Women in Alberta more at risk of being murdered by their partners, data shows

Nearly two thirds of women accessing shelters in Alberta to escape violent partners are at a "severe" or "extreme" risk of being murdered, the highest risk level in eight years, according to the Alberta Council of Women's Shelters.

"We've been tracking this now since the early 2000s, but we've really with the last eight years we've just seen pretty much a steady increase in the level of severity of abuse," says executive director Jan Reimer. "Something has to change."

Annual numbers released Wednesday show an increasing severity of violence reported to shelters by women seeking admission.

Any woman being admitted to shelters is asked to complete a questionnaire — termed a danger assessment tool — aimed at determining her risk of being killed by her partner.  

"When you look at the questions that are asked, two big ones are really: Have [you] been threatened with a gun? Has he threatened to kill you? Has he tried to choke you? We're seeing that strangulation become more prevalent."

Reimer said she isn't sure why strangulation is more prevalent but it may have to do with its more frequent presence in pornographic material. 

Other data released Wednesday show the province has one of the highest rates of domestic violence in the country.

The numbers show that while 10,128 women, children and seniors found shelter in 2018-19, more than twice as many, 23,247 women and children, were turned away due to a lack of capacity, a 38-per-cent increase over 2017-18.

"Alberta has grown over the years but due to past government policies women's shelters weren't being built or refurbished," Reimer said. 

"You can't have a growing population and then not respond to that with the services that are needed."

The tragedy is that statistics prove the transformative impact of shelters, as 96 per cent of women and seniors did not return to their abusers after a stay in the shelter, Reimer said.