Violence Prevention Grey Bruce

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By Andrea Turcotte
Sexual Assault Counsellor
Women’s House Serving Bruce & Grey


When a woman leaves an abusive and controlling partner, her risk of harm or death at his hands increases.  In fact, it is one of the risk factors identified by the Domestic Violence Death Review Committee (DVDRC), whose purpose is to provide a multi-disciplinary review and investigation of deaths that occur due to domestic violence, and to make recommendations aimed at preventing further such deaths.  Clearly, this is a brave and courageous, as well as extremely dangerous, act for a woman.  And so many women do this, knowing how volatile their abuser is.

For many of these women, this risk does not include just them, but also any children they have with the abuser, or their children from other relationships.  The DVDRC identifies child custody or access disputes, and the presence of children not biologically related to the abuser as additional factors that increase the risk of harm or lethality perpetrated by the abuser.  Biological children of the abuser also typically leads to involvement in family court, a process that is often very stressful for families where there is no domestic violence present, and that much more so in cases where violence or the threat of it are a constant.

Having supported survivors of domestic violence for over a decade, I have seen firsthand how abusers use the family court system to continue to control and abuse women who dare to leave them, who dare to believe they (and their children) can live a violence-free life.  Luke’s Place is a non-profit focused on improving the experiences and safety of women and their children throughout the family law process, after fleeing an abusive relationship.  They define this as legal bullying, a type of post-separation abuse that is “the intentional misuse and manipulation of family laws and family court processes by the abuser to try to maintain his power and control over his former partner by intimidating, harassing and inducing fear in her”.  There are many ways that abusers do this – not retaining a lawyer, not filing paperwork or filing incomplete paperwork, contacting many lawyers to create conflicts of interest, missing court dates, filing motions that are worthless or on already decided issues, ignoring court orders, self-representing when he does not financially need to, dishonest financial disclosure, lying about abuse, changing lawyers multiple times – the list goes on and on.

The impact of these tactics of control on the women and children is significant.  There is no ability to live the violence-free life that they hoped for, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) or other mental health symptoms increase or appear, children are often forced to spend time with a parent they are afraid of or who has abused them, women are forced to have contact with their abuser to facilitate access, a woman’s financial resources or her access to legal aid can be exhausted – again the list goes on and on.

In many cases, this family court involvement is dragged out over several years, leaving women and children feeling unsafe and continually under the thumb of their abuser, with little space to heal and move on from the trauma they have experienced, and continue to experience.  A woman will frequently forfeit financial support or access to joint property/assets, or concede on issues of access or joint custody, in order to bring the proceedings to an end.  This may result in access arrangements that are not safe for the children, and the women not having the financial resources she and the children need, despite her abuser having the ability to provide them.

Many abusers also use the criminal court system to abuse and control women post-separation.  As a co-facilitator of a women’s Partner Assault Response group program, where women are typically court-mandated to attend, I hear the stories directly from women where this is the case.  They share deeply private and traumatizing details about their situations where their abusers lied to police in order to have the women charged with assaulting them, or they were charged for defending themselves physically from an attacking abuser (they were simply seeking safety in these situations) and were not given an opportunity to provide a statement from their perspective.  Some of the women were also forced into illegal acts by their abusers, who made sure they had evidence of this, which was then provided to police when the woman stepped out of line (i.e. left the relationship).  Others had their abusers lift no contact orders which allowed the women to move back home where their children reside (and also their abuser), and then hold that over the woman’s head to have their demands met, in some cases demanding sex in return for not reinstating the no contact order.  And just to make things clear – that is sexual assault.  There is no ability to consent when coercion is present.

It is time to end the culture of patriarchy that allows abusers to get away with type of behavior, and allows women and children to be treated this way.  Massive shifts need to happen so that women and children can be safe from their abusers, and have the violence-free lives they sought the day they left, from the day they left.


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