Toronto Star

Nov. 15, 02:00 EDT

In the eyes of an abuser, a woman is his property

It's rare that murderous attacks happen without warning and the signs aren't hard to detect

Rachel Giese
Toronto Star

In the summer of 2000, within a few weeks of the murder of Gillian Hadley by her estranged husband Ralph, six other local women were killed by their partners or ex-partners.

Bohumila Luft was stabbed and shot to death along with her four children by her husband. Harjaap Bolla was ambushed, stabbed and set on fire by her ex-fiancÚ. Also murdered by men in their lives that summer were Hemoutie Raghunauth, Laurie Lynn Vollmershausen, Renee Joyson and Patricia Real.

In related news that year, the head of Jennifer Zumach (who was missing since January, 1999) was found in a box attached to the motorcycle of her common-law spouse. Meanwhile, Maria Frana, Zahra Zeinali and Camille Bonterre survived horrific acts of violence at the hands of former partners.

In Zeinali's case, it took the form of a gunshot in the face fired by her ex-husband, who then committed suicide.

As The Star's Jim Coyle has pointed out in his comprehensive coverage of the ongoing inquest of the murder of Gillian Hadley: "The most common type of killing in our culture is a male killing his intimate partner, usually for reasons related to sexuality or control."

It's rare that these murderous attacks happen without warning and the signs aren't hard to detect. Previous abuse is one. Police forces estimate that one-third of their time is spent responding to domestic complaints. According to reports from the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics and Statistics Canada, in the period from 1994 to 1999, women accounted for 88 per cent of all spousal violence injuries, which ranged in severity from bruising to broken bones to death.

Timing is another. One in five women who leave a violent partner will continue to be abused and two to six months after the separation is one of the most dangerous times for battered wives. Constable Alan Fujino of the domestic violence section of the Toronto Police told Divorce magazine last year that "events like separation or court dates can trigger the violent spouse's anger, which puts you at high risk."

Another police officer, Constable Cheryl Carter of the Durham region police, testifying at the Hadley inquest explained the rest: breaches of court orders, increasing threats, attempts at communication, stalking and obsession. Carter had seen all these warning signs in the behaviour of Ralph Hadley. She even told Gillian Hadley that her estranged husband might kill her.

Yet on at least one occasion, other Durham police ignored Gillian Hadley's complaints. When she reported Ralph's harassment in the February before her death, her call was put on lowest priority, despite a standing no-contact order.

As shocking as all this is, none of it is news. We heard it at the 1998 inquest of the murder of Arlene May by her former boyfriend, which produced 213 recommendations to improve the safety of women and children, clearly to no avail. And no doubt, we'll hear all these grim statistics and warning signs at some future inquest into the murder of yet another woman.

It's tough to change the attitudes of people like Ralph Hadley and the family and friends who egged him on as the tragedy played out

Everyone from the Ontario government to police services knows what's needed to improve the system: more funding for shelters and services for victims of domestic violence, improved training of police officers to deal specifically with domestic violence, increased co-operation between the courts, police, women's shelters and social workers, stiffer penalties for men who violate the conditions of no-contact orders, counselling and treatment programs for men who are violent or are at risk of becoming violent.

Tougher to change, but equally necessary, are the attitudes that shape the actions of people like Ralph Hadley and the Jerry-Springer-guest-list of family and friends who egged him on as the tragedy played out.

It's paradoxical in a culture so reverent of individual rights that the people who surrounded Gillian Hadley were so ready to violate hers. They listened in on her phone conversations, followed her on dates, believed she deserved threats, stalking and slaps. They shared Ralph's misogynist beliefs and empathized with his warped sense of entitlement. She was his wife. She belonged to him.

Each month in Ontario, according to the Assaulted Women's Helpline, three women are murdered by their partners or ex-partners. They might be stabbed or shot, or beaten. They might be young or old, rich or poor, a long-time victim or in flight from abuse. But the reason each of them dies is because, like Gillian Hadley, in some man's eyes they have ceased to be individuals.

Instead, they are his property.

Rachel Giese's column appears on Thursday.

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