Eastern Ontario hosts pilot project to curb gender-based and intimate partner violence

Left to right: Brenda Dhillon, Genvis; Lillian Murdock, Kingston Police; Deirdre Reddick, Resolve Counseling and Kingston Anti-Violence Advisory Council; Leigh Martins, Kingston Interval House; Paula Laughlin, Victims Services Kingston & Frontenac; and Wendy Stephen, Kingston City Councillor. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell/Kingstonist.

A gathering in Kingston to celebrate the release of a new app was hopeful — yet also sobering in terms of the level of violence occurring behind the region’s closed doors.

The Safe With Milli pilot project launch event, hosted at Queen’s University by tech company Genvis on Thursday, May 2, 2024, featured a panel discussion on the need for closer collaboration and data sharing to improve the outcomes for those affected by Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) and Gender-Based Violence (GBV). Attendees included victim services, police, government leaders, and other regional support service providers.

After a brief introduction to the capabilities of the Milli app and its partner software, Kudo, Brenda Dhillon, Genvis’s representative for Canada, led a panel discussion on the prevalence of these kinds of violence in the region. The panellists were Wendy Stephen, Kingston City Councillors; Lillian Murdock, acting Deputy Chief, Kingston Police; Brad Birt, COO, Genvis; Paula Laughlin, Executive Director of Victims Services Kingston & Frontenac; Deirdre Reddick, counsellor at Resolve Counselling and chair of the Kingston Anti-Violence Advisory Council; and  Leigh Martins, training and education coordinator, Kingston Interval House.

Deirdre Reddick of Resolve Counseling and the Kingston Anti-Violence Advisory Council. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell/Kingstonist.

According to Victim Services Ontario, 80 per cent of the people they support are affected by IPV/GBV. The panel addressed the challenges and complexities people experiencing this type of harm face when accessing and receiving support.

Paula Laughlin of Victims Services explained that Victim Services does extensive needs assessments with each individual, but “a lot of the gaps that we experience are first and foremost to do with geography.” Not every small town has services available; thus access to phone, internet, and transportation might be essential to getting help. However, this is a complex problem because of the affordability of those items and perhaps more so the isolation created by the perpetrator of the violence, which was compared by various speakers to a hostage situation.

“So putting yourself at additional risk, particularly if you’re living with a perpetrator, is a pivotal concern,” Laughlin explained.

Deirdre Reddick of Resolve Counseling and the Kingston Anti-Violence Advisory Council added, “A lot of times for survivors, it’s having to not only figure out what services you need but knowing what you need to take with [you]… And then also having to repeat your story constantly [with each new service provider a victim encounters] is frustrating and re-traumatizing.”

Leigh Martins of Kingston Interval House echoed this, emphasizing the complexity of everything victims are trying to navigate, “even if they’ve already left the [abusive] situation… It just doesn’t work for a lot of survivors. [The system as it exists] is not focused on supporting them.”

One of the features of the Milli App that the service providers liked was having a safe place to document information — because often details about violence are not something victims can safely document. Milli not only provides space to document information about what has happened to the victim but also provides a safe cloud-based location for important things someone seeking help might need, such as banking information, passports, kids’ health cards, and more.

“Those are all different pieces that you’re not thinking about when you’re in that whole process of dealing with medical situations… violent situations… because it’s like living in a hostage situation, right? So you’re living from moment to moment in a survival situation, and… you’re not quite sure where you’re going to be heading [when you escape],” Martins explained.

Acting Deputy Police Chief Lillian Murdock added that when police are engaged with a victim, that person is “obviously in a very heightened state of crisis. And they receive a lot of information from the frontline officers… in regards to the judicial process… bail hearings and other agencies within our community where they can access information. It’s just overwhelming for someone to take in all that information at that stage.”

Leigh Martins of Kingston Interval House (left) speaks while Paula Laughlin of Victims Services (right) listens. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell/Kingstonist.

Because of this, Murdock said, the police have been working very collaboratively with other agencies “to try to break down some of those silos. And we have a great working relationship with all the agencies here today and those that are up here on the panel. But really, the police [often have to] address victims’ needs without that collaboration,” and Milli could help with that.

