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MUSKOKA — Domestic violence is a prevalent problem across Muskoka, the province and beyond.

“It’s a common experience. Lots of people have experienced abuse at various times in their lives, but one thing we know is that trauma is cumulative,” said Lauren Power, executive director of Muskoka/Parry Sound Sexual Assault Services. “So the more traumatic experiences you have in your life the more likely you are to have more and more severe impacts from that.”

Power is a member of Muskoka’s Domestic Abuse Review Team, or DART, an initiative started a number of years ago after the Ontario Coroner’s Office recommended every community across the province form such a group. The suggestion came in response to the fact that women continue to die as a result of domestic violence.

Committees such as the DART are made up of several organizations that deal with cases of domestic violence, including the police, family youth and child services, victim service organizations, the Crown Attorney’s office, and addiction, parole and shelter workers. The purpose of these committees is to track and review domestic assault cases, and how they are handled by the agencies that get involved, potentially helping to develop new policies and procedures.

Laurie Lamont was responsible for organizing the annual DART conference on March 26 and 27 at the Sherwood Inn in Port Carling.

“We’re just grateful to the Ministry of Community and Social Services for the funding to be able to run this conference. And at the response that we’re getting and the commitment from the community in regards to working towards an end to the issue within our community, and a more co-ordinated effort to address the issue,” Lamont said. “So it’s all of us coming together and really wanting to try to make a difference.”

Power was a panellist at the conference, which also included keynote speakers. She brought a painting to share with the audience that had been gifted to the sexual abuse centre from one of its survivors.

“It was a painting that was done really when she was finishing our therapy program. She’d put a lot of pieces together in her life by then, so the painting is called When Women Gather, and it represents stages. So around the tree it’s the stages of healing from sexual assault,” she said.

Power said the women at the bottom of the tree represent the therapy group, while branches of the tree are meant to show branches of support, and at the centre there is a child, showing that abuse also affects children.

“I just thought I’d bring it along because sometimes we forget that women do — sometimes it’s years — but people do move away from abusive relationships if they have the support they need, and the drive to get better,” she said.

While most of the audience of over 80 attendees was made up of people who work with victims of domestic violence in some form or another from across Muskoka, a few professionals from other areas were able to attend the conference as well.

Bev Bell works at a shelter in Mattawa, and works with a committee in Nipissing district which is similar to Muskoka’s DART.

She said she enjoys coming to the Muskoka conference because it is a well co-ordinated and active committee.

“I think I would like to really have a better understanding about people’s mandates and where they’re coming from in terms of domestic violence, and also I really like the fact that people are actually talking about domestic violence at this conference,” she said. “I really like that the focus is so clear, that we know that the reason we’re here is because women are being killed every day, right. And that needs to be addressed on a system wide basis.”

Bell said she also enjoyed listening to points raised by panellist Rachelle Walker, who is the executive director of Muskoka Interval House.

“I like the way she talked about how she would support that woman in whatever direction she was going or whatever path she chose. Not necessarily deciding for her what she had to do with her case, or her life, or her children, right so, I appreciated hearing that.”

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