Some 476 victims died in domestic violence incidents between 2010 and 2015 in Canada, according to a new report released Thursday.
Indigenous populations, immigrants, refugees and women living in remote northern and rural areas were particularly at risk – as were their children.
“You’re more at risk as a woman and you’re more at risk if you have difficulty accessing resources in a timely [way],” said Peter Jaffe, a co-author of the report from the Canadian Domestic Homicide Prevention Initiative with Vulnerable Populations, a five-year project funded by the federal government.
The report offers a national snapshot of domestic homicide in Canada, an issue not thoroughly tracked in this country. Researchers pored over court decisions and media reports to paint a more detailed portrait of this crime, including victims' characteristics and the circumstances leading up to the attacks.
The report examined 418 cases of domestic homicide involving 476 victims, which included 37 children who were killed. Women made up 79 per cent of the adults killed, men 21 per cent. Some 86 per cent of the accused attackers were men.
Victims faced various distinct barriers to escaping their abusers. For women who are new to the country and trapped in abusive relationships, disclosing violence can jeopardize their immigration status, Dr. Jaffe, academic director of Western University’s Centre for Research & Education on Violence against Women & Children, said in an interview. He said some may rightly mistrust police, based on their experiences back home.
Cultural barriers sometimes play a role: “You may believe that issues of violence should be kept in the family, or also within your religious community. There may be concerns about breaking the silence,” said Dr. Jaffe, who is co-director of the project with Myrna Dawson, director of the University of Guelph’s Centre for the Study of Social and Legal Responses to Violence.
Women in isolated rural communities face their own grave challenges. Shelters are often hours away. Firearms are a part of rural life, putting these women uniquely in harm’s way. Many rural women often have no other equity than the farm they share with their abusers, leaving them with nothing to subsist on should they decide to run, Dr. Jaffe said.
The report highlighted another element of domestic homicide that tracks across communities: The period of time when a woman decides to leave her abuser is often the most dangerous. Nearly a third of the victims who were in intimate relationships with their killers had plans to separate from them, while another 26 per cent of victims were already separated or estranged.
Some 13 per cent of the deaths involved third parties, including family members, new partners and neighbours. Of the 443 attackers, 21 per cent died by suicide; another 7 per cent attempted suicide.
The study authors say Canada needs stronger public awareness and professional education, as well as better sharing of information between counselling agencies, child protection and the justice system.
The first line of defence, though, is women’s own communities. Women need to be believed when they disclose domestic violence, said Keetha Mercer, program manager of community initiatives at the Canadian Women’s Foundation, which collaborated with the federal project but was not directly involved in the new report.
Ms. Mercer advised family members, friends, neighbours or co-workers who want to help victims not to approach them in front of the abusers. Instead, bystanders should let victims know they are there for them, or help develop a safety plan for when they’re ready to leave. This can mean storing phone numbers for local shelters, keeping an extra set of car keys or copies of victims’ passports or birth certificates.
Government and industries need stronger policies that offer abused women an escape route, Ms. Mercer said: “Being paid appropriately, having childcare you can afford and affordable housing are all ways to support women in leaving, finding safety and choosing to rebuild their lives.”