The next topic was how data collection could be improved with the new software. Murdock shared some shocking statistics: “In this city, we’re sitting at around 133,000 individuals [who are victims]. We have 211 sworn officers with Kingston Police and 62 civilian staff members, and we’re responding to four occurrences of intimate partner violence every day.”

“It’s very important that we all recognize that these are not just numbers. These individuals in our community suffer silently, behind closed doors… They are our friends or co-workers, neighbours, and loved ones.”

Lillian Murdock, acting Deputy Chief, Kingston Police. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell/Kingstonist.

She said the police have recently implemented training for frontline officers who have not yet received an enhanced form of intimate partner violence training. “We had a goal of training 50 of our frontline officers, and we managed to train 65. So as a result of funding and collaboration with our partners here today, we have almost 100 percent of our frontline officers with enhanced training in intimate partner violence.”

Later, Councillor Stephen added a political element to the conversation, discussing the important role government has in recognizing and taking seriously the problems of IPV and GBV.

“You’re all familiar with what happened in Renfrew County and the coroner’s inquest that came out of that,” Stephen said to the knowledgeable crowd, referring to the Tuesday, Jun. 28, 2022, jury recommendations from the inquest into the deaths of Carol Culleton, Anastasia Kuzyk, and Nathalie Warmerdam.

The three women were murdered in a 2015 rampage by Basil Borutski, who was the former partner of all three women. That case became a flashpoint in the fight against domestic violence in Canada.

“In total, 86 recommendations for change were made, speaking to oversight and accountability, system approaches, collaboration and communication, funding, education and training measures addressing perpetrators of intimate partner violence, intervention and safety,” Stephen noted. “The first [recommendation] was for the province of Ontario to declare intimate partner violence as an epidemic. I’m sure you recall as well probably being horrified when we saw that the Ontario government at that time instead said no.”

“So from there, in municipalities across Ontario, organizations like [Kingston Anti-Violence Advisory Council] were working together with city councils to pass resolutions declaring intimate partner violence and gender-based violence an epidemic in different cities across the province.” Over 95 of 144 cities and municipalities have done so.

Stephen went on, “Excitingly, earlier this month [provincial New Democratic Party leader] Marit Stiles, and the NDP as the official opposition,… brought a bill… to declare intimate partner violence an epidemic. And this time, the government didn’t say no. They didn’t say yes, but… they have sent this bill now to the justice policy committee.”

“When it goes to a committee… that means they will travel to different places in Ontario and host meetings” — and when that occurs in the Kingston region, Stephen promised she would share information and “pack that room.”

She also pointed out, “There is a team working [to ensure that the IPV/GBV epidemic] is now being worked into our community safety and well-being plan. It is becoming a part of the fabric of our community, a part of the policy that drives the City and how we work with others.”

One recurring theme was having a ‘one stop shop’ for victims, with all the important offices and services working together under the same roof to provide wraparound care and reduce the aforementioned barriers. For now, Milli and Kudo are a virtual version of the one stop shop.

The event gathered service providers from across eastern Ontario to learn from each other and talk about ways they could use the new technology to improve the lives of victims. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell/Kingstonist.

According to Genvis, a woman or girl in Canada dies as a result of IPV and GBV every 48 hours, and 44 per cent of women report experiencing some form of psychological, physical, or sexual violence by an intimate partner in their lifetimes. Spousal violence alone costs Canada $7.4-billion per year, with victims impacted disproportionately. 

Experts emphasize the urgent need for improved data sharing, reporting, and collaboration to tackle this complex problem. Responsible agencies and service providers lack modern, fit-for-purpose tech tools to share information and collaborate with impacted women, support organizations, and the government, and Genvis has chosen eastern Ontario to show that its solutions will help.

Organizations involved in serving people impacted by IPV and GBV can learn more about Milli and Kudo by contacting Genvis at [email protected].

For more information about Genvis and the Safe With Milli IPV and GBV pilot, please contact Brenda Dhillon at [email protected] or 778-889-2305.

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