Calgary women's shelter hoping search terms key to connecting abusive men to counselling help

·4 min read
Kim Ruse, CEO of the Calgary Women's Emergency Shelter, says there's been a surge in online search terms such as 'How do I kill my partner?' and 'How do I hurt my partner without anyone knowing?' (Africa Studio/Shutterstock - image credit)
Kim Ruse, CEO of the Calgary Women's Emergency Shelter, says there's been a surge in online search terms such as 'How do I kill my partner?' and 'How do I hurt my partner without anyone knowing?' (Africa Studio/Shutterstock - image credit)

A Calgary organization focused on helping victims of domestic abuse and intimate-partner violence is expanding its reach in the hope of meeting the abusers where many of them live: online.

For years, the Calgary Women's Emergency Shelter has been providing free counselling to male perpetrators of domestic abuse and intimate partner violence. But if those men did a Google search to find resources, many used terms that would not always lead to helpful support.

Submitted by Kim Ruse/Calgary Women's Emergency Shelter
Submitted by Kim Ruse/Calgary Women's Emergency Shelter

That's what the organization's CEO is hoping to address with new web resources that go live later this week.

"We know that the language men use is very different than women and they will look online first before they ever pick up a crisis line number and call somebody," Kim Ruse told the Calgary Eyeopener.

"We came up with this idea of having a digital platform that is connected to a crisis line."

Her shelter's existing program is already popular with abusers looking to change their behaviour. She says about 500 people access the counselling each year, and there's currently a wait list of about 100.

But more web support has been a goal for a while now.

"We have this digital resource, which has information, supports, ways to connect with the community, and to learn about ways to improve your emotional and relational health. When you use the term 'healthy relationships,' men think they are already in a healthy relationship, so that's not something they would look for," she said.

"They might look for anger management or loneliness and depression. It's a subtle difference."

'How do I kill my partner?'

Ruse says research has revealed some unsettling results in what men Google, in part, as a result of the COVID pandemic.

"There's been a surge in some of the search terms that are really frightening, in the last couple of years. Things like 'How do I kill my partner?' or 'How do I hurt my partner without anyone knowing?'" she said.

"We have seen surges in those search terms anywhere from 10 to 40 per cent since the pandemic started."

Women victims, on the other hand, use searches along the lines of 'How do I leave safely?'

Toxic masculinity

And differences between the sexes go well beyond Google searches, a social work professor says.

"The single biggest challenge is the continuing toxic masculinity stereotypes, which make it hard for men to acknowledge they are in trouble. So reaching out is a difficult thing to do," Peter Choate at Mount Royal University told CBC News in an interview.

His research background is in family violence, child welfare and family court.

Choate says our cultural reaction to men crying is a good example of challenges to overcome.

"That's part of saying, 'you are not entitled to show emotions as a man.' That's toxic masculinity. You are supposed to be tough, be able to manage everything, to get your way through it. You are supposed to be dominant and in control," Choate said.

Submitted by Peter Choate/April Choate
Submitted by Peter Choate/April Choate

"Those are all myths that make it so tough for a man to be able to say, 'I need help.'"

But there's another dangerous dimension to toxic masculinity.

"There are a small number of occasions where men are also victims. They face the same barrier. Because of toxic masculinity, you are not allowed to say, 'I am in trouble in a relationship where I am being victimized' — because tough men don't get victimized, right?" Choate said.

"The vast majority of domestic violence cases involve men as perpetrators, but there are cases where men are also victims."

So Choate is optimistic about fresh web resources, such as that offered by the Calgary Women's Emergency Shelter.

"They will find blog posts, articles, a podcast is coming, a connection to the crisis line if needed," Ruse said.

"In that moment when you are looking for help, that's when you are more likely to reach out and actually call someone. Men told us that loud and clear. We hear, 'I wish I had this information sooner, or when I was in school. I wish I had reached out in a way that I could have saved my relationship.'"

The new website, menand.ca, includes sections covering health, relationships, masculinity, community, and others. It goes live on Friday.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener

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