Stories of heartbreak and horror: why domestic violence is an urgent issue

The Way I See It
By Daniela Ginta
April 15, 2019 - 2:13pm
Image Credit: Syda Productions / Dreamstime.com

TO THE OUTSIDE WORLD, Elana Fric and Mohammed Shamji were a couple in love, married for over a decade, children and all, each with a great career. But the truth of their relationship was marred by darkness, the kind that makes people shudder when they look closely. Unfortunately, few could, given that their carefully curated (by Shamji) social media profiles displaying a happy-go-lucky family and couple life.

On November 30, 2016, Dr. Fric was brutally attacked and killed by her husband of 12 years, two days after serving him divorce papers. Their three children were just meters away in the house, but that did not stop him. Nor did the crime prevent him from going to work the next day and performing surgeries — or lying about his wife’s whereabouts (whose remains he put in a suitcase and dumped near a river 35 km away from Toronto).

Shamji was arrested the next day and, in April of this year, he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, with a sentence to be delivered in the next month. The story has had huge reverberations. Across the country, people kept wondering how this could happen. After all, Dr. Mohammed Shamji was a world-renowned neurosurgeon, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto and, as someone said to me, ‘It just doesn’t make any sense that he would be that kind of person.’

This is where reality shows up and strips away any preconceived notions. There is no class, degree of wealth or social status that would have some placed in a special ‘safe’ category. Domestic violence spans all layers of society. Ironically, my previous writing about this topic was spurred by a story of domestic violence where the perpetrator had the highest level of education and societal approval, being deemed a dependable family man and a charming fellow to boot. So much for ‘that kind of person’.

And who would that be, anyway? Low-income, rural-dwelling people? Not always; not necessarily. Or, some believe, people from a different culture. Not always applicable either. People are people everywhere.

Biases like the ones above and the stigma associated with domestic abuse make us miss the mark when it comes to intimate partner violence (IPV), which a recent study concluded is the most common form of violence against women. In fact, the number of women who sustained traumatic brain injuries as a result of domestic violence is far higher than the combined number of similar injuries happening in the military and the NFL. Yes, combined. That’s sobering.

In Canada, one in five women experiences domestic abuse. On average, every six days a woman is killed by her intimate partner, and the number of children who experience domestic abuse climbed to a shocking 362,000 in the latest statistics. The majority of victims of IPV are women (79 per cent in 2017).

Statistics like these jolt us. Then again, numbers are often looked at as such: indicators of. But behind the numbers there are people. Imagine a person, adult or child, and their hellish life. Domestic violence forces approximately 3,000 women and their 2,900 dependent kids to live in emergency shelters across Canada.

According to the latest report by Stats Canada, 30 per cent of all police-reported violent crimes in Canada in 2017 were IPV incidents. Between 2007 and 2017, there were 933 victims of domestic homicide, 736 women and 197 men. Most homicides end a journey of violent incidents which are generally underreported for many reasons: fear, lack of social support, low finances, guilt for breaking up a relationship (more so if kids are involved), hope and yes, emotional attachment.

It is a fact that we are not even close to solving this horrible complex problem. In 2016, the year Elana Fric was killed by her husband, there were 75 other victims of domestic homicide. We know but a few of them, if that. What we do not know is the unthinkable pain and trauma children left behind go through, and their loved ones, too. We must not allow such stories to be buried under piles of yesterday’s news, lest we allow for so many others still trapped in violence and suffering to potentially be facing the same fate.

As with other stigma-loaded issues that are affecting our society including mental health, suicide, and drug addiction, high-profile cases get the conversation started. The challenging part is to keep it going and eventually break the cycle that hurts so many people and has long-lasting and far-reaching consequences.

We need to remember: Indigenous women and girls make up approximately four per cent of the general population in Canada, but they represented 16 per cent of all homicides between 1980 and 2012. (1,181 women and girls according to a 2014 RCMP report.) The numbers could be as high as 4,000 though. As of November 2013, at least 105 Indigenous women and girls remained missing under suspicious circumstances or for undetermined reasons. To learn more: http://www.mmiwg-ffada.ca/interactive-map-hearings-and-events/

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Editor's Note: This opinion piece reflects the views of its author, and does not necessarily represent the views of CFJC Today or the Jim Pattison Broadcast Group.