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Most Domestic Abuse Survivors Believe Murder Was Next

It is a frightening statement on its face: three quarters of all abused women who wind up in shelters believe they would have been murdered if they hadn’t escaped when they did.

The conclusion comes from a YWCA study of 368 women who were staying at the safe havens in ten different parts of the country – including Toronto.

It found that 77 percent believed if they hadn’t gotten away from their abuser, they’d be dead.

Robyn Rogers is one of them. She endured terrible abuse at the hands of her spouse and believed her life was in danger.

“He held a rifle to my head and said if you ever leave this is what’s going to happen,” she shudders. “Sex was so entirely rough, there were injuries that resulted from that, and one of them was a perforated uterus.”

She looks at recent domestic abuse cases like the stabbing death of Dale Mapstone on April 26th.

She was killed in front of her 10-year-old son, allegedly by her estranged spouse.

Exactly one month later, it happened again. Neighbours heard blood curdling screams coming from an apartment on Raglan Ave. and were stunned to see a woman falling 10 storeys to her death.

Seema Badhan’s estranged husband is accused of throwing her off the ledge.

Rogers is grateful she didn’t become another statistic. Still, like many victims, she knows women can’t stay in the temporary safe harbours forever.

And that leads to another dilemma about what to do once they’re forced to move on.

“We know shelters save lives in the short-term but we want to stop violence in the long-term,” explains YWCA C.E.O. Paulette Senior. “Shelter stays are, on average, between 14 and 21 days, a very short time to turn a life around.”

The women asked were grateful for the havens, but admitted they simply weren’t enough. They want more to be done to encourage ending the abuse that starts their exodus from home in the first place.

“We need a national strategy to deal with what happens when they leave our shelter,” demands the Y’s Amanda Dale.

And there’s reason for their fear. Stats Canada numbers from 2003 shows that 64 women were murdered by a male partner. They were the unlucky ones, who didn’t manage to get out in time.

Rogers realizes many victims think they have very little choice. And that’s a tragedy in the making.

“It’s either you’re gonna die or you’re gonna leave and be homeless,” she agrees. “And it’s a shame.”

Among the YWCA recommendations:

  • Advocate for provincial/territorial/federal governments to provide adequate levels of funding for shelters that will fully support the needs of abused women and their children.
  • Get governments to adequately fund post-shelter services for abused women to address their safety needs after they return to the community.
  • Improve access to safe and affordable permanent housing to assist women and their children to both leave an abusive relationship before needing to go to shelter, and to leave without fear of being accosted again.
  • Improve access to adequate social assistance and living allowances to assist women and their children to both leave an abusive relationship earlier and to leave the shelter with adequate resources to make the transition to a violence-free life.
  • Improve access to education and training programs for abused women, so that they can make an adequate living wage.
  • Improve access to affordable, high quality child care to provide women with improved options in considering whether to leave an abusive partner.
  • Allow governments to take into account the previous violence of a parent, who is the primary aggressor, in determining custody and access agreements.
  • Get governments to fund a National Association of Shelters.

Most common causes of violent death for abused women

  • Shooting,
  • Stabbing,
  • Strangulation,
  • Beating.

Types of abuse

  • 70% suffered cuts, scrapes or bruises, miscarriages, broken bones, or fractures
  • 10% reported sexual harm or contracting STDs from their partner.
  • 38.5% said their partner had on at least one occasion prevented them from getting medical aid for injuries resulting from the abuse at least once
  • 68% had at some point feared for their lives due to abuser’s threats or behaviours

Survivors by the Numbers

What was the make up of the 368 women asked about their experiences? Here’s the breakdown:

  • 46%: Aboriginal descent
  • 45% Caucasian
  • 10% immigrant and visible minority
  • 84% have children under 18; most accompanied their mothers to the shelter
  • More than 50% have one or two children
  • 30% have three to seven children
  • More than 70% were on social assistance or had “no income”
  • About 20% worked outside the home, many in part time positions.

Source: YWCA report

Here’s some more advice from other experts about how to end the cycle of abuse:

Decide to leave: It may be your most important decision if the abuse seems to be on an escalating pattern. Contact a woman’s shelter and get advice about how to escape. Get in touch with support groups and hear the stories of how other women in impossible situations made it out alive.

Make out a plan and be sure you know it thoroughly: What will you take with you, what phone numbers do you need, and how will you take care of your children?

Study the law: Find out what legal remedies you have and be aware of your options. A restraining order is an answer, although it doesn’t always stop a determined ex-partner from attacking.

Know your abuser: What sets him off? When and where does the abuse happen? Trying to avoid the triggers may temporarily spare you the misery. Beware of alcohol or drug induced attacks.

Keep a secret journal: Documenting the where and when of the abuse will provide solid evidence in court, should the authorities become involved.

Tell someone: Sharing your secret may not only allow you to formulate a plan, feel better and get help, it could be a vital communication link if the abuse puts your life in danger.

If you’re under attack:

  • Try to stay calm and not incite your abuser.
  • Shield the most sensitive parts of your body, especially the head and stomach.
  • Call the police or 911, preferably without your abuser being aware of your actions.
  • Get treatment for your injuries, and tell authorities what happened.
  • Hustle any children to another room with a lockable door, and order them not to open it to until they hear from you, a trusted neighbour, a relative or the police. Or if possible get them out of the house entirely and send them to a neighbour for help.

Metrac provides a long list of women’s shelters. To see their list, click here.

For more information on domestic abuse and how to stop it, contact any of the following:

Assaulted Women’s Helpline

Toronto Rape Crisis Centre

White Ribbon Campaign