Ontario’s Domestic Violence Death Review Committee’s annual reports tell us year after year that pending or recent separation are the times when a victim of family violence is at greatest risk of being killed by her partner.
Research conducted by Luke’s Place and other violence against women agencies has established that most women experience ongoing and often increased levels of abuse of all types in the months after they leave an abusive partner. Stalking is frequently one of the weapons of choice by an abuser after his partner leaves the relationship.
Too often, we see the truth of this in newspaper, television and radio reports of yet another woman who has been killed by her partner during the separation process, often after a period of stalking.
In January, Statistics Canada released its annual statistical profile of family violence. This year, the focus is on intimate partner stalking. (For the purpose of the report, stalking is defined as “repeated and unwanted attention that causes the victim to fear for their personal safety or for the safety of someone they know.”
Every breath you take . . .
The report notes a number of significant differences between stalking in non-intimate partner relationships (a stranger, work or school colleague, a neighbour, friend or extended family member) and intimate partner stalking.
Stalking generally is on the decline in Canada, whereas intimate partner stalking has remained at a constant level between 2004 and 2014.
Women make up the overwhelming majority of victims of intimate-partner stalking at 75% but are only about 60% of stalking victims in other circumstances.
When the stalker is an intimate partner, there is more likely to be cyber-stalking as well as damage to the victim’s property. Intimate partner stalking is also more likely to last longer than stalking by a stranger.
And, as those news headlines confirm, intimate partner stalking is often a precursor to greater physical violence. According to the Statistics Canada report, one-third of those stalked by an intimate partner were also physically assaulted compared with those stalked by a stranger (12%) or someone they knew (16%).
The report notes:
“For women specifically, stalking by a current or former intimate partner was more likely to involve physical threats or intimidation than stalking by a stranger or other known person (45% compared to 11% and 28%).”
To report or not?
Almost half of intimate partner related stalking is reported to the police by the victim. However, charges were laid in just 22% of those cases. No contact orders, put in place in just over a third of reported cases, were violated 47% of the time.
Given the correlation between stalking and subsequent physical violence, it is extremely unfortunate that charges are laid in so few of the cases reported to the police and that no-contact orders are violated at such a high rate.
Indeed, this may be one of the reasons many women decide not to go to the police when they are being stalked. It is also something that could be addressed through police training to increase officer awareness about the seriousness and pervasiveness of post-separation abuse, the correlation between stalking and physical violence and the need to enforce no-contact orders – whether from family or criminal court – vigorously.
We need to do better
We need to work towards a better response to intimate partner stalking, and perhaps this report can provide a starting point for those changes. No woman should feel like this participant in a recent study on the impact of intimate partner stalking on women:
“You’ve accepted that fact; you’re gonna be dead, and you’ve made sure your life insurance policy is up-to-date, and the only thing you can be grateful for is you hope he doesn’t torture you when he kills you.”