By LeRae Haynes
With domestic violence statistics remaining high in Williams Lake, one program receiving positive feedback from participants is ‘Circle of Strength’, a Community Policing prevention program focused on low-level domestic violence.
(The Community Policing office houses programs like Circle of Strength.)
Program director Jim World said that Circle of Strength is an alternative to the standard court process. “We are attempting to help the community with the issue of low-level domestic violence—pushing and shoving,” he said. “In most communities where there is an incident, the RCMP are ‘handcuffed’ because charges are not often laid.”
He explained that it begins with an incident where RCMP attend the scene, and where the assaultive person may be taken away. “Being part of Circle of Strength is a matter of choice for the clients. If Crown thinks that this is an appropriate file for us, they give both clients a brochure for our program and ask if they’re interested. If the clients say ‘yes’ the file comes our way, and the court system is put ‘on hold.’
“In our first three files, the victims were men,” he said. “The offender has to go through a risk assessment by Crown before the names go to ‘K’ file, which includes input and expertise from groups like Victims Services, Ministry of Children and Families, Probation and the RCMP and then it goes to the Circle of Strength advisory board. If the file passes that level, as a facilitator I meet with the client for a ‘suitability’ interview to explain the process.
“We ask hard questions. We find out whether the clients think Circle of Strength is suitable for them. If they pass that, we sit down together with their support people—family and friends---and make it clear to everyone what we are able to do for the client,” he continued. “We address the concerns of the group—they know him better than we do.”
He said that the support people in the group are generally very relieved that something is being done. “We meet every month or so and the mentors phone the clients every week to meet for coffee and find out how things are going,” he stated.
Another element available for the client is someone identified by the couple as a ‘safety monitor’---someone that they both know, trust and see regularly, and who stays in touch with the mentor.
He said that Elizabeth Hutchinson from Victims Services was very instrumental in getting the program started, which has been in place since 2008. “During the first year we just met and talked once a month. We had a risk assessment seminar and one group of people looked at a possible process for Circle of Strength: if we were to do this, what would be involved?”
A community group was formed, with representatives from various groups and initiatives, including Jim, who worked with Restorative Justice.
“We needed to make sure that we addressed safety, suitability and support, and that specific processes were in place. Then we started with some training,” he explained. “We looked at various models, began drawing people in from various Ministries and continually refined our process, and suddenly thought: ‘We could do this.’”
He said that an advisory committee was formed, along with a small group of volunteers and a number of individuals who agreed to be mentors or facilitators. “By late spring of 2012 we felt that we could take our first case,” he stated.
“The case was referred to us that summer---referred by Crown and then to ‘K’ file. For the next eight months we worked with the two individuals in the file.”
In the Circle of Strength process, the facilitator arranges a monthly meeting with the two parties separately. “In our model, the two are never together—women work with women and men work with men. In the beginning, there is usually a no-contact order anyway.
“We don’t do reconciliation or counseling: we put these individuals together with local organizations that can help and support them,” he said.
“When we meet we sit in a circle that includes the mentor, the facilitator, the client and their ‘supports’, such as family members and friends.”
He said that there are services available for the victim, but for the assaultive person there was nothing available until now.
“We bring the resources of the community to bear to help the client. We’ll direct them towards Mental Health, drug and alcohol counseling or crises counseling, and we often direct women toward Women’s Contact Society,” he said.
“The facilitators and mentors all have awareness and training under their belt, and when we sit down with the clients, it’s a positive atmosphere.”
He said that feedback they have gotten from people is that the program is very helpful. “Hearing that there is support and help for them in their own community helps them feel that they belong,” he explained. “We let them know that you should expect that you can’t always solve all your problems by yourself, and that when you can’t there are people here to help you.”
He said that domestic assaults are an issue in every community, and that Circle of Strength clients in Williams Lake have ranged in age from late teens to early 60s.
Circle of Strength is looking to expand its volunteer base in the next few months. “I would like to see more men get involved—that would increase the number of files we’re able to take on. I consider it to be good work that we’re doing,” he added. “The whole idea is contributing to a healthy community.”
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