Risks of intimate partner homicide to lawyers, mediators, clients and families
by Jana Schilder as appeared in The Lawyer’s Daily, September 18, 2018
It is a fact that many more women die by the hand of their intimate partner than by any other means. There were 18 women killed and two men killed in Canada from January to April 2018 by their intimate partners, making a mockery of the words “I love you” and “to love, honour and cherish.”
Separation and divorce escalate risk of harm, and involvement with lawyers and the legal system further aggravates risk of a party or child being harmed or killed.
In 2015, Winnipeg family lawyer Maria Mitousis was almost killed when she opened a mail bomb that was sent to her by her client’s ex-husband. In the U.S., stories of murdered family lawyers seem commonplace, most recently Antonio Mari, shot by his client’s ex this past June, and Sara Quirt Sann, murdered by her client’s ex-husband.
“Fortunately, intimate partner homicides — of men and women — are often predictable and also preventable,” said Hilary Linton, a family lawyer, family mediator, family arbitrator, international mediation instructor and a director of the Family Dispute Resolution Institute of Ontario (FDRIO). “The problem is most people in and out of the justice system have not learned to recognize the predictors of this kind of risk nor the safety planning that can be done to minimize it.”
Here’s what we know for sure about intimate partner homicide and how separation and divorce make an uneasy situation much more volatile. Separation is the most dangerous time for a victim of violence. Consulting with a family lawyer increases the risk of murder for victims of domestic violence. As a result, family mediation and other family dispute resolution (FDR) processes are high risk when domestic violence or intimate partner violence is present.
At this year’s FDRIO Conference in Toronto, Nov. 19, 2018, Aruna Papp will give a keynote titled “Honour, Shame and Love: what Ontario FDR professionals can learn from a survivor of the culture of honour,” followed by a panel discussion that will amplify domestic violence issues.
“Screening for domestic violence — not just physical violence but all forms of coercion and control — is critical for your safety and that of your clients,” added Linton.
By way of definition, the term “family violence” includes: physical abuse including confinement and deprivation of necessities of life; sexual abuse; attempts to physically or sexually abuse; intimidation, harassment, threats, including to pets, property or third persons; unreasonable restrictions on financial or personal autonomy; stalking; and intentional property damage.
According to an Ontario Domestic Violence Death Review Committee Report (2015) for the years 2003 to 2015, 67 per cent of cases reviewed were homicides while 33 per cent were homicide-suicides. Actual or pending separation was present in 68 per cent of cases.
Importantly, a history of violence was present in 74 per cent of cases, with the top risk factors identified as: obsessive behaviour; a depressed perpetrator; escalation of violence; prior threats to commit suicide; prior threats to the kill victim; an unemployed perpetrator; and a victim who had intuitive sense of fear that something terrible would happen to her (him) soon. But equally importantly, there was no known physical violence in 26 per cent of those cases. Which means family law professionals should learn to recognize all the significant risk factors, said Linton.
There are four patterns of intimate partner violence that have been identified by researchers:
- Situational couple violence is the most common type and it is perpetrated equally by both men and women who have poor ability to manage conflicts or anger. Situations or arguments escalate on occasion into physical violence. Most often, situational couple violence involves minor forms of violence. Fear of the other partner is not present.
- Separation-instigated violence, seen equally in men and women, happens when the couple has no prior history of violence. Rather, the violence is triggered by the traumatic separation, public humiliation, allegations of abuse, or the discovery of a lover in bed. As a result, violent acts are uncharacteristic and unexpected. Because they are atypical and sporadic, they leave the victim of violence confused, afraid and uncertain.
- Coercive control is when violence is embedded in a pattern of power and control. Control is comprised of intimidation, emotional abuse, isolation, minimizing and blaming, use of children, economic abuse and threats. Abusers use any combination of tactics that work. A primary characteristic of the victim is fear. Coercive control is perpetrated mainly by men (in heterosexual relationships). There is a high likelihood that the victim will be injured, severely injured or even killed.
- Violent resistance is the immediate, reflexive reaction to an assault intended to protect the victim, the couple’s children, or other family members. Violent resistance is often ineffective. Some research shows women who defend themselves are twice as likely to be severely injured as those who do not.
This is part one of a series.
Jana Schilder is co-founder of The Legal A Team, a marketing, public relations and social media agency for lawyers and law firms. She also wrote the book on public relations for lawyers, available at Lexis Practice
Advisor (LPA). Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org