The tragic, and entirely preventable, deaths of Chloe and Aubrey Berry are a grim reminder that when we are concerned about violence against women we should also worry about violence against the children. On paper, the legal system is designed to safeguard women and children’s right to a life free from violence. However, the Oak Bay tragedy confirms that this right is only extended in theory, and not in practise.
Rather than providing reprieve to women and children fleeing violence, the family law system revictimizes them, by obliging them to repeatedly disclose their most traumatic memories in court proceedings; allowing abusive men to cross examine them; and permitting abusive fathers unfettered access to their children. At BWSS, we provide emotional and advocacy support to numerous women who express hopelessness, frustration, and anger with the court system. Many are caught between the proverbial rock and hard place when they are faced with parenting time orders that allow their abusive fathers to spend time with their children, children who have often been victims themselves and have witnessed the violence perpetrated on their mothers. Women face the impossible choice of either following the court order and placing their children in jeopardy or being held in breach of the court order.
In October, BWSS wrote an open letter to B.C. Minster of Justice, David Eby on the Provincial Court Family Rules Project which includes the “Consensual Dispute Resolution”(“CDR”). It is BWSS longstanding direct experience as well as extensive research in the field that has repeatedly demonstrated alternative dispute resolution processes, including mediation, are neither safe nor appropriate for women, particularly when there is a history of relationship violence. Children who have witnessed their mother’s abuse are also being abused and they experience the impact. With alternative dispute resolution processes, unfortunately, FJCs, judges and others in the legal systems are continuing to place an overriding importance on children’s contact with their father, even if that father is abusive.
Preventing such a tragedy from happening again requires significant changes to the system, including extensive training for judges and police officers, free access to legal representation for women fleeing violence: the majority of people who require legal aid for family law services are women and many women who are fleeing violent partner. This means that women have been directly affected to the progressive cuts to Legal Aid since 2002. Additional social resources for women and children to help ensure their safety. Women and children cannot access justice if their voices are heard but not believed.
Western University’s Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children found that Eighty per cent of domestic homicides are preceded by at least seven risk factors that were known to someone close to them. The risk factors include prior violence against women, stalking, separation, prior threats and a perpetrator’s substance abuse. These deaths are preventable.
Battered Women’s Support Services is holding Women Seeking Safety: BWSS Forum on Violence against Women and their Children and the Law on Friday, January 26 2018 looking at systemic change, lethality/assessments and recommendations. Details to follow.