Addressing root causes of intimate partner abuse

By Staff

Ontario has come a long way in addressing domestic abuse, but with dozens of women still dying at the hands of their partners in this country every year, there is more work to be done, says Toronto family lawyer and divorce recovery coach Leanne Townsend.

Townsend, a partner with Brauti Thorning LLP, has an extensive history of working with women in abusive relationships, both previously as a Crown attorney and in her practice as a life coach.

She says statistics show that Ontario has made significant improvements in combating abuse compared to other provinces thanks to training initiatives for police and prosecutors as well as public awareness campaigns.

“But it’s still a problem,” she tells, pointing to research that shows one in five women suffer domestic abuse in Canada.

“In the first six months of 2018, at least 78 women were killed by an intimate partner,” Townsend says. “Getting at the root causes of it is a challenge. With greater awareness, women are reaching out more and getting help but women are still being killed, so it is still a big problem.

There’s a stigma attached to domestic violence, and as a result, it's difficult for victims to reach out and ask for help, she says.

Townsend says societal evolution can also be particularly difficult for some men, and a certain personality type could lash out, focusing on women.

While the attack that killed 10 people and injured more on a busy North York sidewalk earlier this year wasn’t necessarily gender-driven, a social media post later suggested the man was sympathetic with a misogynist group, she says.

That illustrates that there are still views that make women vulnerable — 29 years after Marc Lépine walked into École Polytechnique and shot 28 people, killing 14 women, before committing suicide in what is now known as the Montreal Massacre, Townsend says.

“Culturally, there are issues as well,” she says. “Toronto is a multicultural city, and we take great pride in that, but some people come from countries where women don’t have the same rights as we do in Canada.

“When they arrive here, and their husbands continue to treat them the same way they did back home, the women are learning that’s not OK and are standing up for themselves," she says. "But it’s much harder when you’re in that type of environment. The women are often shunned by their community and have even less support and resources in many ways than many who aren’t in that particular situation.”

Townsend says targeted awareness and education coupled with rehabilitation programs for men charged with domestic violence are initiatives that are making a difference.

“Potential offenders can access courses and counselling to learn the coping mechanisms that are acceptable and healthy in a relationship and help things from escalating,” she says. “It is a big problem, and it cuts across all ethnicities, education levels, and socio-economic backgrounds.

“It’s that personality type of someone being controlling and power being important to them in the relationship” that are early warning signs, Townsend says.

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