Sunday's murders of a woman, a female youth and three children in Carman and the R.M. of Cartier has pushed the topic of gender-based and domestic violence to the forefront. The woman's common-law partner, Ryan Howard Manoakeesick, has since been charged with five counts of 1st degree murder.

Like most of us, there was a sense of shock among staff at Genesis House when the news broke, and details were released. 

"There are statistics that we're aware of. We know that a woman is killed by her current or former partner, on average, every six days in Canada," said Sophie Gerbrandt who works in community and resource development at the Winkler-based women's shelter. "That is frightening and quite frankly, an unacceptable number," she added. "And we know that statistic, but it is still completely shocking and heartbreaking when we see it happen in our own community. So, I think that was our initial response - this is heavy."

"How could this happen here?" is just one of the many questions that's been swirling throughout our communities this past week, but Gerbrandt says we're always quick to think this is another problem that happens somewhere else. However, at Genesis House, she says they know that isn't the case, adding they see women and families experiencing violence in their home daily. 

"Our shelter is full. We have room for five women and eleven kids in our shelter and we have truly been full over the last year, to the point where we send people to other shelters in the province and that's the case across our province. This is not a small issue that we're facing. It's something that we can't turn a blind eye to."

"We've been looking at some stats this week, and these are stats that we've seen before, but when we bring them into our situation, they're kind of surprising," added Gerbrandt. "Gender-related or intimate partner homicides, according to Statistics Canada, are 2.5 times greater in rural areas compared to urban areas, as of 2021. So, we've just been trying to think, 'OK, why is this happening more in rural areas?', and there's a variety of reasons. We have limited access to support services for victims, unfortunately. That's just our reality. There's distance to actually get to those services if you are able to find them. Lack of affordable housing. Even if you know that you're in a situation that's not safe, how will you actually leave that scenario?"

Gerbrandt added, there's a lot of work to do on this subject, noting there isn't just one simple fix. She says there's awareness that needs to happen, and there's a lot of change on a lot of levels of society that need to happen in order to address what she says is a huge problem. 

"I'm not happy that this is bringing more attention, but I hope that an outcome of this that we're talking about this a little bit more, but that's just the start. There's a lot of work to do."

Since Sunday, Gerbrandt says the shelter has been reaching out to its clients that live in Carman, checking in to see how they are doing. They've also reached out to other local agencies looking for ways to support them, like the many churches that have opened their doors to those seeking guidance and comfort. "The days have been going fast and slow since Sunday," she added.

Gerbrandt stressed to those experiencing gender-based and/or domestic violence that they are not alone and that there are resources available.

"Slowly overtime, the more that we talk about this and bring abuse to light, we will slowly take away power from abusers," she said. "And that's not just the job of Genesis House, but us as an entire community. This shift is happening. I think 20-30 years ago, we wouldn't really be talking about domestic abuse at all. As we talk about things, as we share resources with one another, whether that's a listening ear or passing people on to Genesis House or other or local organizations, we create this safety net within the community to hopefully limit things like this from happening."

Outside of being an emergency shelter for women and children, Genesis House also has a 24/7 crisis line available via online chat or telephone/text to 204-325-9800. From there, there are a variety of services available such as support groups and follow-up counselling for women and for kids. The shelter also has access to various resource centers and can help in protection planning and potentially finding housing. 

"That's a huge issue that we see with women," said Gerbrandt. "If they're trying to escape the domestic violence situation, where do they go? There is not a lot of affordable housing in our area, so that's something that we can help out with, and referrals, whether that's financial assistance, lawyers, CFS, need for education/employment. There are a variety of of things that we can do just to be a support for them."

The shelter also offers support for men through its Caring Dads program that gets underway next week Tuesday. 

It can also help men experiencing domestic violence. 

"We do have other facilities that we can refer that person to if they need emergency housing. They're not within the shelter because that's not safe for our women and kids that we have there, but we do support anyone who's experiencing abuse the best that we can, even though our primary focus is women and kids," said Gerbrandt.