Photo: flickr/Kt Ann

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I work for Women at the Centre, a non-profit organization with chapters across Ontario and the mandate of eradicating gendered violence, and co-chair the most active chapter, Women at the Centre — Halton (WATC-H).

I’m often asked to sit on committees that deal with the issues surrounding violence against women. I make presentations at conferences, brown bag lunches and facilitate workshops or group discussions focusing on all aspects of gendered violence. It can be emotionally challenging, but without a doubt it’s extremely rewarding.

It’s important to clarify that gendered violence is about power and control, period. Overwhelmingly, it’s the domination of a woman by her male partner. Eighty-three per cent of all police-reported domestic assaults in Canada are assaults against women. This violence includes physical, sexual, emotional, psychological, financial, social and spiritual abuse.

Some ask, “If things are so bad then why not leave?” It’s not that simple.

If children are involved and if the woman has been out of the workforce or has precarious employment, the difficulty is compounded. A further complication is that most abusers don’t like losing the power and control that they have over another person, so the likelihood of an abused woman being murdered increases nine fold when she leaves the abusive relationship.

In Ontario an average of 30 women are killed each year by intimate partners. Eighty-one per cent of these homicides occur during an actual or pending separation. Sixty-six per cent of these murders happen in the first six months after separation.

There’s also a disturbing trend of more children being murdered by their fathers. Is this because it could be the ultimate punishment for a mother and the woman that’s leaving him?

Here’s the dilemma, for a woman to be safe she needs to leave her abuser, but by leaving she puts herself and her children at even greater risk of being killed.

We blame her for staying with her abuser and we blame her for leaving because there’s a greater risk of femicide. It’s time to move beyond victim-blaming. As a caring society it’s time to support women when they decide to leave abusive relationships.

To do this we need to change the current social assistance policy so that women on Ontario Works (OW) and Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) are no longer required to pursue child support from their abusive ex-partners in order to keep their benefits.

The provincial government should enable the Family Responsibility Office (FRO) to pay the court ordered child support up front and then the FRO should go after the payor for payments in arrears. This way the children are taken care of and the woman remains ‘safe’ because she is not required to interact with her abusive ex-partner.

The FRO could present the negligent payor with a bill for costs incurred by the province while collecting court ordered child support. Perhaps this would be incentive enough to ensure that the payor does not fall into arrears again.

Currently, if women on OW or ODSP successfully collect their child support then the provincial government claws back 100 per cent of those payments. In situations where both parents are on social assistance then child support paid from the non-custodial parent’s benefits is deducted from the custodial parent’s benefits. Children don’t benefit from these financial arrangements.

Reviews of the social assistance policy have suggested that the current situation could be modified to enable child support to be treated as income. This translates into women being able to keep the first $200 of their child support with the remainder being subject to a 50 per cent claw back.

Keep in mind that a mother and child on social assistance have to survive on $19,380/year, which is 30 per cent below the poverty line for a working poor parent and child of $27,000/year.

I suggest that 100 per cent of the child support be given to the mother and none of it clawed back because this is the father’s contribution to supporting his offspring. This money would go a long way to helping women break free of the cycle of violence as well as giving them a helping hand to raise their children out of extreme poverty.

To add insult to injury, the provincial government’s social assistance policy discourages women from sharing housing costs by clawing back the shelter allowance when they share space to save money. The provincial government is also discontinuing the special diet allowance of $100/month, which was implemented to help recipients and their children requiring dietary modifications due to lactose intolerance, gluten intolerance and the like.

It’s election time. Ask candidates whether they are willing to help vulnerable members of our society by implementing these changes to our social assistance programs.

If they tell you that they’re all for cutting taxes and ending the free ride on the gravy train, then point out to them that the cost to society each time a woman is murdered by her partner exceeds $1 million.

Consider lost productivity at work, emergency room visits, police involvement, funeral costs, counselling for family members, care for children left without parents, coroner’s inquests, court costs, incarceration, and so on — then the solution becomes very cost effective even to the most conservative candidate and tax payer.

 

Doreen Nicoll is the Program Coordinator for Women at the Centre.

Photo: flickr/Kt Ann