Like many people living in this province, I was dismayed and horrified by the news coming out of Conne River this past week.
The tragic murder of Chantel John, allegedly at the hands of her ex-partner, marks the latest sad chapter in the narrative around the impact of domestic violence and the dangers involved for women who choose to leave such relationships.
While the families and community involved are left to mourn and deal with the consequences, and we all await the outcome of the criminal trial that will come, the question remains: what is to be done to change this unacceptable trend in our society?
I was having a conversation this past weekend with a couple of coworkers about this most recent incident, and one of us commented that this type of thing seems to be happening more often, despite how far women’s rights have progressed. It got me to thinking about why this might be the case and what kinds of things I have noticed myself over the past couple of decades, working with women who have experienced violence within intimate relationships.
Running away and hiding may provide safety in the short term, but it doesn’t really address the problem and no woman should have to run away from her family, friends and supports in order to be safe.
While there are a number of factors involved, one of the most obvious is that many women are now choosing to leave violent relationships because they have that option. In the past, women did not have the same economic opportunities and were forced to stay in abusive marriages. This was further reinforced by cultural and religious pressure to stay in marriages and not get divorced, and the reality that there were usually children involved and women felt pressure to maintain the family structure for their benefit.
Ironically, it has been the advancement of women’s rights and opportunities that have provided the chances for women to escape from the trap of an abusive marriage, but in doing so, they have been placed at greater risk of being killed by a partner who doesn’t want to let her go. In this province, we do not have any large cities into which a woman can disappear so that her ex-partner will not be able to find her. Pretty much everyone knows where everyone else lives in our communities, and despite court orders, a partner who is determined to harm his ex-wife or girlfriend usually doesn’t have far to go to find her. Running away and hiding may provide safety in the short term, but it doesn’t really address the problem and no woman should have to run away from her family, friends and supports in order to be safe.
So, what do we do?
To begin with, we continue to help women advance in gaining equality so that they have opportunities to gain economic independence. Women’s rights are not the cause of this problem, but blowback from some men who don’t want to see this freedom for “their” women is contributing to the increased murder of women leaving relationships.
We need to continue providing education and services for women and we need to also do a better job of educating men, and provide programs to help them change their behaviours, before they reach the point where they seriously injure or kill their partner.
We need to involve the entire community and wider family to help with this process, and not just rely on professionals to “fix” the problem. If we can bring this problem out into the open in the early stages before it progresses to the point of extreme violence, we may be able to engage the entire community in helping both parties find a way to escape the consequences of a violent relationship. As with all types of violence, it is much more effective to prevent escalation than to try to contain it once it has blown up. Locking up men or forcing women into hiding does not create real safety in the long run, and it’s time that we developed a strategy that looks at a longer-term solution.
Brian Hodder is an LGBTQ2 activist and works in the field of mental health and addictions. He can be reached at email@example.com.