Regina conference to address domestic violence in the workplace

Jo-Anne Dusel tries not to get frustrated that 30 years after the Provincial Association of Transition Houses and Services of Saskatchewan was founded, the province has an unenviable violence against women record.

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Published on: May 16, 2016 | Last Updated: May 16, 2016 6:00 AM CST

Saskatchewan has the highest rate of sexual assault, and intimate partner violence and homicide of the provinces.

“We’re not very proud of that and we feel there’s a lot of work to be done,” said Dusel, PATHS’ provincial co-ordinator.

Part of that work is engaging people outside of PATHS’ inner circle of agencies. That’s why the theme of its conference being held Tuesday and Wednesday in Regina is “violence is everyone’s business,” and the invitation has been extended to the public, employers and unions.

“You can make change to cultural norms, societal norms through awareness, education and legislation,” said Dusel, stressing the importance of getting men involved.

One change PATHS would like to see is the provincial government adding a specific reference to partner violence in its occupational health and safety legislation.

The organization is working on a three-year project addressing the effects of partner violence in the workplace “to develop a program to shift the culture in Saskatchewan so that there’s a greater recognition not only of the issue itself of intimate partner violence but the way it can affect workers on the job,” said Dusel.

Western University’s Barb MacQuarrie, one of the conference’s keynote speakers, co-ordinated Canada’s first national study on this topic. She will be speaking about the importance of recognizing and responding to domestic violence in the workplace. It can, for instance, have a “surprisingly strong impact on workplace safety,” as well as on productivity and coworkers, she said.

“I think that we’re at the very beginning of recognizing how serious these impacts are, how frequent they are, and coming to terms with the fact that we do have to add this to our suite of workplace training,” she said.

MacQuarrie sees a need for the occupational health and safety changes Dusel is pushing for, as well as for legislation granting leave from work for domestic violence victims.

The conference’s other keynote speaker will address violence in one particular form of work: Prostitution.

Cherry Smiley of Montreal, with Indigenous Women Against the Sex Industry, will present her views on how the prostitution of Indigenous women constitutes a form of colonial violence.

Smiley wants to dissect and undo the idea that prostitution is empowering or a viable option for women. Instead, she argues that women are driven to sex work as a result of inequality and lack of options. Plus, the act itself, she said, can be seen as a form of violence or “paid rape.”

While Smiley praised recent legislative changes in Canada that further target pimps and johns, she wants to see the federal government move toward decriminalizing the prostitutes themselves.

She also would like a stronger emphasis on preventative and exit services, and public education. More viable options need to be created for women outside the sex industry, she added.

The PATHS conference has two full days of sessions planned, addressing myriad topics from domestic homicide to animal safekeeping to assault on immigrant and refugee women.

Dusel expects about 100 participants.