Hamilton’s ongoing problem of abusive men
As a community we simply aren’t doing enough to end this crisis
OPINION Jan 29, 2018 by Yolisa de Jager and Medora Uppal Hamilton Spectator
Hamilton is the ambitious city, dynamic, welcoming and innovative. But a city that still has so much to overcome. We are not well. We have not been well for a long time. Let’s stop denying it and face the hard facts. We have a crisis in which women are dying as a result of male violence.
The violent death of Holly Hamilton brings our city’s crisis to light once more. Violence is terrorizing women and is devastating their children, family and friends.
The violence against women services in Hamilton have been responding to this crisis every day for years. The women and children accessing shelters, housing and counselling programs are just the tip of the iceberg. The Sexual Assault Centre of Hamilton and Area (SACHA) reports trying to manage exploding wait-lists for counselling supports. More than 300 women are turned away from shelters each month in Hamilton. Good Shepherd Martha House alone has been operating as high as 119 per cent capacity month after month and fields over 2,600 crisis calls from women experiencing violence each year. Emergency hotels, used as a back response when all the women’s shelters are overcapacity, is at an all-time high and resulting in crisis workers securing shelter space outside our city in Niagara, London or beyond.
While these numbers represent the women and children who access our services, it doesn’t reflect the many women who are struggling alone, isolated and fearful.
Children who witness violence — that is they hear it, see it, or know it is happening — experience anxiety, isolation, and fear. These emotions can display themselves through a multitude of behaviours and can translate into internalized negative messages and norms. They too are at high risk for physical injury and death.
The women’s shelter movement started in the 1970s in Canada to enhance women’s safety and promote gender-equality. In Hamilton the Woman Abuse Working Group (WAWG) has been organizing for 30 years and represents a collection of 20+ agencies committed to ending violence against women. Collectively we invest time, energy and resources to address the complexity of gender-based violence in our city. Over the years we have strengthened key relationships with Hamilton Police Services and Child Welfare to better assist women managing their safety and their children’s safety. From public education forums, to protocols, to review tables and system co-ordination, we have rolled up our sleeves and waded into the problem.
And still, women die. Children are traumatized. Family and friends are grieving. As a community we simply aren’t doing enough to end this crisis.
One in three Canadian women experiences woman abuse in their life time and one in two Indigenous women will experience woman abuse. The statistics are not new and they haven’t changed. They were reported in November 2017 when Natasha Thompson was allegedly killed by her abusive partner. And before that they were cited when Aerlaena’s Smith’s was murdered by her ex-partner, and a front-page’s worth of stories of victims of domestic violence on January 20, 2018 referenced the many years of tragedies where reporters repeatedly laid out the statistics and documented the risks.
If the numbers and the stories of our neighbours do not move us, what will? Do we all need violence against women to “hit home” to take action as a community? According to these statistics, it already has. So what paralyzes us to act?
As a city we need to talk about why we are not well. We need to talk about how gender inequality in our community creates barriers to women leaving violent partners; how gender inequality allows those violent partners to hunt women down and murder them; and we need to create intentional strategies to improve the status of women in our city. WAWG is ready to work with you, to talk it out, and to make a plan. Is Hamilton finally ready to tackle this crisis?
Yolisa de Jager works at Good Shepherd Women’s Services and is chair of the Woman Abuse Working Group. Medora Uppal works at YWCA Hamilton and is treasurer of the Woman Abuse Working Group
This story was published in the Hamilton Spectator on Sunday Jan 29, 2018