A VicPD officer wears a MooseHide pin in support of the fight against violence against women and children. Officers recently were provided with a two day seminar on the subject. Tim Collins/Victoria News

Victoria police pay special attention to domestic violence

Workshop for officers and others shows how domestic abuse trauma impacts for a long time

The growing Moose Hide Campaign is working to raise awareness and encourage the prevention of domestic violence across Canada.

The issue was also the subject of an unrelated, but tangential, training course attended last week by Victoria law enforcement officers, psychiatrists, social workers and other professionals with a stake in the issue of domestic violence.

Victoria Women’s Transition House spokesperson Susan Howard praised the training, which included a presentation from clinical psychologist Lori Haskell.

“She provided us with information on the effect that the trauma of domestic violence has on the brain. It was very comprehensive,” Howard said.

Victoria Police Department Sgt. Kim Laidman is part of the Regional Domestic Violence Unit, the services of which are provided in conjunction with victim services workers and a social worker.

“This was very important to officers who have to deal with the victims of abuse, and really highlights the need for us to address the way we interact with victims,” she said.

“We used to interview victims and try to get them to tell their stories in chronological order – this happened and then this happened – like a story book. That’s not how a traumatized brain works and we need to be sensitive to that.”

One example given by Haskell during the training was that a victim of sexual assault may have disassociated themselves from the situation, to the point they may initially only be able to recall how many holes were in the ceiling tile they stared at during the assault.

Laidman confirmed that, in her experience, it can take a lot of time and patience to get all the details of a domestic violence situation.

“It can just be too painful for the victim to stay in that place, but we’ve learned that, when it comes to prosecution, it’s important to listen to those statements as well,” she said. “If a woman tells us there were 36 holes in the ceiling tile, we’ll go get that ceiling tile and have it ready to show the court to corroborate her memories.”

The Regional Domestic Violence Unit was created in 2007, in reaction to the Peter Lee Inquiry that looked into the tragic, multiple deaths that occurred in a family home on King George Terrace in Oak Bay.

The unit has three officers (a sergeant from VicPD and constables from Saanich police and the RCMP) assigned to the work. Laidman said cases are triaged from around the region and generally the team can only deal with about four per cent of the total domestic abuse cases reported. In Victoria, another six full-time officers are dedicated to domestic violence, while in Saanich there is one.

No other police forces in the CRD specifically dedicate staff to domestic violence, instead having those calls attended to by general duty officers, who receive domestic violence training.

It’s a situation Howard finds troubling, given the size of the problem.

“We serve more than 2,000 women in Victoria annually as well as operating our emergency shelter, an emergency program for children and youth, and a crisis line,” she said. “It’s time we all agree that this is not normal, and it’s not acceptable.”

Laidman estimated that 25 per cent of cases before the courts on the Island are related to domestic abuse and that 20 per cent of inmates at the Vancouver Island Regional Correctional Centre (Wilkinson Road jail) are there as a result of the same kind of offences.

Last week’s training was an excellent start, she added, and she hoped more sessions will be provided in the future.

editor@vicnews.com

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