We can’t stop domestic violence if we don’t all speak up.
In March 2015, the Province of BC launched #saysomething - a social media campaign encouraging people to spread the word about domestic violence through the power of social media. Surrey Fire Chief Len Garis talks about the importance of “speaking up” and the role of firefighters in the prevention of domestic violence:
The new domestic violence social media campaign is a crucial step toward addressing violence in our society. Like any initiative or movement, its ultimate success depends on the full participation of everyone in society, from citizens to service providers and first responders. Domestic violence is not just a woman's issue, it is everyone's issue and we all have a role to play in prevention. In order to make meaningful progress towards our goal of a Violence Free BC, we will need to partner in new and innovative ways with various levels of government, the private sector, business, industry, Aboriginal groups, nongovernmental organizations and concerned British Columbians.
As a key partner in anti-violence, I wish to share some of the important programs and initiatives that Surrey Fire Service has undertaken to ensure the safety of our community and prevent domestic violence.
Scope, Nature, and Impact of Domestic Violence in BC
Domestic violence affects approximately one-third of women in their lifetime (Statistics Canada, 2009). Research shows that between one-fifth to one-third of domestic violence offenders re-offend, many within six months of their initial assault (McCormick, Cohen, and Plecas, 2011). Due to recurring patterns of re-offending, we are seeing a continuing cycle of abuse with tragic consequences for victims, especially women and children from all backgrounds.
The official statistics are concerning: There were more than 12,300 police-reported victims of intimate partner violence in BC in 2013. But fewer than 1 in 4 victims report the crime to the police. Clearly, the problem continues to be underreported and the silence continues.
The number of Intimate Partner Violence (IPV)-related homicides in BC has varied over the past decade from a high of 23 in 2008 to a low of seven in 2013. According to the BC Coroners Service, the average yearly number is 13.9. Females accounted for 74 per cent of victims of IPV-related homicides, a disturbing statistic. Throughout the time period in BC about three-quarters of the victims are female.
The Fraser Region, which includes Surrey, experienced a total of 51 IPV-related homicides from 2004 to 2014, well above the average of 30.6. From 2010 to 2014, Surrey Fire Service responded to 3,668 first responder calls for assaults/sexual assaults. The numbers appear evenly distributed across each year in Surrey. Due to the severity of these incidents, and when Surrey Fire began tracking this benchmark in 2011, approximately 46 per cent of incidents required fire crews to wait for police before entering the scene.
Building Capacity of Front-Line Service Providers
BC has been working to expand its approach to training in order to ensure that service providers and first responders have the knowledge, skills and tools they need to effectively prevent, recognize and respond to violence against women.
It's a problem that has generally been considered to be beyond the purview of fire crews. But more and more, fire services in BC are realizing they can add value to the service they provide to their communities by simply observing and reporting domestic violence to the police. For example, HomeSafe – an award-winning Surrey fire safety and prevention program – also trains firefighters to identify the signs of senior and child abuse or neglect, and as of 2010, human trafficking.
Firefighters are skilled and credible observers, and with the proper level of training, can help identify and refer cases of abuse to the authorities. In effect, they are the eyes and ears of the community linking up with other agencies to address our cities social needs. Firefighters are an integral part of the public safety network. By increasing its focus on community outreach and citizen engagement, firefighters are well-positioned to make a difference in preventing domestic violence and ensuring the safety of our communities. We are committed to continuing this important work.
We can't stop domestic violence if we don't all speak up. The fire services of Surrey is doing its part to add their voice to this important issue by engaging the community in their daily routines, and reporting cases of domestic violence to the proper authorities. Together, we all have a role to play in prevention and ensuring the safety of our communities.
In closing, we must all encourage and participate in dialogue and conversation around domestic violence, acknowledging that this is a very difficult topic, but one that needs to be brought out into the open. I'm Len Garis, and I vow to say something and help make B.C. a safer place. Please share this campaign and help make a difference to the people in your lives.”