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Tracking system applauded by St. Albert

Pilot program for GPS tracking on violent domestic abusers extended

By: Stu Salkeld

  |  Posted: Saturday, Apr 12, 2014 06:00 am

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The issue of domestic violence, especially the most serious cases that end in death, had a light shone on it last week when the provincial government extended a program designed to track offenders.

A three-year program conducted in central Alberta included a global positioning system bracelet, that looks very similar to a wristwatch, was extended last Monday when Justice Minister Jonathan Denis approved extending what was initially a pilot project.

The technology constantly monitors an offender’s location, instantly alerting authorities if the offender, for example, gets within a restricted distance of a victim.

Stop Abuse In Families (SAIF) executive director Doreen Slessor said her organization was watching the issue with interest, as SAIF handles a steady stream of clients from St. Albert and area.

“We watched the pilot,” she said Thursday. “We always thought it was a great program.”

Slessor said pilot projects, no matter how promising they may appear, walk a razor’s edge. Those conducting the project want to show its value, but are also worried about funding.

“Not only are you working on your pilot project, you’re also working on your funding program,” said Slessor.

Slessor said this GPS approach is an answer for the most “crystal clear” of domestic violence situations. Those that have gone through the court system after charges have been laid likely have identified an offender who is perceived as a danger.

She said that, even after a dysfunctional or abusive relationship ends, the danger is far from over because the abuser knows literally everything about the victim’s life.

“Now the stalking starts,” she said.

“The most dangerous time for a victim is when a victim leaves an abuser. You literally have to change your entire life and social patterns.”

Slessor said the abuser knows when and where to find the victim, who can be very vulnerable because there is no warning of an attack.

Slessor said simply ending an abusive relationship doesn’t necessarily mean the danger is over, and GPS technology that can keep track of an offender’s location could be invaluable.

“The story doesn’t end there,” she said. “Sometimes it gets worse … so this is a great program.”

Life changing

The GPS tracking system would change the lives of victims of domestic violence. Such a victim contacted St. Albert Gazette editor Stu Salkeld Thursday, wishing to tell her story. Since she is still the victim of an abusive relationship, she asked that her identity not be revealed.

The woman, who said she is in her 30s, has been in an abusive relationship for about a year, and, when she ended the relationship, she was beaten so badly she missed work for six weeks.

“I can’t even drive through town or to the grocery store because I don’t know where he is,” said the woman by phone. “It’s exhausting.”

The woman, who had her ex-boyfriend arrested, said she has been stalked inside her own house at night, as the abuser was watching her from hundreds of feet away through binoculars. When friends of hers came over to visit, the abuser violently confronted them, even though they had children with them.

“It’s like ... you can never get away. It really leaves a person in that situation daunted, drained and with no freedom. You know that person is stalking you and watching you and it’s a horrible feeling.

“There are a lot of nights I don’t sleep. I have nightmares of him kidnapping me and holding me hostage.”

The woman said she relies on friends and family, as she’s frightened to stay at home alone.

“Your whole life is displaced,” she said. “I feel the responsibility of putting my friends in the line of fire.

“The only place I’ve felt safe is when I left the country. That’s the first time I’ve slept. I felt free. I could finally rest.”

When the province’s GPS pilot program was described to her, she rejoiced.

“That would completely ease my mind,” she said. “That would make me feel a lot better because it gives you that reassurance of where he is. I could sleep at night.”

Alberta traditionally has the highest domestic violence numbers in the country according to Stats Canada. St. Albert RCMP Cpl. Laurel Kading said numbers collected by the RCMP about domestic issues, which could include offences as far-ranging as mischief, harassment or assault, illustrate its presence in this community.

Kading looked at local stats for a five-year trend. In 2009, there were 219 domestic violence reports to RCMP. In 2010 there were 236. In 2011 there were 234. In 2012 the number jumped to 375 while in 2013 the number was 323.

Kading stated she feels these numbers are comparable to the region’s.

“We can certainly say St. Albert is touched by this,” she said.

Kading said RCMP have identified domestic violence as a priority area. She said programs that help reduce domestic violence are always welcomed. She said RCMP had access to a program a few years back that was similar in premise to the GPS one and was useful.

“For us as a police force, it’s very useful to have those options to look at.”

Kading said RCMP are very concerned for those in abusive relationships, but also concerned about the effect it has on the community, especially children.

She said the community can help address the issue of domestic violence.

“We do encourage people, if they think they’re seeing violence, we need people to step forward,” she said.

“It’s not OK to assume it’s worked out. People should be able to live safely.”


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