Muslim Community Info Session on Domestic Violence, Elder Abuse and Hate Crimes
By Sana Siddiqui, Vancouver
Domestic Violence is a complex, tragic and underreported crime across all cultures and societies and unfortunately, the Muslim community is no exception. Recent studies have shown that Muslim women suffer from emotional, physical and financial abuse from their husbands and that physical violence occurs in at least 10% of Muslim families in America (Alkhateeb, 1999; Alkhateeb, 2010; Rianon and Sheldon, 2003). On June 26th 2010 the Vancouver Police, Family Services of Greater Vancouver and the Muslim community came together to discuss the programs and services available for victims of domestic violence and their families, elder abuse and hate crime. Around 35 Muslim community members attended this information session at Collingwood Neighbourhood House in Vancouver. Also present were support workers from MOSIAC and Vancouver and Lower Mainland Multicultural Family Services.
Imam Shujaath began the program by emphasizing the Islamic values of compassion, mercy, kindness, patience, restraint of anger and love towards humanity and particularly towards one’s family. The Imam stressed that contemporary social problems are as a result of failure to adhere to a proper Islamic way of life and that their solution lies in returning to the Quran and sunnah, increasing Islamic knowledge and controlling one’s emotions. He clearly stated that abusing family members is not only unIslamic and shameful, but it is the responsibility of those who know about it to confront the abusive behaviour and if necessary, to seek help from family, community and social services.
Next was a presentation about domestic violence from a Vancouver Police Detective and Family Services of Greater Vancouver Counsellor from the Domestic Violence Unit. They explained that they operate under a special partnership in which a police detective investigates, interviews and forms a case for charges to be laid or the case to be dropped. The decision to arrest the aggressor is made only if the police officer has reasonable and probable grounds to believe that an offense occurred and charges are laid upon recommendation by the Crown; these decisions are not in the hands of the victim.
The counsellor, on the other hand, supports the victim through her choices, provides her short term counselling and referrals to community resources that can help keep the victim and the victim’s family safe. She stressed that they work to find resources that are respectful and appropriate to cultural, religious, age and other factors to best support and serve the victim and do not press the victim to make certain choices that are against her preference. Since these victim services counsellors with the Vancouver police are employed by Family Services of Greater Vancouver and not the Vancouver Police, they can offer greater confidentiality to victims. Thus the police detective and counsellor work towards holding the offender accountable and keeping the victim safe in their own roles.
Most domestic cases are handled by general police officers, not the Domestic Violence Unit, which specializes in severe, reoccurring and high-risk cases only. Yet, despite the fact the Domestic Violence Unit only takes the most serious cases, they still handle about 3000-5000 cases a year. You can imagine how many cases are happening in Vancouver alone, let alone across Metro Vancouver, British Columbia and Canada.
A second presentation followed focusing on elder abuse—a newer unit within the Vancouver police comprising of one team of police detective and community counsellor modelled after the Domestic Violence Unit. This unit looks at physical, financial and sexual abuse of elders and neglect. It was truly sad to hear that the majority of their cases are of children or grandchildren abusing their elders. Cases are mainly referred by the Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee and Vancouver Coastal Health. In addition to investigating abuse and neglect, holding the offender accountable and protecting the elder, a long term goal of the unit is to bring the offender and victim back together over time and reunite them in a healthy and respectful relationship.
The final presentation was given by Inspector Mario Giardini, the new head of the Diversity and Aboriginal Policing Section of the Vancouver Police. Inspector Giardini explained that under the Criminal Code—hate crimes are not a separate charge but are a factor considered at the time of sentencing. These include criminal offenses committed against a person or property motivated by hate against an identifiable group (such as race, religion, place of origin) and fall into three categories—mischief/vandalism, assaults, uttering threats and hate propaganda. Thus the key factor is that not only did a criminal offense occur, but was it motivated by bias or hate against a specific group. In addition, there are other relevant offenses that could also be considered hate crimes such as advocating genocide and mischief at a place of worship. The Inspector urged the community to report all acts that may fall under these categories so that they can be brought to the attention of the police and action taken.
The event concluded with an opportunity to informally speak with the police members, community victim services workers and community members attending. Materials were available to further explain the services of MOSAIC, Vancouver & Lower Mainland Multicultural Family Services and other community organizations. I personally obtained the contact information of the Victim Services Manager from Family Services of Greater Vancouver and she expressed particular interest in attending a meeting of the local Muslim women’s groups to create programs and services specific to the needs of Muslim clients.
For more information:
VICTIMLINK: 1 800 563 0808
Provides immediate crisis support 24 hours a day 7 days a week. It is confidential, anonymous, multilingual and TTY.
Vancouver Police Department Domestic Violence Unit: 604 717 2653 and Victim Services 604 717 2737
Family Services of Greater Vancouver: 604 874 2938
Provides various victim and family support services http://www.fsgv.ca/
Vancouver & Lower Mainland Multicultural Family Support Services: 604 436 1025
Provides support in various languages http://www.vlmfss.ca/
MOSAIC: 604 254 9626
Provides support in various languages http://www.mosaicbc.com/