The Coalition for Gun Control/Pour le Controle des Armes

Report: Domestic deaths have a number of common links

Posted by cgccanada on June 23, 2010

By April Cunningham, Telegraph-Journal, June 22, 2010

SAINT JOHN – Women in New Brunswick are more likely to be killed by their intimate partner if they are in a common-law relationship, there are guns in the house, alcohol abuse and a history of violence, a researcher says.

Deborah Doherty, executive director of Public Legal Education and Information Service of New Brunswick, spoke about domestic homicide at the Saint John Free Public Library.

In a study of the province’s last 35 domestic deaths – including homicides and murder-suicides – since 1989, Deborah Doherty has found that often, judges call the deaths “senseless acts,” she said.

“But we must make sense of these deaths. We need to learn something that might help us prevent deaths in the future,” said Doherty, the executive director of the Public Legal Education and Information Service of New Brunswick, at a presentation at the Saint John Free Public Library.

Doherty, an expert in family violence, has researched New Brunswick’s domestic deaths since 2001 for the Silent Witness Project – an exhibit of life-sized red, wooden silhouettes representing women killed by their partners.

Her research doesn’t yet include Melanie Getson or Deborah Gunn, who were both killed in two separate slayings on May 10 in Saint John and Moncton respectively. Each of the women’s partners has been charged with first-degree murder.

“I just find it so disheartening every time I hear of a domestic death,” Doherty said in an interview. “Doing the research, and seeing so many of them were experiencing the same types of abuse in their life, I keep thinking, ?What could have been done? Can we learn one more thing from this death to help the next woman? Was there a signal that someone could have acted on to help Melanie?’ ”

Of the 35 cases – 15 of which were murder-suicides – Doherty found that 25 of them were in small towns or rural New Brunswick communities. That compares to 0.9 per cent for Ontario domestic deaths.

Guns have been the weapon of choice. Nineteen of the women were shot, and all but one was with a long gun rifle. “I have a pretty good idea it relates to the fact that this is a hunting province, with more firearms in homes,” Doherty said.

Combined with alcohol, the risk factor increases. Seventy-five per cent of the perpetrators had a serious drug or alcohol problem. That compares to 42 per cent in Ontario.

An overwhelming factor was a history of violence, which Doherty defined as not just physical, but emotional or sexual as well. Ninety per cent of the cases appeared to have a history of violence – though it wasn’t clear in court documents, she said.

Relationships were described as turbulent, stormy with a lot of bickering. Often friends, family or crisis workers knew about the violence, but police were never involved, so reports didn’t make it to court, she said.

Mental health also increased the risk, she found. Out of 20 court cases she examined, eight had documented depression, and several had attempted or threatened to commit suicide.

One of the more surprising factors for Doherty was martial status with 66 per cent of the women killed by their common-law partner.

Only 37 per cent of the women killed were recently separated, compared to 81 per cent in Ontario.

Doherty said it points to the need not just to help women leave abusive relationships – but to help them stay safely.

Along with awareness, communities need to start identifying abuse, she said.

“We as a society have a lower threshold for abusive behaviours and violence, firearms misuse, behaviours when people are drunk,” she said. “That’s not an excuse. We have to speak out against it.”


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