Once the material was available to the entire legal community, we were invited by the Continuing Legal Education Association to conduct workshops for lawyers who were currently practicing. The focus of our sessions was how decisions made in connection with family law areas such as custody, access, and the use of mediation should be altered if the abuse has been part of the intimate relationship. These sessions were, again, well received, and lawyers also trained as mediators requested sessions which dealt specifically with mediation.
Our work with mediators has been preliminary in nature because we do not yet understand all the implications that mediation has for abused women. A general presumption of mediation is that the parties involved are equally able to put their viewpoints forward in a safe manner. This is clearly not the case where a woman has been controlled by her partner.
After participating in some work to help mediators recognize and understand the effects of abuse in relationships, we have started a process to examine effective interviewing and screening techniques. These are designed for mediators to determine if abuse has been present and if so, whether and under what conditions mediation might be possible.
Saskatchewan has just introduced legislation which requires that everyone requesting an order from a Judge in family matters attend sessions where mediation is explained. As this will likely increase the demand for mediation, it is doubly important that mediators are able to recognize all types of abuse. They will also need to understand how abusive behaviour may be carried over into mediation itself and thus taint the process.
Like the legal profession, nurses were also quick to incorporate our educational into their regular teaching program, and we began by developing material specific to this profession. In addition to our core material, we included information aimed at helping to identify women in a health care setting who were being abused or at risk. We attempted to build on the already good knowledge base nurses generally have about ways to intervene appropriately and effectively to assist such women.
Letters were sent to professional colleges introducing the workshop, and we also lobbied to have information about violence in intimate relationships incorporated into the core curriculum. Our initial workshop was piloted with professors from the Saskatchewan College of Nursing. After some revision, we have continued to offer it to this college, to the diploma nursing program, to post R.N.s and public health nurses. The material continues to be revised as health care becomes more of a community responsibility and the focus shifts from acute care to that of prevention.
Police forces and physicians were originally targeted by our membership as in need of a broader understanding of the situation of abused women. We have not made significant inroads in either area. Individual shelters have fared better in initiating contact with police forces. It's true that the link between direct service providers and police must be strong, and perhaps police education is best done at the local level.
We are currently re-examining our process for reaching these two groups as it may be more appropriate for our provincial association to act simply as resource people to complement the groundwork done by shelters and counselling groups. Why our approach of offering written material and ourselves as speakers to groups of doctors and police officers has been ineffective is not clear to us. We may have been less skilled in making the initial approaches because we had less information about how their continuing education is conducted and who the appropriate contact people are. We also lacked the personal connections that we relied on with the nursing and legal professions. It appears to be crucial to have those in the targeted profession who will assist in developing the material and who will provide information about the mechanism through which the sessions can best be offered.
A third reason for the differing response may be the existing gender composition of the two professions. Although the number of female physicians has increased markedly in recent years, the contacts that we had in the profession were men. We have noted that, although many men showed a genuine desire to improve the quality of their intervention with abused women, we were more likely to receive a positive response from women perhaps because they already have a basic understanding of the importance of the issue.
The government of Saskatchewan is currently introducing new legislation aimed at improving non-criminal legal protection for women who have been physically abused. This legislation will require sympathetic enforcement from well-trained police officers if it is to be effective, and so timing is appropriate to renew our efforts at education. Similarly, the change in the delivery of the health care from an acute care approach to a "wellness model" will emphasis the need for physicians to have information about identifying and assisting women who experience abuse.