A previous version of this story included the line: “She [Elder] pointed to the GNWT’s move to introduce third-party reporting of domestic violence and abuse, which is contrary to the council’s recommendation to promote specialized services for survivors.” The proposed third-party reporting mechanism is actually for sexual violence only.

The Status of Women Council of the NWT is sounding the alarm on the “shadow pandemic” of family and intimate partner violence in the Northwest Territories.

Louise Elder, the council’s executive director, presented grave statistics on family violence to the Legislative Assembly’s Standing Committee on Social Development on April 25.

In 2019, the number of incidents of intimate partner violence reported to the police in the NWT was 10 times the national average. Of these reported incidents, 81 per cent of the victims were women. However, Elder said in the majority of cases, victims neither report incidents to the police nor seek out specialized services.

The Northwest Territories continues to have the second-highest rate of family violence in Canada, behind only Nunavut. Also in 2019, women and girls represented 68 per cent of family violence victims across all age groups in the NWT.

Elder said the request to present before the territorial government committee arose out of a recent board meeting of the council, “as we are concerned that gender-based violence has not received the attention and resources it needs.”

“Unfortunately, year after year, we continue to see increases in the rate of our family violence in our territory,” she said. “These high rates of family violence are sad, they are unacceptable and they are alarming.”

The NWT also has the second-highest rate of sexual violence in the country. Statistics Canada estimates that only six per cent of incidents of sexual violence are reported. Based on this statistic, Elder estimates there were more than 4,117 incidents in the NWT in 2020, or more than 11 incidents per day.

“This is a shocking number with significant traumatic impacts,” said Elder.

She reiterated many of the recommendations of the council’s recent We Hear You report on intimate partner violence: these include having shelters and safe homes in every community; improving access to second stage, public and affordable housing; and having more specialized services for survivors of intimate partner violence.

Amid the alarming data, Elder said the council often has difficulty getting its recommendations across to the GNWT.

“At times we really don’t feel heard,” she said.

She pointed to the GNWT’s move to introduce third-party reporting of sexual violence, which is contrary to the council’s recommendation to promote specialized services for survivors. Nationwide, only the NWT and Nunavut lack specialized services for survivors, despite having the highest rates of sexual violence, “so it makes absolutely no sense,” she said of the GNWT’s approach.

In addition to having difficulty swaying the territorial government, Elder said the Status of Women Council is lacking many of the key features of a proper GNWT department: council employees aren’t considered GNWT employees, nor do they receive a government pension, and she pointed out that the council still has to submit an application for funding for Family Violence Month, even though the council has been hosting the event for 22 years.

The organization’s core funding doesn’t meet its operational expenses, she said.

Given the council’s small size — just four staff members — it often has difficulty meeting the stringent accountability requirements of a public agency, she added.

“It is challenging to do the work to advance equality while also seeking funding and reporting on the projects funded, as well as meeting our public agency standards,” said Elder. “In ideal world, we would have more staff to advance equality: empowering women to pursue leadership; addressing gender-based violence; and to respond to emergent gender issues.”

Committee chair Caitlin Cleveland told Elder she should continue to push for the same priorities in order to successfully advocate for their interests.

“This is a task of repetition, because there are a lot of voices in the mix,” Cleveland said.

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