Andrea Silverstone, coordinator of Shalom Bayit at Jewish Family Service Calgary. (photo from Andrea Silverstone)
A study of domestic violence in Jewish communities in the Prairie provinces was recently completed.
“The study has been a desire of mine probably since the day we started,” said Andrea Silverstone, Shalom Bayit coordinator at Jewish Family Service Calgary, “because a lot of what we know about domestic violence in the Jewish community is based on anecdotal information, suppositions, copying what is in the non-Jewish community or research from other jurisdictions outside our own.
“We were doing a good job of addressing the needs of the clients who walked in the door, some of the prevention programs we had in the schools and the community … [but] it wasn’t research-based in the sense of understanding the scope of the issue across the Jewish communities in the Prairie provinces.”
Silverstone would have loved to do a Canada-wide study, but her supporter, Resolve, which is a tri-party research body conducting community-based action, has a set research mandate of focusing exclusively on the Prairie provinces: Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Alberta.
Over the years, Silverstone has done a lot of work with Resolve and has an extensive background in dealing with domestic violence in her capacity at Shalom Bayit, which addresses everything from bullying and harassment to child abuse, elder abuse and spousal abuse.
“There was a research study done in 2004 by Jewish Women International that was fairly comprehensive,” said Silverstone. “So, we reached out to them, asking to borrow the methodology of their study, which they allowed. We also thought it would be a good comparison.”
Silverstone and the Resolve team, led by Dr. Nicole Letourneau of the University of Calgary, then approached Jewish Child and Family Service in Winnipeg, Jewish Family Services in Edmonton and various Jewish community organizations in Saskatchewan, asking them to be involved.
Silverstone found that getting people to work on this topic was easy – both the academics and community groups – as domestic violence has touched most people in one form or other.
“Everyone wanted to better understand the scope and needs around domestic violence in the Jewish community,” said Silverstone. “I don’t think anyone needed to be convinced [that there was an issue worth studying]…. It was just a matter of figuring how to best do this, so we that we weren’t taxing already taxed resources.”
The study involved two parts in terms of gathering data. The first part had participants take 20 to 25 minutes to fill out a survey based on the JWI survey. About 280 people filled this out.
Once the surveys were collected, the researchers asked two questions: Was there anything surprising? And, what did they understand from it?
“Those were the two data question points that helped us build the results of the study,” explained Silverstone. “We knew we’d have data to compare to mainstream populations. In terms of rates of people reporting that they are survivors of domestic violence, it is about the same as the general population. Twenty percent of the people who answered our study said they were victims of domestic violence. And, in the general population, those numbers are anywhere from 25 to 40%.”
The other aspect, she added, is “of those who experience domestic violence, their experience of it, in terms of physical and financial toll, is about the same, except for in our reported rates in the study of domestic violence in the form of emotional abuse – that is higher than the general population. They report about half to 60% of the domestic violence they experience is verbal [in the general population] and, in our survey, it was 82%.”
Silverstone said this divergence may be because Jews are very verbal people. Another possibility is that people tend to perceive verbal abuse as a more acceptable kind of domestic violence – they refrain from physically hitting their partner, but they won’t stop themselves from yelling or name-calling. “This is probably an area we should be researching further,” said Silverstone.
For Silverstone, there were some surprises when it came to the survey results, such as the low number of people who would consult with their rabbi about their situation – only three percent of those surveyed.
“Something that struck me,” she added, “which was also a finding of the JWI study, is that the top three sources victims utilize in domestic violence situations are friends, family and private therapists. Friends and family are, by far, the highest. It made me realize that we need to be focused on teaching friends and family in the Jewish community how to recognize domestic violence, to respond appropriately and then to refer people.”
Currently, Silverstone is in the process of determining which kinds of programs should be implemented and what kind of awareness-raising campaigns the community should be taking on, based on the survey results.
The first step is to educate friends and family about how to be good supports, she said. “There is all sorts of other research out there about what are called ‘informal supports.’… If the informal supporter has a healthy response, the person is going to go get help. If they don’t, that person is going to shut down and not seek help again for a long time. I think it’s important that we get that straight.”
Silverstone feels strongly that there is a need to dig deeper and find out why people are not using rabbis. “Is this because we’re not doing a good enough job of helping rabbis be effective supporters? Are they not talking about the issue enough? Do people not feel safe? Because they are a great resource if we can tap into them.”
Another big issue that came to light through the survey is that of safe housing for victims and that victims are not finding shelters to be helpful. Silverstone wants to examine this further.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, contact the Jewish Family Service Agency at 604-257-5151, the bc211 help line at 211 if you live in Metro Vancouver, the Fraser Valley, Squamish-Lillooet or Sunshine Coast, or VictimLinkBC at 1-800-563-0808.
Rebeca Kuropatwa is a Winnipeg freelance writer.