Walk in Silence draws largest crowd yet

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The number of P.E.I. victims of spousal abuse who call the police each year is high.

More than 150 people participated in the Walk in Silence Wednesday in Charlottetown, marking the largest turnout in the five-year history of the annual event that takes place during Family Violence Prevention Week.

Sadly, the number of people that don't call is much higher.

In kicking off Wednesday' Walk In Silence in Charlottetown, Phillip Smith, chair of the Premier's Action Committee on Family Violence, offered the following disturbing statistic: in 2011 police in Prince Edward Island substantiated 373 cases of intimate partner violence that qualified as criminal code offences.

The annual number of victims suffering in silence, however, is well over 1,100 considering that less than a quarter of victims of spousal abuse call the police.

"And even those numbers don't address the cases of emotional and psychological abuse, they don't address the experiences of elder abuse in families, they don't address the cases of child abuse and neglect that contribute to the just-shy of 10 reports made to Child Protective Services on P.E.I. every day of the year,'' Smith told a large crowd gathered outside Province House shortly before they made their way onto the streets of Charlottetown together in the fifth annual Walk In Silence.

Smith says the walk is a time to give voice to the individual people, victims and survivors who are behind the statistics.

"It is a time to show solidarity with those living in violent relationships and with the front line support workers who journey with them every day,'' said Smith.

"It's a time to draw strength from our shared commitments to building families and communities committed to care, respect, and dignity in equitable relationships. And, our walk is a time of hope for the change our work will surely bring.''

Smith says more work is needed to help many people feel empowered to reach out for assistance.

He adds a comprehensive approach to parent education and support is also necessary to reduce incidents of child abuse and neglect.

Phil Matusiewicz, executive director of the P.E.I. Family Violence Prevention Services, is one of the organizers of the Walk In Silence.

He has been pleased with the growth in participation that has increased from about 50 people the first year to more than 150 (the largest crowd to date) making their way up University Avenue Wednesday before winding their way along a couple other streets to a reception at City Hall.

"Well the purpose of the walk is to raise the consciousness of the community around the issue of domestic violence and the Walk In Silence really is about that because we know that in spite of the numbers that we have come in to Anderson House (a shelter for women and their children who have faced abuse) and our outreach services, we know that there are many more people that are suffering in silence,'' said Matusiewicz.

"So the walk is there to get friends, families and neighbours to talk to victims of domestic violence and letting them know that there are supports out there where they can go and seek some help.''

"If more people come forward,'' he adds, "than more people can be helped...because we know if people don't seek help, then the problem manifests itself in many other ways.''

Smith certainly considers promising the growing number of people, as well as the diversity of the crowd, taking part in the annual Walk In Silence.

"What is most exciting is to look out and see faces that I don't recognize -- and I don't know what brings people in always,'' he said.

"So sometimes it is a very personal connection that would bring somebody forward and other times it's a more general sense of community responsibility.''

Organizations: Action Committee on Family Violence, Child Protective Services on P.E.I., Province House P.E.I. Family Violence Prevention Services Anderson House

Geographic location: Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island

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