Manitoba boosts supports for domestic violence victims

Manitoba has strengthened its supports for victims of domestic violence, to ensure they get help well before matters appear in the courts.

“Victims seeking justice often face additional challenges as they attempt to navigate the courts system, which we know can be an overwhelming experience,” Justice Minister Cliff Cullen said in a news release.

The Domestic Violence Support Service has been expanded to help victims whose current or former partners are involved in restorative justice proceedings.

“Restorative justice seeks to repair harm, address the circumstances that contributed to the crime and support and empower victims and perpetrators of violence to self-determine their healing goals,” the provincial news release says.

Two restorative justice workers who provide victim-focused, one-on-one support will be assigned to intimate partner violence diversion files in Winnipeg.

Group programming will also be available, including a new online workshop on healthy relationships launching this month.

The workshop will support victims whose matters are proceeding through restorative justice and cover topics such as the impacts of trauma, how to stay safe and self-care.

This is an important shift in an attempt to break the cycle of violence, Cullen said.

Violence during the height of the spring COVID-19 lockdown in Canada was more severe and more frequent, according to a national survey of those who worked with sexual assault and domestic violence survivors during the pandemic.

Almost as soon as the pandemic began, agencies helping survivors of domestic violence warned that victims would suffer as a result of quarantine rules, and the survey of 376 staff and volunteers working at transition houses, shelters, immigration centres and other social agencies coast-to-coast suggests those fears were well-founded.

“We understand that COVID-19 brings higher tensions for families and we’re so pleased that our government is able to provide services that can help ensure safety and wellness for survivors,” Cathy Cox, minister responsible for the status of women, said in Friday’s news release.

Cullen also spoke about the Family Resolution Service, which launched in June to provide trauma-informed supports to families going through separation and divorce.

The service includes family guides and domestic violence specialists who provide support and referrals to families. The specialists work with mediators who can intervene early in a family’s breakdown to support healthier behaviours, the government news release says.

They also provide ongoing safety planning to victims.

The program is integrated with Manitoba Justice’s Victim Services branch to co-ordinate services across court systems and beyond the conclusion of legal matters.

Cullen also announced the protection order designate training program, which enables staff in organizations across Manitoba to help victims of domestic violence apply to the courts for protection orders, will be available online later this month.

“We know that intimate partner violence is a growing issue, and it is one that our government takes very seriously,” he said. “These and other initiatives will continue to increase supports and help keep Manitobans safe.”

Anyone affected by family and intimate partner violence can call a confidential 24/7 toll-free crisis line, 1-877-977-0007, staffed by shelters across the province. Texting options are also available at 204-792-5302 or 204-805-6682.

In an emergency, dial 911 or call the local police service.

More information and links are available on the government’s website.