Two news stories on the island on the past month caught my attention because they highlighted a cross-section of issues that rarely gets the attention or concern of people on the street or legislators in their offices.
“A P.E.I. man was sentenced Tuesday to 90 days in jail in addition to 45 he already served for trying to strangle his girlfriend.
The man was already on probation for a nearly identical assault on the woman last fall.
Forty-three-year-old Ronald Craig Hughes had his hands around his girlfriend’s throat when police arrived at the woman’s Charlottetown apartment July 21. Parts of her victim impact statement were read in court during the sentencing hearing. According to that statement, she thought she was going to die.”
Judge describes beatings as “horrendous” and “savage”
“SUMMERSIDE —Judge Jeff Lantz called it one of the worst domestic assaults he has seen in his seven years on the bench.
The provincial court judge called the images of a badly beaten woman “horrendous” and the beating “savage”.
That beating came at the hands of Trevor Michael Kinch. The victim was an ex-girlfriend.
It was the woman’s young daughter who stopped the attack, woken from her slumber to find Kinch beating her mother. She called out for him to stop. He fled. The child called her aunt for help, telling her that Kinch had killed her mother.
“She said she was very afraid for her life and understandably so,” Lantz said, referring to the woman’s victim impact statement.“
These stories share a lot in common; In both the victim was a woman who knew their attacker, both convicted had known substance abuse issues and were repeat offenders, and both received prison time with probation and the potential for counselling While one can look and take issue with the specific length of these sentences and/or the aid for the victims now and after the convicted have served their sentences, these cases also serve to highlight a series of larger trends on PEI which can feed off each other to create a harmful climate for both women and men.
There are currently three main services on the island to help victims of violence such as the women in these cases; the free provincial Victim Services program, Family Violence Prevention Services of PEI (FVPS) and PEI Rape and Sexual Assault Centre (RSAC). According to the 2010 Women in PEI: A Statistical Review, in 2008-2009 there were 863 new referrals to Victim Services, 68% of which were female. This rose to 886 new referrals in 2010-2011 with 71% being female, in addition to 601 cases carried over from the previous year. Most notably, 26% of the new referrals in 2010-2011 were related to Wife Abuse.
It is no shock then when looking to the numbers of filed Emergency Protection Orders that the vast majority are women
What may be surprising to some, and which the two above stories highlight, is that the majority of these assaults do not come from the hooded figure in an alley way or a purse stealing stranger. They most commonly from individuals known to the victim, with husbands and common-law husbands outpacing even former partners as perpetrators of abuse. Currently, the Victims of Crime Act Annual Report does not highlight this relation, only the percentage of crime, victim gender, and age ranges.
Anderson House is an emergency shelter for women and children who are seeking to escape abusive or broken homes. It provides all the amenities of a normal household while also putting many therapy and other support services in reach and is open 24/7. As of 2009, 84 women and 51 children were using the service, with bedroom occupancy in the last three years bouncing between 36.4% in 2007, 26.5% in 2008, and 46.1% in 2009. Overall the amount of people accessing the service has declined since a spike between 1989 and 1994, with the number only peaking past 100 last in 2004. Recently the shelter has run into financial and support issues. The PEI government is footing some of the bill, but there is still much to make up.
It should go without saying, these numbers reflect the reality as reported and are most likely repressed from their actual size. Many victims of abuse, both physical and sexual, do not report it due to many factors; hoping to battle through, fear of the public eye, or the potential threat of further or worse violence. As well, while men are in the minority for these abuses, and tend to suffer from sexual abuse moreso than physical violence, there is also a great pressure on them to keep silent and not seek help. Men dealing with these issues should feel free to contact services like the PEI Rape and Sexual Assault Centre even if they mistakenly feel it might not be for them.
But this is only one part of the crisis facing Prince Edward Island, and what the two above stories also highlight are issues with addiction. Addiction in the form of drugs (prescription, over the counter, or illegal) and particularly alcohol stands at the center of many problems that is costing Islanders their physical and mental well-being as well as their dollars through taxes. A bad night under the influence can result in physical abuse while sexual abuse can lead to an addiction as a form of escape. Addiction also contributes to poverty and the wearing down of our health care system as services get bogged down in treating an ever pulsating problem.
We’ll have more on the addiction problem on PEI coming soon.
–Women in PEI: A Statistical Review 2010 Interministerial Women’s Secretariat pp. 66-73
–PEI Victims of Crime Act 2010-2011 Annual Report pp. 11-19