Vol. 80, No. 4Cover stories

Police officer speaks to people in a school gymnasium.

No more suffering in silence

Workshop helps community confront domestic violence

RCMP Cst. Ryan Harnum speaks about community resources and coping skills during a domestic-violence workshop held in Moose Lake, Man., earlier this year. Credit: Courtesy of Stephanie Harnum


Domestic violence, often fuelled by drug and alcohol abuse, can destroy lives. It's in communities everywhere and in Moose Lake, Man. — population 1,100 — RCMP Cst. Ryan Harnum decided to do something about it.

"It seems when there's a call for service involving domestic disputes, we're the ones putting Band-Aids on the problem," says Harnum, who's been working in the northwestern Manitoba community — located about 75 kilometres southeast of The Pas — for two years.

The former Newfoundland-based Pentecostal pastor, who also holds a master's degree in counselling, decided to organize a domestic-violence workshop where addictions issues would be a featured component. He says the majority of the detachment's domestic-violence calls can be traced to substance abuse.

"We want to get out in front of the problem and offer some information or resources to the community to find some way to help," he says. "And more importantly, I did not want to go in there and just hand out pamphlets."

Another important element was to reach out to community groups — such as Aurora House, a women's shelter, and the Cree Nation Tribal Health Centre Inc. — to participate in and help deliver sessions.

Confronting the problem

The inaugural workshop was held in April and 72 people attended the full-day event. It opened with a prayer and a smudging ceremony. Information sessions were then separately held for women and men, and focused on addictions and physical, emotional and sexual abuse.

Participants also discussed ways to establish and maintain positive relationships with service providers, police and other community members.

Peter Constant, a certified Indigenous addiction's specialist with the Cree Nation Tribal Health Centre, says the stigma attached to domestic violence often causes those who experience its effects to suffer in silence.

"The workshop was needed to bring more awareness about the impacts and the prevalence of domestic violence in our communities," says Constant "Sharing personal experiences gave the participants a real understanding of how domestic violence has impacted the lives of the people who shared their personal struggles."

During one session, Harnum spoke to participants about coping skills, such as knowing when to walk away from difficult situations and how to de-escalate confrontations.

"The Moose Lake workshop was an ideal format," says Dawna Pritchard, executive director of Aurora House, whose organization sent three employees to the workshop. "It was community-led and local resources were used, which demonstrated a collaborative partnership between law enforcement and support services."

Finding solutions

Harnum describes one couple who would frequently call the RCMP to come and settle arguments and violent confrontations because of one partner's drinking.

The constable says the couple participated in the workshop and, although the drinking continues, there is a glimmer of hope it may improve the pair's relationship.

In the weeks following the sessions, Harnum says he started to get calls from the pair as they tried to work through their issues.

"They've realized that they can't be arguing and fighting like this all the time. So their situation turns into a simple phone call where we chat, rather than me responding to a call for service. To me that's a win," says Harnum, who adds that he hopes to hold three to four workshops annually.

Pritchard adds it's also about making connections with the community.

"Every opportunity to connect in person helps build relationships — so even if they attended the workshop's sessions, but they're not a victim, the participant would feel more comfortable about referring a friend or family member to us," says Pritchard, adding her praise for the organizer.

"Cst. Harnum's work made a huge leap in re-establising a positive and constructive relationship between community members, support agencies and police services," she says.

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