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My gift this holiday season? Advice on how to save a woman's life in 2017

Flickr/Daniel Go

Late October, news accounts that 26 year-old Nuseiba Hasan had been reported missing by a family member in February 2016 raised more than a few eye brows and questions. The missing woman was last seen alive at her family’s Flamborough property.

Hamilton police continue to investigate her disappearance and had been treating it as a homicide. What made this case so unusual is the fact that Hasan had been missing for a decade.

So, why report Hasan missing now? Safety. Someone who cared deeply for Hasan felt they were finally in a safe position to report Hasan’s disappearance.

Then, in December there was the shocking femicide of Dr. Elana Fric-Shamji. In 2005, while living in Ottawa, Fric-Shamji’s husband was charged with assault and two counts of uttering threats after a reported domestic dispute. Fric-Shamji and her husband eventually entered into a peace bond which indicates the charges were withdrawn.

The couple had been living and working in Toronto since 2012. It’s reported that Fric-Shamji was in the process of divorcing her husband, but that they still lived together with their three children.

Fric-Shamji was reported missing by her mother not by her husband. She was found by police on Dec. 1 in a suitcase by the West Humber River. She had been strangled.

What do these two femicides have in common? They were preventable.

It’s a sad truth, but it is the truth none-the-less. And, so my gift to you this holiday season is the ability to save a woman’s life in 2017.

Here are a few important bits that you should know:

  • According to Statistics Canada, 70 per cent of spousal violence is not reported to the police.
  • A woman is assaulted an average of 35 times before she calls the police the first time.
  • A woman will leave an abusive relationship seven times before she is successful.
  • Her chances of being murdered increase nine fold once she leaves.
  • Every six days a Canadian woman is murdered by her current or former partner.
  • Every four days a Canadian woman is murdered by a family member.

The Ontario Domestic Violence Death Review Committee (DVDRC) was established 12 years ago, “To assist the Office of the Chief Coroner in the investigation and review of deaths of persons that occur as a result of domestic violence, and to make recommendations to help prevent such deaths in similar circumstances.”

Over the years, the committee has reviewed 199 cases involving 290 deaths. During that time the DVDRC has firmly established that intimate partner femicides are both predictable and preventable with early intervention.

The DVDRC has created a list of 39 common risk factors involved in cases of lethality it has reviewed. These ten factors occurred most often and when several occur together are a solid indication of impending lethality:

  • A history of violence (72 per cent)
  • Pending or current separation (69 per cent)
  • Obsessive behaviour by the perpetrator (53 per cent)
  • The perpetrator was depressed (54 per cent)
  • There was an escalation of violence (49 per cent)
  • Prior threats or attempts by the perpetrator to commit suicide (44 per cent)
  • Prior threats to kill the victim (44 per cent)
  • Prior attempts to isolate the victim (42 per cent)
  • The perpetrator was unemployed (41 per cent)
  • Victim had an intuitive sense of fear toward the perpetrator (38 per cent)

Following the 2014 review of cases, 24 recommendations were generated.  The remarkable change to the recommendations was that it specifically targeted government ministries, agencies and services. In this uncharacteristic move, the DVDRC acknowledged that real change is needed and must come through modifications to government policy and services in order to prevent domestic violence from becoming lethal for women and their children.

One case in point, the Ministry of the Attorney General was instructed that:

Family courts should develop a triage function for an initial assessment of cases to determine the degree of urgency required to hear the matter; the need for additional resources and community referrals to assure safety planning; and appropriate risk management interventions to reduce domestic violence and child abuse.

Recommendations were directed to the following ministries:

  • The Ministry of the Attorney General
  • Child and Youth Services
  • Community Safety and Correctional Services
  • Policing Services Division
  • The Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police
  • Labour
  • The Ontario Woman’s Directorate
  • Community and Social Services
  • Education
  • Health and Long-Term Care

Recommendations were also directed at the following service providers:

  • The Canadian National Institute for the Blind
  • Community Living Ontario, and other agencies providing services to persons with disabilities
  • The Ontario Association of Naturopathic Doctors, the Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors, the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine, and the College of Naturopaths of Ontario
  • The Ontario Alliance of Mental Health Practitioners
  • The Ontario Psychological Association
  • The Ontario Psychiatric Association
  • The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario
  • The College of Psychologists of Ontario
  • The Ontario Association of Social Workers

The DVDRC also recommended a more widespread use of the Neighbours, Friends, and Families Campaign designed to raise awareness and inform professionals, businesses, and the general public about domestic violence by providing practical guidelines for:

  • Helping abused women
  • Speaking with abusive men
  • Safety planning
  • Recognizing the warning signs and risk factors
  • As well as information for assessing the situation for risk of lethality

So, what can you do with the gift that I have just given to you? Share it. Share with as many people as you possibly can by sending it with Winter Solstice, Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa cards; posting it on the lunch room bulletin board; asking your local hipster coffee shop to put it on their community information board.

Be creative! But, get the message out there that intimate partner femicides are preventable and that each of us has an obligation to follow up with the proper people, services, or authorities once we are aware that a woman is in danger of intimate partner violence and especially when she is at risk of lethality.

In most cases of lethality signs of abuse and violence abound. Family, friends, and even acquaintances are aware on some level of the violence that is taking place. It is not an invasion of privacy it is your responsibility to protect every woman’s human rights.

Consider for one moment how differently things could have played out for Nuseiba Hasan and Elana Fric-Shamji, and her three children, if just one person had spoken up in time.

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