For women, closing the door on an abuser can open the door to murder – December 15, 2008

Why doesn't she leave? Because that's when she might be killed.

Women in abusive living situations are most at risk when they announce they're leaving.

Alisha Morrissey
The Telegram

ST. JOHN'S – Why doesn't she leave? Because that's when she might be killed.

Women in abusive living situations are most at risk when they announce they're leaving.

It's at that point, researchers and advocates say, that an abusive man will start to question whether or not he can live without his submissive partner.

And he may decide that if she won't be with him, then she won't be with anyone else either.

Leslie Tutty, a professor of social work at the University of Calgary and an expert in the study of abuse, says it's hard to know what's going through a man's mind right before he kills, or as he's planning to kill his partner – mostly because if they succeed, there's no partner around to ask.

In many cases, the men will attempt suicide afterwards, Tutty said.

"It comes from the, 'If I can't have you, no one else can' psychology which goes along with the whole patriarchal view of ownership of women. …It's the ultimate control, and again the tragedy is that they'll kill the children, as well, because 'if I take you out and I kill myself, then there won't be any parents,'" Tutty explained.

A June 2006 study Tutty conducted shows that 75 per cent of women in 10 shelters across the country were at severe or extreme risk of being murdered by their partners, according to a commonly accepted danger scale.

Only about seven per cent of abused women use shelters, Tutty said.

"It's actually quite amazing that women successfully leave partners like that …," she said.

"Sometimes we're even worried these days about telling them about the risk to their lives when they leave the relationship – you're sort of worried that they'll go back. …We've identified leaving as a very lethal time and we don't want that to be used by women as a rationale to stay, when in fact she might be at more risk if she stays with him."

What went wrong

Women are likely to go back home and into the danger zone when they can't find a safe, affordable, permanent place to live, particularly if there are children to worry about, said Tutty.

When women are killed by their partners before they attempt to leave them, Tutty said, there's little or no knowledge of what went wrong in the home.

"These are women who have not used outside services …there didn't seem to be any avenue of preventing it," she said.

"They didn't call the police, they didn't go to shelters, so there's nobody that really has their story and could say what happened to lead up to it.

"I think once (abusive spouses) verbalize a threat to kill that's credible, that you can tell that he actually really means it, I think that just lifts the danger level to a whole new high. And when you continue to live at that danger level, it's hard then to know how to interpret further threats."

Leslie MacLeod, president of the Provincial Advisory Council on the Status of Women, said in many cases men who have killed their partners or former partners either plead guilty to lesser charges than murder or are determined by the courts to be guilty of a lesser charge because the explanation that he "snapped" is sometimes accepted.

"Most (murder-suicides) may have been very well planned, in fact, and so have some of the other murders …," she said.

"So, we have the defence that someone had lost control of themselves, (but) we don't know if that person lost control that day or actually set out to do exactly what they planned to do."

MacLeod cited the attempted murder case of Lew Nippard, who stabbed his wife Nellie Nippard 33 times. Nellie Nippard survived, but has since died of cancer.

"That wasn't 33 stab wounds delivered by a man that was out of control," she said.

"(I think) he quite deliberately meant to murder her that day and he even argued over how many stab wounds there were and he thought she was dead."

Tutty said cases are rare that a woman is murdered by her partner during a severe marital argument. In those cases, she said, the women were likely not abused, because an abused woman would never have been in a serious argument with her spouse.

For example, in the case of the shooting death of Shirley Parsons, there seems to have been no record of abuse by her husband, Benjamin, who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder.

Instead, the court heard that Benjamin Parsons and his wife of 30 years were in a heated argument about her spending too much time away, working in Nova Scotia.

The night she died, Shirley had gone to lie down. Parsons said that when he attempted to join her, "(she was) bitching she didn't want me to lie down with her."

Parsons retrieved his .303 bolt-action Enfield rifle from the hall closet and ammunition from a dresser drawer in the bedroom.

He went outside "to get the anger out" and fired a shot into the air before reloading and returning to the house, court documents say.

It was then he pointed the rifle at her and she dared him to pull the trigger, Parsons told the court. Afterwards, he called his neighbour, a retired Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officer, and told him that he'd killed his wife.

When police arrived, he was in the kitchen holding his dead wife in his arms. "I don't care if you shoot me or hang me," he reportedly told the police. "The love of my life is gone. I should have shot myself, too, but I couldn't do it."

Warning signs

Tutty said that after completing a recent study on firearm use and domestic violence for the federal Justice department's firearms unit, it become apparent that when men threaten to commit suicide, it can also be a warning to their partners that their lives may be in danger.

MacLeod recently spoke at a St. John's conference about preventing violence against women. Her speech was on the murder of women and was titled, "It's almost always men."

According to research by Martin Daly and Margo Wilson of McMaster University's psychology department, and republished in Brian Vallee's book "The War on Women," men will hunt down and kill spouses who have left them, while women hardly ever do the same.

They also found that men are more likely to kill women whom they discover have been unfaithful. Women almost never do, despite the fact that men are notably more adulterous. Men kill women in planned murder-suicides, while women almost never do. Men kill wives after years of abuse, while women seldom do. Men kill spouses and children together, women rarely do.

A 2006 Statistics Canada report, also republished in Vallee's book, says police forces determined that in 41 per cent of cases where women have murdered their spouses, the man "was the first to use or threaten to use physical force." In the spousal killings of women only five per cent of victims initiated the violence. Vallee and others credit shelters with saving men's lives. A consequence of the increasing number of shelters in the United States since 1976 was a 70 per cent drop in the number of men killed by spouses, ex-spouses or girlfriends, Vallee wrote. During MacLeod's speech, she used a list to illustrate her point about the continuum of violence that leads to the murder of women by their partners. "It's not necessarily the age but the length of the relationship and the escalation of violence," MacLeod said. "You could be beaten for 40 years and never be murdered, or you could be in a relationship for two years and be killed."

