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A change is gonna come

Doreen Nicoll's picture
Sam Cooke's song, "A Change Is Gonna Come," offered hope during the Civil Rights Movement. Today, it reminds me that it's a long, slow, sometimes tiring walk to freedom and I need to remain focused on the goal -- an equitable world.

When violence against women extends to children and animals

| December 1, 2015
When violence against women extends to children and animals

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On Feb 4, 2015 a very disturbing article appeared on the front page of the Hamilton Spectator: "Man Gets Four Months in Jail for Killing Puppy." Tyson Fleschhut who admitted to willfully causing the death of a black lab puppy, named Bear, was sentenced to four months in jail and banned from owning animals for five years. Fleschhut planned to appeal his conviction and sentence because he "loves animals and would never deliberately hurt a dog."

Bear belonged to his girlfriend, Mariana Royce. It was a Christmas gift from a friend. During a disagreement in March 2013 Fleschhut threw the pup onto a board with nails protruding from it. It took several hours for Bear to die.

Stemming from the same incident, Fleschhut was charged with assaulting his girlfriend but found not guilty. He was also charged with and found guilty of fleeing from police.  In 2005, this same man was convicted of assault.

In her victim impact statement Royce wrote, "to this day, I try living my life day by day, looking over my shoulder. I still have nightmares."

Speaking in his own defense at sentencing Fleschhut said, "I admit that I have been reckless; however, not willingly, intending to kill our dog. That is, I did not will any harm to come to Bear. She was our dog who I cared for, I loved, I miss and long for. I personally would like to see justice for her sake, but this is not it."  His appeal will be based on the credibility of the complainant -- Royce, now his former girlfriend.

Stories like this one are all too common in the world of gendered violence. Intimate partners and ex-partners will use any means to exert power and control over their victims. Children and pets are not immune from the violence.

In February 2009 Guy Turcotte stabbed his daughter Anne-Sophie, three-years old, and her brother Olivier, five, 46 times. Turcotte, charged with two counts of first-degree murder, has admitted to causing the deaths but is seeking a verdict of not criminally responsible due to a mental disorder. 

The murders took place on the same night that Turcotte found emails that had been exchanged between his estranged wife and her new boyfriend. Anger and revenge certainly look like viable motives.

The Ontario Domestic Violence Review Committee (ODVRC) has been reviewing the deaths of women, and their children, at the hands of their intimate partners for the past 14 years. From 2002 until 2013, there were 306 domestic homicide and/or homicide-suicide cases in Ontario where domestic violence was involved. A total of 221 (72 per cent) cases were homicides and 85 (28 per cent) were homicide-suicides.

The 306 cases resulted in a total of 426 deaths; 342 (80 per cent) of these deaths were homicide victims and 84 (20 per cent) were perpetrators who committed suicide or were otherwise killed -- often shot by police. That's an average of 26 domestic homicide and/or homicide-suicide cases per year. There was an average of 28.5 domestic homicide victim deaths per year during that 12-year period. 

A total of 280 (82 per cent) of the homicide victims were adult females; 30 (nine per cent) of the homicide victims were children; 32 (nine per cent) of the homicide victims were adult males.  82 (98 per cent) of the perpetrator deaths were adult males. 

The ODVRC uses 39 factors to determine the risk a woman faced from her intimate partner prior to her murder by that same partner.  The factors are scored as Absent, Present or Unknown.  Most cases share common characteristics including:

  • a history of domestic violence
  • the couple has an actual or pending separation
  • obsessive behaviour by the perpetrator   
  • a perpetrator who was depressed  
  • an escalation of violence 
  • prior threats or attempts to commit suicide 
  • prior threats to kill the victim 
  • prior attempts to isolate the victim
  • a victim who had an intuitive sense of fear towards the perpetrator
  • a perpetrator who was unemployed

In 80 per cent of the cases reviewed, seven or more risk factors were identified. Prior violence against family pets is one of the 39 factors.

Each additional risk factor means that the woman, her children and her pets, are at greater risk of being harmed or killed. For instance, the abuser having access to weapons is a huge indicator of a high risk situation.

Leaving an abusive partner is the most dangerous time for a woman, her children and her pets. She must decide when the time is right and she must have a safety plan in place because her risk of being murdered increases nine fold when she does leave.  

Every six days a woman in Canada is killed by a current or former partner.  These murders are always premeditated. They are never spontaneous acts. The murderers are never "nice guys."

Sunday, December 6 vigils will be held across the country to mark the 26th anniversary of the massacre at École Polytéchnique in Montreal. On that day a lone gunman entered a classroom of 60 engineering students and ordered the men to leave the room.  He killed 14 innocent women that day simply because they were women:

Anne St-Arneault, 23; Geneviève Bergeron, 21; Hélène Colgan, 23; Nathalie Croteau, 23; Barbara Daigneault, 22; Anne-Marie Edward, 21; Maud Haviernick, 29; Barbara Klueznick, 31; Maryse Laganière, 25; Maryse Leclair, 23; Anne-Marie Lemay, 22; Sonia Pelletier, 23; Michèle Richard, 21; and Annie Turcotte, 21.

Please find a vigil to attend in your community and invite your partner, your children, a friend or two.  While honouring these young women take a moment to think about the women in your life -- your mother, sister, daughter, cousin, aunt, grandmother, co-workers -- then ask yourself what one small gesture you can make to improve women's equality and women's human rights? 

Here's a few ideas to help you get started:

  • I will not use violence of any form in my relationships.
  • I will speak up if another man is abusing his partner or is disrespectful or abusive to women and girls. I will not remain silent.
  • I will be an ally to women who are working to end all forms of gender violence.
  • I will mentor and teach boys about how to be men in ways that don’t involve degrading or abusing girls and women.
  • I will lead by example.   
  • I will find more examples at the Neighbours, Friends and Families Campaign.

Together we can end violence against women and their children.

If you are a woman experiencing abuse, help is just a click away.

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