Hay River residents donned purple ribbons last week to recognize Family Violence Awareness Week in the NWT, with several groups in town and on the Hay River Reserve participating in and hosting various activities.
“Everything is more about taking action,” said Kim Beaulieu, the victim services worker for K’atlodeeche First Nation (KFN). “It’s everyone’s responsibility to make it stop.”
Apart from marches on Oct. 1 – one in Hay River and one on the Hay River Reserve later in the day – there were information sessions and presentations put on by the Soaring Eagle Friendship Centre and the Hay River Metis Council. The theme, promoted by the Coalition Against Family Violence NWT, was to encourage all members of the community to take an active role in preventing abuse in families by speaking out if they suspect violence is occurring.
“It’s so important that the responsibility be shared by everyone in the community,” said Beaulieu. “It seems to be more commonplace now for people to speak openly about it, but there’s still a ways to go.”
Beaulieu likened the gradual growth of conversations about abuse to the ongoing reflections on the former residential school system. She said, as it becomes more socially acceptable to talk about difficult subjects both in public and within families, more people are choosing to do so.
“Things like abuse can be normalized,” she said. “So looking at how things were then and how they are now can be very instructive.”
The week devoted to awareness of family violence is meant to encourage those who have yet to speak out to do so.
Beaulieu said there are many factors that play a role in every individual case of abuse and contribute to it as a wider cultural phenomenon, including victims not coming forward, individuals being torn between intervening and not wanting to trespass on personal family matters, and entire communities turning away in denial and even potentially grudging acceptance as the behaviours become normalized.
“That’s what this week is all about,” she said. “Encouraging people – all people – to speak out if they suspect something.”
Originally from Fort Providence, Sarah Gargan, the new victim services outreach worker with KFN, said she can see the differences in communities that have tackled the issue head on and those that haven’t.
“For me, violence and abuse, it all has to do with the community,” she said. “Some communities are really working hard and working as a team to recognize the problem and acknowledge it’s there.”
Gargan also said one of the constants in all the communities in which she works is that when a tragedy occurs, Social Services, wellness workers and the RCMP are usually the only groups who get involved right away.
“The whole community needs to get involved,” she said. “The concern is out there, but people aren’t stepping up. Maybe it’s because they’re afraid. They don’t want to be judged or maybe lose their job. It could be for all kinds of reasons.”
Overall, both Beaulieu and Gargan saw the week of awareness as a chance to get organizations in Hay River which deal with family violence out into the public eye, as well as to encourage bystanders to speak out if they suspect abuse.
“I hope this will open the doors for victims to come forward,” Gargan said. “Because there is help out there.”
— Sarah Ladik