Women's Services to research why more rural women are murdered by their spouses

Grant from Queen’s Park to fund project looking into reality of domestic violence

Norfolk News
By Victoria Gray 
Rural women are much more likely than women living in cities to be murdered by their current or former spouse. 
Amber Wardell, Justice for Women Review Team co-ordinator, and others at Haldimand and Norfolk Women’s Services (HNWS) want to know why, and what their organization can do to help reduce the number of domestic violence-related murders in rural areas. 
To help find those answers, Women's Services recently received a $16,500 grant from the Ministry of Community and Social Services, one of 16 shelters in Ontario to get funding through the newly created Rural Realities Fund.
“Rural women are at more risk of being killed by their partners due to domestic violence homicide,” Wardell said. “Very often – three quarters of the time – it's an ex-partner that kills them. I was just reading research from 2015 in Ontario – the closer (women) are to urban centres, the less likely they are to be killed.”
That’s counter-intuitive, she said, since violent crimes are believed to take place at a higher frequency in larger cities. However, women in urban centres may not have the same barriers to accessing services as those in rural areas. Rural residents tend to know their neighbours, so calling the police and having the community know about the abuse may not be an attractive option. It's also a possibility that a family member, friend or even the abuser works in the social services field in the area, making anonymity and confidentiality that much more difficult. 
“We know that there is a lot of attention provincially on what can we do to make these women safer and make our services more accessible,” Wardell said.
She said the funding will help HNWS complete a year-long research project with women's services groups in Sarnia and Strathroy, among others. The project is needed, Wardell explained, because most existing research focuses on urban areas, and the information collected doesn't always apply to rural towns. 
“This research will help us get the practical pieces together to put this is place. That's the long-term goal – we want more women to be able to access services,” Wardell said. 
“We know that will result in reduction of numbers of women being killed. We want to make women safer.”
Women’s Services has also partnered with researchers at the Western University to conduct interviews with many rural women's shelter executive directors, front-line staff and clients. 
Those interviews are intended to the best practices used by the various shelters to deliver services and protect both men and women who are victims of domestic abuse, along with children who have witnessed or experienced abuse as well. 
“Every woman deserves to live free from the fear of violence in her home and community,” said Tracy MacCharles, a minister in the Liberal government responsible for women’s issues.
“Women in rural and isolated communities who have experienced violence will now have better access to the supports they need to help them live safely and rebuild their lives.”
Another part of the project is educating health-care professionals to recognize the major signs of sexual and physical abuse – such as bruising or abdominal pain – as a way to curb the murder rate. 
Wardell said across Canada, that the “vast majority” of women who are killed by their spouses do not typically connect with a shelter, but do visit a hospital or doctor’s office within a year of their death.
Norfolk and Haldimand counties have some of the highest per-capita rates of domestic violence in all of Ontario, with almost 4,000 reported cases between 2009 and 2014. 
Wardell warns the problem is even larger, because most domestic violence cases are not reported to police. She noted that more than one in six women experiences domestic violence, and a woman is murdered in Canada every six days as a result of a domestic violence incident.
Victoria Gray is a municipal affairs and general assignment reporter for Norfolk News. Contact Victoria at vgray@metroland.com. Follow The Norfolk News on Twitter, and Facebook