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Thirty-three years of recommendations to end violence against women

Violence against women continues to be a significant problem in Canada. While rates of domestic violence were falling a decade or so ago, a report released by Statistics Canada shows that, as of 2004, rates "flat lined."

"If we don't take immediate action, more women and children are going to die," said Gisela Ruebsaat, legal analyst for The Ending Violence Association of BC (EVA BC).

This National Victims of Crime Awareness Week, EVA BC has published a list of recommendations to stop violence against women in British Columbia, based on reports dating back to 1979, which are still needed today.

"We know what needs to be done and it's time to take action," Ruebsaat said.

According to a 2009 Statscan report, on average a woman is killed by her intimate partner every six days and according to The Native Women's Association of Canada (NWAC), there were 582 known cases of missing or murdered Aboriginal women in Canada as of 2010.

In 2004, 427,000 women over the age of 15 reported they had been sexually assaulted. That only includes reported violence -- statistics show that women are now less likely to report incidences of violence to the police.

Ruebsaat said: "For all of these types of crimes there's significant underreporting, and that's particularly the case when the woman is Aboriginal or from a different cultural community. We need to do everything we can to remove barriers making it difficult for women to report."

EVA BC's report shows the same needs appearing again and again over the past 33 years, such as the need for services for marginalized women, access to specialized support for women who experience violence, and offender accountability.

As a result of a report released last month by B.C.'s Representative for Children and Youth Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond which looked at the Schoenborn killings and made some "hard-hitting recommendations," Ruebsaat says the B.C. Ministry of Children and Family Development has committed to creating an action plan to address domestic violence and the issues identified in Turpel-Lafond's report.

In a news release, Turpel-Lafond stated that "gaps and shortcomings in the mental health system, and the lack of follow-up contributed to a failure to protect these vulnerable children and their struggling mother [from Allan Schoenborn]."

"Report after report has stated that one of the key factors to enhancing safety for women and children is ensuring that they have access to advocacy services with folks who are trained to help the women and their children to navigate the many different systems that are involved," said Ruebsaat. "In many of the tragedies we've seen, women were not able to access these services either because these services were not available in their community or there wasn't an appropriate referral made by police or Crown prosecutors," she added.

The report also points out that victim and advocacy services are especially needed for marginalized groups such as immigrant women, Aboriginal women, women with disabilities, and women living in rural and isolated communities.

Ruebsaat said the issue of "offender accountability" was significant, noting that often, protective conditions put in place in order to control the behaviour of an offender (for example, that he may not make contact with the woman he assaulted) are not enforced.

"Women are lulled into a false sense of security thinking they are safe. When there is a breach and action isn't taken, the offender gets it into his head that it's just a piece of paper and he doesn't have to take it seriously. Tragedies can occur."

The province updated the Violence Against Women In Relationships Policy in late 2010 which now includes a protocol for "highest risk cases." Ruebsaat sees this as a step in the right direction but adds: "Policies and laws will only protect women and children if you include with them resources and service providers who are trained and aware of those policies and the resources to appropriately and correctly implement those policies.

"A lot more need to be done -- this needs to be a priority for the government and not simply something that they respond to in the face of tragedy. There needs to be an ongoing sustained commitment and a commitment of greater resources to this issue."

Meghan Murphy is completing a practicum at The Tyee.

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