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LivingRural women face higher risk of abuse, so what now Lanark County?

Rural women face higher risk of abuse, so what now Lanark County?

By Fern Martin

More than 40 years ago, three shelters for women and children fleeing abuse opened in  Lanark and Renfrew Counties: Lanark County Interval House in Carleton Place, The Bernadette McCann House in Pembroke, and Avoca House in Eganville, which closed in 1996 after Ontario’s Ministry of Community & Social Services removed funding. These shelters have saved many lives, but the issue of male violence against women has not abated. In fact, the reverse is happening.

The Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians (CAEP) recently published an article that stated, “The rate of women murdered by a current or ex-partner in Canada has increased from one in every 6 days to one in every 36 hours in 2022.” I looked at the statistics gathered by the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability (CFOJA) and it confirms the CAEP information. Between January 1 and October 31 of this year, 144 women and girls have been killed. On average that is indeed 1 every 2nd day. In the 127 cases where the accused are known, 93% are men.

Examining the breakdowns of compiled domestic violence incidents reveals some marked disparities. Indigenous women and women of colour are disproportionately represented in the numbers. Likewise, the rates of abuse of women living in many rural areas, like Lanark and Renfrew Counties, are higher. Here in Lanark County, the OPP reported that in the past year there were 553 Domestic Occurrences, 7 cases of suspected Human Trafficking, and 97 Sexual Offences. In the same period, Lanark County Interval House provided an extensive array of services to 527 women and children, 80 of whom sought refuge at the shelter, and received 4,815 crisis calls.

Rural women wanting to escape violent relationships can face a difficult set of obstacles. In rural communities, everybody knows everybody. An abused woman could be concerned about the reaction of her partner’s parents or other relatives who could very well live next door. She could be worried that others would not believe that Joe, a favourite on the local hockey team, could be abusive. The police officer who plays hockey on the same team may be reluctant to get involved or to believe the woman’s story. Or neighbours of Joe, knowing he is abusive, might be afraid to support his partner for fear of reprisal.

The status of the abuser in a rural community is significant. Joe may be an employer and the employees who are dependent on him for their livelihoods may feel they can’t support his partner. A local landlord who is a friend of Joe’s may refuse to rent to the woman if she tries to leave her situation. When I worked at Interval House, learning that some church ministers were abusive was a revelation to me. One immediately cleaned out his wife’s bank account the day she left him. The teller didn’t question his action – after all, he was the local minister.

Even the practicalities of rural life can work against an abused woman. Telephone or Internet service may be lacking or unreliable. Winter plays a special role in the isolation in rural areas. Some women have no personal transportation regardless of the season. There is a higher ratio of guns in rural homes. At Interval House a woman described how, after an argument, her husband would clean his gun. She took that as a threat.

A September 22, 2015 triple femicide in Renfrew County by a man who had had relationships with the three women was horrifying proof that intimate partner violence remains a perilous reality in our region. The resulting June 2022 Coroner’s Inquest produced 86 recommendations crafted to bring about the changes needed to reduce and stop male violence. One local response is “What Now Lanark County?”, a committee formed to take on the issue in this area.

You are invited to a “What Now Lanark County?” event being held on Friday, December 9 at 6:30 pm at Almonte Old Town Hall. The evening offers a chance to learn from the committee members and special guests who participated in the Inquest, and to contribute to a discussion of what Lanark County can do to ensure the safety and survival of its women and children through an examination of ways to decrease male violence.

Tickets are $10 or by donation. All proceeds will go towards future “What Now, Lanark County?” events including a Women’s Conference in the spring of 2023. Please visit www.ticketsplease.ca or call 613-485-6434. Free tickets are available by emailing whatnowlanarkcounty@gmail.com.

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