Saskatoon man says trying to help domestic violence victim revealed gaps in system

·2 min read

Aaron Genest says helping his neighbour leave her abusive husband was an eye-opening experience.

Genest said he was approached by his neighbour about a year and a half ago. She told him she was ready to flee her husband, Genest said.

However, after contacting numerous women's shelters, they were told there were no free spaces, he said.

"The gaps are atrocious," Genest said.

"We had to pay for and find a hotel room for her because there were no shelters available."

The situation was made even more complicated by the woman having recently moved to Canada and not speaking English well.

"I was frankly shocked that there were numerous points at which if there hadn't been really solid community support ... that she would have not been able to leave," he said.

"There isn't a single point here where it's gone smoothly."

Jo-Anne Dusel, Executive Director of the Provincial Association of Transition Houses and Services of Saskatchewan, said she's heard similar story for years.

"It's unfortunately a very familiar story,"said Dusel.

"These are all things that we try quite frequently to bring to the attention of government and to the general public."

Dusel and others are advocating for a provincial action plan to deal with intimate partner and family violence.

She said there has been good legislation passed recently in Saskatchewan, but that this is the only province to not have an overarching plan in place, despite having high rates of domestic violence.

According to a CBC report, women and children fleeing domestic abuse were turned away from Saskatchewan shelters more than 600 times in November 2019.

"You need to have the services in place and you also need to do it in a co-ordinated fashion," Dusel said.

Dusel said the province needs to have more second-stage shelters, where people can stay short-term after they leave an emergency shelter.

While the province has committed to starting an awareness campaign for people who need help escaping violent situations, Dusel said it's not helpful if there are no supports available for them once they leave.

"The shelters are full," she said.

"It's going to create a situation that's even more frustrating and dangerous."

Genest said his neighbour and her family are doing better now, although there have been complications.

Genest said that after he gave a statement to police during a criminal investigation, his male neighbour read it and began threatening Genest with violence if he wasn't a good neighbour.

"Our kids don't go outside the front anymore and we don't park in the front because we don't want to encounter him," he said.

"It's not pleasant. But frankly, it's you know, it's been a lot less pleasant for the woman who has had to flee with her family."