Violence against women, femicides up in Quebec

“We don’t have strong enough laws to protect the women going through domestic abuse,” says Svetlana Chernienko, domestic abuse survivor and mental health advocate, on the rise of conjugal violence in Quebec. Brittany Henriques reports.

By Brittany Henriques

If you need help, you can call the SOS Violence Conjugal line 24/7 at 1-800-363-9010 or text 438-601-1211.

MONTREAL – Domestic abuse cases and femicides are on the rise in Quebec.

The province has recorded seven femicides just three months into 2021.

The latest was a 29-year-old woman who succumbed to her injuries after being attacked in Lasalle over the weekend. Her boyfriend arrested that same day.

READ MORE: 29-year-old Montreal woman dies following alleged attack by her boyfriend

There were eight femicides in all of 2020. Now groups and advocates are calling for concrete action.

“Women are trapped in a house with their abuser,” said Svetlana Chernienko, a domestic abuse survivor and a mental health advocate.

She says abusers can attack for any given reason.

“It can be moving your phone from one place to another. It can be not doing the dishes in a way that he would see fit. It could be even just breathing too loud. It doesn’t take much to create that tension for abusive men,” she said.

“It’s terrible, what’s happening right now? And I feel that the pandemic is really, really highlighting the fragility of the safety net that we try to establish for the past 30 years. It’s really scary,” seconded Maud Pontel, a coordinator with Alliance MH2.

Experts are calling domestic violence against women in Quebec a pandemic in its own right.

A report released in October showed 50 per cent of shelters in Canada were reporting an increase in the severity of the violence against women.

Montreal police say they receive 16,000 calls of domestic violence cases each year, accounting for 25 per cent of crimes against the person.

“With the confinement comes the isolation and the isolation is a strong way for the abuser to continue the control and dominating his victims. So, what is very important to understand, also, as one of my coworkers was saying, that it’s not a question of mental health, it’s a question of control,” said Pontel.

“I had a feeling from the very beginning when we went into our first lockdown. I was very afraid of mental health is one thing but domestic abuse coming up,” shared Chernienko.

“And seeing it happening on the news, it’s just disheartening. We need more shelter, we need more law enforcement to step in. These women need help.”

On Monday, Montreal city council unanimously endorsed a declaration calling for efforts to combat conjugal violence.

Mayor Valérie Plante said women are dying, children are dying, and it’s not normal. She said as a society, we have to act.

“At the end of the day, it’s a step forward. But if they really want change, they’re going to have to speak to women like me women who have been in domestic abuse relationships, women who got out of domestic abuse relationships. They need to come to ask us well what can we do,” said Chernienko.

“Everybody, every level of government, is in shock with what is happening right now. And it’s good that there is a governmental organization but they need to act fast because women are dying. Words are good but please show us some actions,” said Pontel.

Premier François Legault said a few weeks ago, after the deaths of two women in the Laurentians, that the act of abuse is cowardly.

“I feel like speaking to men, from one man to another – there’s nothing masculine about being violent with a woman,” said Legault.

Ahead of the Quebec budget set to be tabled Thursday, Alliance MH2 submitted eight recommendations including more shelter space and stricter laws be created to protect victims of abuse.

“[A] victim of conjugal violence–if she decides to call the police or police is called, she will be put in a shelter for her safety and a guy will be arrested and put in jail for maybe 24 hours. And then he’ll be released. It’s not normal because he’s the one acting badly, like extremely badly, but she’s the one hiding,” said Pontel.

“But at the end of the day, it’s the laws. We don’t have strong enough laws to protect the women going through domestic abuse,” said Chernienko.

“You need to leave right away. And I understand it’s one of the hardest things that you’re ever going to do in your life, but trust me. I am living proof that it will get better and you can have a great and happy life with an amazing partner.”

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