim service agencies in the Comox Valley — RCMP Victim Services and Community Based Victim Services.
They offer emotional support and crisis support, practical assistance, transportation and accompaniment to meetings, court orientation and court accompaniment, completion of forms, liaison with personnel within the criminal justice system, accompaniment to interviews, information and referrals.
The RCMP Victim Services serves victims and witnesses of murder, manslaughter, fatal motor vehicle accidents, non-relationship assaults, robbery and break and enter.
Community Based Victim Services has two sections — sexual violence, and domestic violence.
Sexual violence services is for male and female victims of sexual crimes such as sexual abuse, sexual assault and sexual exploitation and historical survivors. Domestic violence services are for male and female victims of violent crimes such as domestic violence, stalking and harassment.
From Jan. 1 to Sept. 30, 2011, Community Based Victim Services worked with 101 domestic violence files — 90 female and 11 male, all of whom were adults.
At this pace, the 2011 numbers will be higher than those in 2010. Last year, there were 123 domestic violence files — 104 female and 19 male, and, again, all adults.
In 2011, from Jan. 1 to Sept. 30, there were 64 sexual violence files — 57 females and seven males. Twenty-one were adults, and 43 were younger than 18.
Already, there have been more active files than last year, as there were 52 sexual violence files in all of 2010 — 44 females and eight males. Twenty-four of these files were adults, and 28 were younger than 18.
A retired RCMP officer, Coun. Larry Jangula told the women he thinks victim services is “long overdue.”
“It was often the link that was forgotten,” he said. “I also think it’s interesting that you brought forward we in the police have seen but sometimes the public don’t realize — that actually in domestic and sexual assaults, there are often men victims as well as men offenders.”
Coun. Doug Hillian wondered if the state of the economy has any influence on domestic violence.
Societal factors can play a factor, according to Woods, who noted that the highest rate of domestic violence occurs on Super Bowl Sunday, especially in the United States, and January is the worst month, as people start arguing when the bills come in after Christmas.
“I would say low income, out of work, unemployment does have a part in domestic violence,” she said. “I think it’s one more stress on an already-stressed-out situation. There is definitely a correlation, unfortunately.”
Coun. Ronna-Rae Leonard recalled when the RCMP started focusing more attention on and providing more resources to the domestic violence sector of their work, and she wondered if that has made Woods and McKinnon’s jobs easier or harder or if it is a matter of better identifying the problems that exist.
“A lot of us don’t even realize just the significance or the extent of the problem,” she said.
About three years ago, a police officer was dedicated to domestic violence, and Woods’s caseload doubled in three months because all the files were being reviewed and all the referrals were coming, she explained. She now phones every single person, whether or not there are charges.
A second police office was added a year ago, and they are now also doing sexual assault reviews, so McKinnon’s caseload has doubled, noted Woods.
“We certainly do have to take our hats off to Inspector (Tom) Gray for initiating the move to have two officers dedicated to this,” said Mayor Greg Phelps. “Tom has been very progressive in a lot of the things he’s introduced in the Valley here, and certainly he’ll be missed for his compassion.”
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Community Based Victim Services
1415 Cliffe Ave., Courtenay
• Sexual violence
250-338-7575 ext. 224
• Domestic violence
250-338-7575 ext. 226