Abuse rate for Whistler women above average: report 

Study shows need for women's services

It's the stuff that keeps parents up at night - young women living, working and socializing in Whistler are especially vulnerable to sexual abuse, claims a just released report.

The Howe Sound Women's Centre (HSWC) released the report's data this week and it shows that some of Whistler's youthful and transient population is vulnerable to various forms of abuse.

Approximately 10 to 30 per cent of Whistler females have experienced physical abuse or assault, emotional abuse, threats, sexual abuse, harassment at work, gender discrimination, harassment in personal life, date rape and drink spiking according to the pubic survey conducted on-line from September to November of 2010. In all 110 women completed the survey.

"The prevalence of club culture in Whistler creates an environment conducive to date rape, drink spiking, and sexual exploitation, both for employees and patrons," reads a summary of the report's findings, which draws on statistics compiled by Public Safety and Solicitor General's office, as well as a HSWC survey.

The survey and ensuing report was circulated and compiled by the HSWC - a Squamish-based non-profit - as part of the groundwork being done in support of a Whistler-based facility.

Currently no such space is available to support women-specific services. The HSWC has been partnering with the Whistler Community Services Society to find a new space where the two organizations can expand and offer a wider - and steadier - array of services.

"We absolutely want to expand our hours for our children's counsellor, we also want to offer drop-in space so people can walk in and ask for support as needed," said Shannon Cooley Herdman of the HSWC. "And a drop-in space isn't specifically for women in crisis, we want it to be for community-building, we think we have a lot to offer in terms of supporting women in their personal growth as well."

Currently, the HSWC provides 9.5 hours per week of free counselling services to children who witness abuse in Whistler. Around a dozen children are currently in the program, and another 15 to 20 are on the waitlist. A new facility would allow the centre to bring in a counsellor on a more regular basis and provide better access to the service.

"I think the more telling piece is the fact that we have a large waitlist for children who witness abuse," said Herdman, adding that while families with resources may seek private counselling, police intervention in a domestic dispute requires the involvement of the Ministry of Child and Family Development, which may insist on the family seeking extra support.

The HSWC formed a committee to investigate the feasibility of establishing a Women's Centre in Whistler in 2009 after becoming aware of the number of women in need of such services in Whistler and the northern corridor (Pemberton and beyond).

To shift the information they were receiving from anecdotal to hard data, they began querying women in Whistler about the types of services they would like to see in the community and what forms of violence against women are prevalent.

The results showed that women living in Whistler are experiencing emotional, physical and sexual abuse at problematic levels and that drink spiking and date rape are issues of particular concern. "In a report (British Columbia Policing Jurisdiction Crime Trends 2000 to 2009) the average number of (reported) sexual offenses in the Sea-to-Sky Corridor was 53.4 per year. In contrast, the average over the same time frame in North and West Vancouver was 35.3 crimes, and the average in Richmond was 62.7," stated the report.

"Given the discrepancies in population size, the per capita rates are much, much higher in the Corridor (e.g., 172 per 100,000 individuals in the Corridor, compared to 40.5 per 100,000 in North and West Vancouver and 35.8 per 100,000 in Richmond). Looking only at Whistler, 97 sexual offenses are reported per 100,000."

National data shows that women who are able to seek support after these incidents - usually through a women's centre - are able to recover faster and in turn contribute positively to the community.

"It's a pretty diverse demographic in Whistler - yes there is a portion that is quite affluent but there is also the service sector and the people who come to Whistler to work in the service sector and they aren't necessary as affluent," said Herdmann.

"We would like to see women have a place where they can get emotional support and get the goods on what their rights are, where the services are. If women can meet someone who is kind and thoughtful shortly after a difficult incident their own recovery is that much faster and more complete so getting sensitive care to women in a timely manner is important."




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