South Okanagan witnesses spike in violence against women

Agencies report the numbers of assaults against women have increased since the May long weekend

A sudden spike in assaults against women in the South Okanagan has community agencies on edge.

“The sudden increase and severity of these horrific acts of violence in our community has me very concerned,” said Maria Winser, victim support worker at the South Okanagan Victim Assistance Society.

According to Christine Schwarz, acting agency co-ordinator for SOVAS, during the week after the May long weekend there was an unusually high number of referrals for women who had been “brutally assaulted.”

“What is it about summer weekends in the Okanagan that encourages some men to choose to violate women’s safety, security, dignity and well-being in such horrendous ways?” questioned Schwarz. “Such actions are completely unacceptable, yet they occur weekly in the Okanagan through the summer. And those are the incidents that we are aware of.”

Schwarz said there is a number of contributing factors and many excuses. She said some people feel there is nothing wrong with violating a woman, and some use alcohol and drugs as an excuse to act out.

“One of my co-workers who has worked in the field for many, many years said she has never come across an abusive partner who was out of control during a violent act because never was there any damage to any of the things he values such as a flat-screen TV or motorbike or whatever. On the other hand, the things that do get broken belong to the woman being abused,” said Schwarz. “We blame the outburst on alcohol and drugs but these anecdotes suggest there is a certain amount of control by the abuser.”

Schwarz said some of the recent assaults were by strangers, others by their intimate partners.

“The harsh truth is such escalation in relationship violence is all too common,” said Eleanor Summer, executive director for the South Okanagan Women In Need Society. “If this is any indication of what the summer holds, then our community needs to be proactive in preventing any further violence against women.”

Last summer, a string of brutal assaults occurred on women in the South Okanagan, with four men charged with offences against women.

South Okanagan community agencies are asking if you know of someone experiencing abuse or violence, ask them how you can support them and tell them about services in the community that may be able to assist them. SOWINS provides an emergency shelter and outreach programs for women and their children who have experienced abuse. SOVAS provides victim support and counselling for women and men who have experienced abuse or violence.

If you know someone who is abusive or are concerned their behaviour may be hurting their partner, they can receive help through the Change for Good project. This is an initiative of the Violence in Relationships Committee who found that the May long weekend marks the beginning of a trend that sees at least one violent assault against a woman each weekend through to Labour Day in September.

The Change for Good pilot project offers services to men in Penticton, Oliver-Osoyoos, Keremeos and Princeton to take part in therapeutic groups or one-on-one counselling. These sessions are free, confidential and can be in small groups of 10.

Schwarz commended a partnership between Ending Violence Association of B.C. and the B.C. Lions football club for the project called Be More Than a Bystander. Part of this campaign involved B.C. Lions players promoting the message that it is cool to respect women and girls and important to speak up if others do not show respect.

“If we all take responsibility to make our community safe, this summer can be a good one for everyone,” said Schwarz.