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U of C initiative aims to SHIFT towards an end to domestic violence

By Aymen Sherwani, November 16 2022

In a 2021-2022 fiscal year report from the Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter, it was found that one in two women will experience one incident of physical or sexualized violence and that 74 per cent of Albertans reported of personally knowing at least one woman who has been subject to domestic violence, with one woman being killed by her partner every six days. November marks Family Violence Prevention Month (FVPM) in Alberta and this year, the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Social Work is introducing a program to target this systemic problem. 

Lana Wells is an associate professor at the U of C and the Brenda Strafford Chair in the Prevention of Domestic Violence in the Faculty of Social Work. Her work surrounding SHIFT is a means to bolster social innovation surrounding ideas to solve social problems and keep those in need at the forefront of those solutions. 

“SHIFT: The Project to End Domestic Violence is a primary prevention research hub that’s nestled here at the Faculty of Social Work. The role has really been about trying to understand how we can go upstream to stop domestic and sexual violence before it happens,” said Wells, in an official U of C statement. “Our SHIFT-to-Learn learning platform…[is] a place where we’re building educational micro-learning opportunities for practitioners and policymakers to really advance their understanding and thinking about how to stop violence before it starts.”

The key question for researchers here is how exactly the rates of domestic violence can be lowered, particularly when there are a lot of cultural, equality-based and class-based nuances that must be factored into the equation. While the key is to focus on the initial signs before it’s too late, what must also be considered are the concessions and excuses that women make for abusive partners in an effort to retain a certain degree of security and societal expectations. 

It’s a hard truth knowing that it takes an average of seven attempts to leave a relationship where intimate partner violence (IPV) occurs. A large bulk of their motivations to stay rests on society’s expectation for women to “just stick it out” or to avoid ruining a “good man’s life,” should they consider filing police reports. It doesn’t make matters worse knowing that police-related domestic violence is an open secret in Canada, with 14 officers being charged with crimes related to IPV since 2012 in Nova Scotia alone. Six of them were members of the RCMP. It doesn’t help when judges presiding over assault cases in Alberta ask why the victim couldn’t just “keep her legs together” and get to keep their jobs. 

These initial signs exist and should not be taken lightly and it’s because the system does not support women when it’s too late. At this stage, SHIFT plans to take the policy route. 

“Policymakers, system leaders, practitioners [will] have the ability to adapt and change in real-time and, for us at SHIFT, we are really trying to support [them] to have good evidence and make good decisions to understand the problem,” said Wells. “To really have the ability to go upstream and understand the root causes of what’s causing domestic and sexual violence, so that there’s a shared understanding and a shared vision around preventing it from happening in the first place.” 

For more information on SHIFT, please visit preventdomesticviolence.ca. If you know someone who is being subject to domestic violence or are experiencing it yourself, contact the Domestic Abuse Response Team (DART) or the Family Violence Info Line at 310-1818.

This article is a part of our Voices section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet editorial board.

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