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Killings of women and girls up again in Canada in 2021 as researchers point to pandemic stresses

Killings of women and girls up again in Canada in 2021 as researchers point to pandemic stresses
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New statistics show more women and girls have been killed in Canada in the first half of this year than the same period in the two previous years, an increase a University of Guelph researcher warns is a telltale sign the compounding pressures of the pandemic have exposed women to greater risk of violence.

Months of fluctuating lockdowns and stay-at-home orders have left women, many of whom were already facing violence from abusers, exposed to more deadly attacks, according to new data released by University of Guelph professor Myrna Dawson and her team at .

“What is happening is that the situation is becoming more stressful and that is making previously violent men more violent, and women who have for probably years figured out how to negotiate that violence now don’t have access to the resources or the ability to exit,” Dawson said.

According to the Femicide Observatory, 92 women and girls were killed in the first six months of 2021, 14 more killings than over the same period last year and 32 more than in 2019.

“This is a trend that we need to become more concerned about,” Dawson said. “This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are thousands that are still living with violence.”

Dawson said we need to start paying more attention to finding points of intervention and emphasized that there has been a glaring lack of a safety net for women seeking refuge.

“We need to make people more aware of the risk factors involved in these killings,” she said, adding there is a gap in training required for professionals, including law enforcement and judges, to understand these crimes, so they can respond more effectively.

Intimate partners, predominantly male, made up 37 per cent of the persons accused in the 2021 killings while another 15 per cent were categorized as family members and 39 per cent were unspecified, according to the Femicide Observatory report. Of the 79 cases where the gender of the accused was known, 73 were men.

Dawson said there were several examples in which the accused also attacked the female victims’ children and other family members present.

“It’s often the case that there will be multiple victims when a woman is killed,” she said.

Ontario was home to 33 of the reported deaths, followed by British Columbia and Quebec, tied at 17 deaths each.

The methods of attack are wide-ranging, but Dawson says, “most often we see that firearms and stabbings are often neck-and-neck as the two most common.”

Key risk factors include women seeking to leave an abusive situation and men who are exerting dominance or control. When children are involved, violence can be contextualized as “revenge killings — so the children become a tool to punish the female.”

Dawson also noted that Indigenous women made up 12 per cent of the victims, more than double their representation in the population.
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