While women in North America are statistically killed with long guns, including rifles and shotguns, in this province there is no pattern to the style of killings, MacLeod said, nor is there a pattern in the type of woman who found herself in an abusive relationship and was finally killed. She said she's not aware of any research examining the psychology of the point when men kill, or decide to kill, their partners.

"That's what we need to find out. That is exactly what we as a community have to find out …what did get it to this situation?" MacLeod said. "We fully believe there is a culture of male violence in the province. We've had three women murdered in the province in the last year.

"Why is it happening? Starting with sexist attitudes of women being less equal and starting with attitudes of ownership and possession and the right to control, how does it move then to physical violence and ultimately murder? We need to answer those questions and then ultimately stop it. We need a lot more work on this. We need a lot more questions asked and a lot more thought given to the answers. We're making assumptions here, and assumptions are leading to death, and we need the truth."

The victims behind the statistics

Jan. 18, 2007 – Sonya Rogers, 23, was stabbed to death in front of her three-year-old son after making a frantic call to 911. Police say her killer, a man with whom she'd had an off-and-on relationship, hanged himself in a shed in a nearby community.

Aug. 3, 2006 – Goldie Loveless, 34, was shot dead in the backyard of the Hermitage home she shared with Shawn Skinner, 38. He died after he then turned the gun on himself.

November 2006 – Genevieve (Jenny) Hull, 52, was shot dead in Bay d'Espoir by her common-law partner Ronald James Skinner, 51, while she was outside smoking. Skinner then shot and killed himself.

March 14, 2006 – Beverly Rose Clahar, 52, from Halifax was found shot to death in Avondale. Police determined that she was killed by Warrick Canning, 44, from Birchy Bay, who then shot himself dead in their home.

Jan. 28, 2006 – Pamela George, 21, was shot and killed in Arnold's Cove by Benjamin Craig Hickey, 22, who then shot himself to death.

Sept. 27, 2005 – Geraldine Payne, 33, was strangled to death by Jamie Harold Hart, 33, in her Clarenville home. Hart later pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 13 years in prison.

Dec. 26, 2005 – Shirley Parsons, 53, was shot and killed in her Victoria kitchen by her husband, Benjamin Parsons, 61. He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was ordered to serve life in prison, but appealed the sentence.

June 10, 2005 – Cathy MacDonald, 35, was stabbed to death by Glenn Brophy, 34, who also stabbed himself to death at her Port aux Basques home. Brophy was awaiting trial on aggravated assault charges at the time of the murder-suicide and was ordered to stay away from MacDonald's home.

Sept. 21, 2003 – Ann Maria Lucas, 56, was bashed in the head at least five times with a metal bar before she died in her Alabama Terrace apartment in Stephenville. Robert Hilroy Legge pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison. Legge had previously served a prison sentence for assaulting Lucas.

Dec. 12, 2002 – Mary Susan Evans-Harlick, 24, was strangled and her body stuffed into a sleeping bag in a crawlspace. Her body was found Dec. 12, 2002 in Scott Joseph Gauthier's apartment on Portugal Cove Road in St. John's. Gauthier was convicted of second-degree murder.

Nov. 11, 2000 – April Arnott, 19, was killed by her on-again, off-again boyfriend, Terrence Gosse, 25, who then shot and killed himself in the basement of her parents' home in Conception Bay South.

June 28, 2000 – Brenda Gillingham, 39, was shot and killed when her ex-boyfriend, Cecil Pendergast, went to St. John's apartment to collect his things. He later pleaded guilty to second-degree murder.

July 24, 1997 – Judy Ann Ogden, 25, was bludgeoned to death with an axe by her estranged husband, Dale Ogden, who was later convicted of second-degree murder. Dale was under a restraining order filed by Judy at the time of her death.

Sept. 15, 1997 – Mary Margaret O'Reilly, 60, was shot to death by her husband, Gerard Leonard O'Reilly, at their Spruce Brook cabin. He was found not criminally responsible for her death due to mental illness.

Nov. 4, 1996 – Marguerite Dyson, 51, was beaten to death with various household objects and her body wrapped in a sheet in her downtown St. John's home. John Skaynes was convicted of her second-degree murder.

Jan. 28, 1988 – Gail (Brewer) Ping, 21, was shot several times by her husband, Stephen Ping, in St. John's, He was later convicted of second-degree murder.

1979 – Janet Louvelle, 16, was killed by Malcolm Norman Cuff, whom she had dated. Her body was discarded near weigh scales just west of Corner Brook and was not found for nearly a decade. Cuff was convicted of her second-degree murder after he had already been sentenced to life in prison for killing Marilyn Ann Newman, 20, who was abducted, sexually assaulted and brutally murdered with a hammer and screwdriver in Corner Brook, by Cuff and Robert Durnford in January 1983.

Source: Transcontinental Media, RCMP

Know the signs

Warning signs that abused women may be at risk of grave danger. This list is not exhaustive, and some signs may not indicate an imminent threat, but a combination of many of these signs points to a dangerous situation.
Guns in the home
Using or threatening to use a weapon
Contemplated, threatened or attempted suicide
Recent separation
Alcohol abuse
Use and abuse of illegal drugs
Increase in frequency or severity of violence
Abuser is violent in life outside the relationship
Abuser has destroyed cherished possessions
Abuser is jealous or attempts to control partner's daily activities
Abuser has accused the victim of cheating
Abuser is violent towards children
Abuser has injured or killed pets
Abuser has forced the victim to have sex
Source: RCMP


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