November is Family Violence Prevention Month, and a local team of dedicated professionals is working to confront the stigma of family abuse.
The Wheatland Crisis Society (WCS) has provided a residential shelter for those facing domestic violence, family abuse or crisis in Strathmore and surrounding communities for 27 years. But the organization also provides an outreach program for adults and children who have experienced family violence, as well as a public education program to provide information about the impacts of abuse.
“We support families in need of safety, shelter, education, outreach, advocacy and referral – we do all of those things,” said Carly Cole, WCS team lead.
The organization continues to offer these services despite COVID-19. “We’re open, we’re operational and our shelter is adhering to protocols. We are a safe place for people, and we will continue to be, no matter what happens with the pandemic.”
The shelter has been less busy during the pandemic, but this is not a sign that less family violence is occuring, said Cole. “We know that doesn’t mean this issue is going away. We’re concerned that the number of shelter stays might be lowered because people are afraid to come here during the pandemic.”
She added WCS has seen an alarming trend that people accessing shelters during the pandemic seem to have a higher-level risk than in the past.
To shed light on family violence, WCS is running the Purple Ribbon Box Campaign for Family Violence Prevention Month, running from Nov. 20 to Dec. 10. Anyone wanting to raise awareness by wearing a purple ribbon can get one from a purple ribbon box hosted by local agencies and businesses. Donations are encouraged for them but not required.
“It’s a way to spread awareness (and) educate, (to) just kind of get the conversation going about family violence and make sure people know we’re here to help them,” said Cole.
The organization is also participating in a social media campaign called 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence beginning Nov. 25 and running until Dec. 10. Each day, something to read or listen will be shared to help people decide to help anyone experiencing gender-based violence.
Another campaign the organization has planned is its annual Red Rose Campaign, starting Dec. 3. Roses and cards will be delivered to over 100 businesses around town to get people discussing about violence. “What that campaign aims to do is honour all of the people within the province who lost their lives this year due to domestic violence or family violence,” explained Cole.
Anyone needing to access WCS services can do so safely, said Cole.
“We can work with people based on their circumstances to develop really comprehensive safety plans aligning with what’s going on in their lives,” she said.
For anyone needing to access WCS services, but who are unable to get to the shelter due to safety concerns, Cole recommends calling the organization but then deleting the call record in their phone afterwards. If that is not possible, connecting to the organization through a trusted friend is also an option.
Being non-judgmental is the best approach when talking to someone suspected of being a victim of family abuse or violence, said Cole, who recommends using “I statements,” such a “I’ve noticed this,” “I’m concerned about,” or “I care about you,” rather than “why statements” of asking questions about why things might be happening.
“It’s about being non-judgmental and being there just to support and listen to their stories,” said Cole.
Friends and family can support survivors of abuse both logistically and emotionally, said Rachel Dundas, psychologist and executive director and founder of Wheatland County Counselling. It is important to treat them no differently than before, continue to participate in shared activities together, and support them making healthy lifestyle choices, such as taking a walk together.
Counselling with a licensed professional can support survivors in processing their experiences, understanding the impact of their trauma and ideally assisting them in their adjustment, said Dundas.
Sean Feagan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Strathmore Times