2014 was the deadliest year of domestic violence in British Columbia in the last half decade, with at least 14 women murdered as a result of domestic violence.
It’s long been recognized that women facing domestic violence rarely report to the police or otherwise reach out for help. Unfortunately little has been done to address the factors why women don’t report.
One of those factors is that even when women do report, little is done to protect them.
In Honouring Christian Lee, a report into the murder of Sunny Park, her son Christian Lee, and her parents, B.C.’s independent Representative for Children and Youth, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond notes that police were first called about domestic violence in the home in 2003.
Yet, Sunny Lee and her family were not given the protection they needed to stay safe. So, in 2007, her husband, Peter Lee, murdered Sunny Park, his son Christian Lee, and his son’s grandparents, Kum Lea Chun and Moon Kyu Park.
It’s not surprising that the Representative’s report found that “the systems of support for children and families exposed to domestic violence were not adequate to protect Christian and his family.”
Unfortunately, this is a country-wide problem. Witness the murder of Thuy Tien Truong, who was slain along with her extended family in Edmonton on Dec. 28, 2014. Her murderer was first arrested on charges related to domestic violence in 2012. Those he threatened to kill in 2012 are dead today.
The failure to protect women who report isn’t the only problem. Perhaps even more discouraging to women who are facing violence is the practice of demeaning victims of domestic violence and the tendency to blame the women being attacked for violence being directed at them.
For example, a police officer speaking to the media about the mass murder of Thuy Tien Truong and her family let slip a comment that speaks to the deeply held prejudice against victims of domestic violence.
Speaking of one of the murder victims, who, unlike Mrs. Truong, wasn’t related to the killer, Edmonton Superintendent Mark Neufeld said “Ms.Duong “was simply an innocent victim of all this.”
If Ms. Duong was simply an innocent victim, what does that make Mrs. Truong and her family who were all also senselessly murdered? While the officer likely didn’t consciously intend to assign blame to Mrs. Truong, this comment still betrays an attitude and a question that is often leveled at women who suffer from domestic violence.
This attitude isn’t always unconscious.
A Cape Breton woman who reported domestic violence learned this when her voicemail caught police officers laughing at her domestic violence report and saying, “So, did she deserve to get hit?”
“After a few moments, “So, did she deserve to get hit?”And then laughter.”
The only consequence for these officers, who were caught outright mocking a victim of domestic violence, was a written reprimand.
The officer that made those comments, and those laughing along are still working as police officers today. Should we expect women to feel comfortable reporting violence to them?
Women already face enormous difficulties reporting domestic violence. They shouldn’t have to wonder whether the officer on the other end of the phone is mocking them as soon as they think she’s not listening.
“From hitting me, fracturing my nose, knocking my teeth loose, black eyes, numerous stitches in my face, throwing objects at me, putting guns in my mouth and threatening anyone who tried to help me, I tried to leave many times, but with this kind of fear and isolation it’s harder than most people would understand,” she said.
It’s bad enough that women have to face the fear that their partner will kill them if they report. They shouldn’t also have to face the fear that they will be blamed for the violence directed their way.
Until we provide the support that women need to leave violent relationships, we all share a part of the blame for the tragic and horrific murders that scar our communities.