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Intimate-partner violence can escalate into homicide more quickly than many expect, say local experts.

By Sara Peesker, CBC News, Dec 06, 2021 8:41 AM ET

WARNING: This story contains graphic details of violence. 

Nancy Smith has met many women and children fleeing abuse in decades working at Interval House of Hamilton, a shelter for women and children.

She also has known women who reported domestic abuse and were later killed; some of whom predicted such an outcome themselves.

"One thing I have learned is that if a woman believes [her abuser] is capable of killing her and [that] he will kill her, she's at extreme risk," says Smith, who has served as Interval House's executive director for the past six years.

The organization uses a research-based danger assessment tool to help assess its clients' risk level, but no matter their score, Smith always takes it seriously if she gets a "yes" to the question "Do you believe he is capable of killing you?"

"If a woman says yes, I'll say, 'How do you think he would do it?'," Smith recounted. "One woman said, 'He's going to jam sleeping pills down my throat to make it look like a suicide.' Days later, she was found [dead] in her apartment and it was classified as a suicide."

Other warning signs on that assessment tool, created by Jacquelyn Campbell of Johns Hopkins University, include coercive control, previous assaults and a recent separation — risk factors CBC also identified in a lengthy investigation into intimate-partner homicides across Canada. 

Findings from CBC's investigation, Deadly Relationships, were published Monday as Canada marks National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. 

Deadly Relationships is the result of a 16-month CBC investigation compiling and analyzing intimate partner homicides across Canada between January 2015 and June 2020. The investigation looked at 392 cases of intimate-partner homicide from across Canada. (A total of 488 partner homicides were reported by Statistics Canada in the same period.)

CBC found that in more than a third of cases, there was at least one warning sign prior to the murder. The most common were recent separations (around 25 per cent), exercising coercive control over the victim (15 per cent) and previous reports to police (15 per cent). Nearly all of the accused who showed warning signs, 97 per cent were men. 

The 16-month investigation involved analyzing data from Freedom of Information and Access to Information requests to police services serving more than 100,000 people. In British Columbia and Quebec, the information was available directly from the justice ministries. Not all police services provided the same information, and some provided none, so the findings are likely underestimated. 

The CBC investigation comes on the heels of a report released Dec. 1 that showed as many as 58 women and girls were killed in Ontario during the past year, a time period subsequent to the one CBC studied. The Annual Femicide List, compiled by the Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses and researchers at the University of Guelph says the victims ranged in age between two and 89.

The CBC investigation also found:

  • Indigenous women and men were over-represented among the victims;
  • Racialized, non-Indigenous people tended to be charged with more serious offenses, Indigenous people tended to be charged with less serious offenses, and white people were somewhere in the middle; 
  • Canadians in their twenties and thirties are over-represented among victims of intimate-partner homicide; and
  • When it came to women as the perpetrators of violence, one in four who killed their partners were abused by their partners.

'So much repair work to do'

Sandra Montour, executive director of Ganohkwasra Family Assault Support Services on Six Nations of the Grand River, says the findings are awful, but sadly, they align with what she sees in her work.

"All of these themes resonate with myself and every shelter that's out here," she said in an interview with CBC, speaking from the annual general meeting of Aboriginal Shelters of Ontario in Sault Ste. Marie.

"Indigenous women and men being over-represented in terms of being victims of violence, that is not new. But it's still shocking and it goes to show we have a lot of work to do.... There's still so much repair work to do in terms of decolonizing our policies, our systems, and our attitudes."

Montour is among the panelists at a Dec. 6 virtual event at 12:30 p.m., hosted by McMaster University that will look at the impacts of COVID-19 on gender-based violence.

She says the trauma of colonization is at the heart of the family violence she sees.

"We're colonized, and with it comes those behaviours that aren't conducive to peace, they are conducive to control and abuse and trauma," she says. 

Debbie Owusu-Akyeeah, another speaker at online event Monday, says CBC's finding that racialized groups face stiffer penalties reflect what she's seen, and can deter women from reporting abuse to police.

Owusu-Akyeeah lives in Ottawa and is executive director of the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity. She was formerly the board chair at Harmony House women's shelter, and recalls that racialized immigrant clients there rarely included police as part of their safety plans "for their own safety and thinking about their abusers, who are most often their partners or the fathers of their children, understanding the severity of the justice system on them."

While Owusu-Akyeeah says investments in shelter space would go a long way toward making sure women can find safety from their abusers, she also believes a broader cultural shift is required. "Some boys are taught to this day that if you tease or hit a girl you are attracted to, that's acceptable," she said. 

"It's about what we say is acceptable behaviour and how that's reflected in our investments in services."

Bringing bystanders, men on board

Jessica Bonilla-Damptey, executive director of the Sexual Assault Centre Hamilton and Area (SACHA), stressed the importance of bystander intervention, noting her organization offers public education sessions for people and groups who would like to learn more. 

"If you witness violence happening, if you see somebody is being attacked, say something," she said. "It's OK to interrupt what you're seeing."

Several people interviewed for this article stressed that if change is to happen, men must take up the issue of ending domestic violence as enthusiastically as women.

Interval House's pioneering Mentor Action program targets men with information on sexual assault and intervention. Using the tagline, "Be more than a bystander," it builds on research that shows men respond best to this information when it is delivered by other men. The program uses players from the Hamilton Bulldogs, Hamilton Tiger-Cats, McMaster University athletics and Forge FC to educate groups of men and boys about gender-based violence. 

"We speak to coaches, players, schools, and different venues where we can address the issue of what is gender-based violence and how do you jump in and help raise awareness," said Smith, from Interval House. "Women didn't create the issue but we were the ones historically dealing with it and addressing it. We need men to stand up."

On Six Nations, Montour finds hope in her agency's Oha'hi:yo men's program. The program's name means "the Good Road" in the Cayuga language, and it uses cultural teachings to help men who have been violent to stop "repeating that cycle," she says. 

"It's a program where people get to look at where the effects of colonization and this violence came from, and how this violence has come into our families," she says, noting the program is funded by the Ministry of the Attorney General and has seen a number of positive outcomes. 

"What's amazing about it is we really bring in the cultural piece, to help people understand that this is not our traditional way. There are other things people can do to aspire to have a good mind, because if we have a good mind, we're not going to go to that place of rage."

Support is available for anyone affected by intimate-partner violence. You can access support services and local resources in Canada by visiting this website. If your situation is urgent, please contact emergency services in your area.

With files from Tara Carman, Kimberly Ivany and Eva Uguen-Csenge

 

Click here to read the source article



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