A new approach to handling domestic violence matters in Abbotsford has resulted in fewer cases being tossed out of court.
Kevin Murray, the Abbotsford Police domestic violence unit (DVU) detective, said of the 80 files he has handled in the last year, 70 of them have successfully gone through the justice system.
“Success is measured by the victims showing up in court to testify,” he said.
Of those 70 files, Murray said there were three acquittals, and the rest resulted in convictions or the issuing of peace bonds.
Although he didn’t have numbers for the rates before the DVU was formed in January 2010, Murray said they were “ridiculously poor.”
Many cases were stayed – meaning charges were set aside – because victims wouldn’t show up in court to testify, either due to fear of their abusers or because they had remained in the relationship and didn’t want to cause ripples with their partners.
Murray said a lack of follow-up from police and lawyers meant that victims didn’t feel supported.
“If they had reservations about proceeding with court matters, there was no one they could bounce those feelings off of,” he said.
The formation of the DVU resulted in one police officer being assigned full-time to handle domestic violence cases, in consultation with Sandy Jawanda, a victim services worker from Abbotsford Community Services.
As well, two Crown prosecutors were designated to deal only with domestic violence files.
Murray said the team’s ongoing contact with the victims has made a big difference, whether it’s to reassure them or to answer their questions about court proceedings.
“The goal of our section is to make sure the victim is safe.”
The DVU also has a budget for assisting women who need funds for such things as moving expenses or, in the case of one victim, a bus ticket to leave town.
Murray said although there are hundreds of domestic violence files handled by Abbotsford Police each year, the DVU is limited to managing about 80 cases a year.
Murray said he reads through each file himself, looking for those that meet certain criteria, including the level of violence, whether the abuser is a repeat offender, and whether the victim is marginalized – for example, new to the country or with few support networks.
He said the victims cross all socio-economic boundaries and all age groups.
Some of the cases shock him. One woman, whose partner continuously questioned her faithfulness to him, said she would do anything to prove her loyalty.
He convinced her to drink his urine, while he videotaped it.
She reported him to police, but was too embarrassed about the incident to testify in court. Instead, a peace bond – an order with conditions the offender must abide by in order to protect the victim – was issued.
In another case, a man was despondent that his girlfriend had broken up with him. He texted her 800 times over a four-day period.
The victim was hesitant to testify because she feared that her ex-boyfriend would stalk her and possibly assault her in retaliation. With the support of the DVU, she went through with the court proceedings, and the man received a six-month conditional sentence (house arrest).
Murray said a big part of the team’s success is that they are not judgmental toward the women, no matter what decisions they make, including remaining with their partners. Information is provided to them on community resources that could assist them in the future.
There is one message that he wants to get through to the women, above all.
“They do not need to live in fear,” he said.
For more information about the DVU, call the Abbotsford Police Department at 604-859-5225.
A VICTIM NO MORE
He didn’t want the baby, so he kneed her in the stomach – hard – while she was sleeping.
Ranjit, four weeks pregnant, awoke in pain, and clutched her stomach.
“Why did you do that!?” she cried to her husband.
“What are you talking about? I was sleeping,” Gurpreet replied.
(The names in this story have been changed.)
She moved to the couch. The next morning, she was bleeding, and drove herself to the hospital. She didn’t tell the doctor what had happened, and an exam showed that the baby was fine.
Later that day, Ranjit confronted her husband about the assault. He didn’t care. Gurpreet said the only reason he had married Ranjit and come to Canada was so she could pay off the debt that he and his dad owed in India.
He said the pregnancy would interfere with her ability to work, and if she didn’t pay off the debt, he would leave her and marry someone else.
Ranjit was devastated. She had always envisioned a happy marriage, with a husband who loved and supported her, and who would be excited to have a family. Someday, they would buy a house together.
She had seen Gurpeet on a family video shown to her by a friend and thought he looked nice. Later, she went to India to meet him and felt he would make a good husband. The two were married in 2007, and Gurpreet joined his wife in Canada in 2009.
Ranjit didn’t know she was being used. She told Gurpreet she would not pay off the money he owed.
She was sleeping again when on two other occasions, Gurpreet punched her in the stomach with all his strength. Ranjit was in such severe pain after one of those incidents that she called an ambulance. Gurpreet didn’t go with her, and Ranjit didn’t tell medical personnel what had happened.
She did not seek any medical attention on the third assault, but she began sleeping separate from her husband, using a bout of the flu as an excuse.
She confided in friends and co-workers about the abuse, and they urged her to report him to police. At first she was scared and resisted, but concern about her unborn baby was more persistent.
Ranjit had never before been in a police station and didn’t know what to expect, but she walked through the doors and told her story.
Later that day while she was at work, Ranjit received a call. Her husband had been arrested and would not be allowed back in their home.
That night, she felt more relaxed than she had in a long time. She no longer had to worry about Gurpreet starting a fight or risking the life of the child he had shown no interest in.
Over the next few months, she leaned on the support of her co-workers and the Abbotsford Police Department’s domestic violence unit, which offered guidance and support through the court process and beyond.
When her baby daughter was born healthy and strong later that year, Ranjit had never felt such love. It gave her the strength to keep going, and she had no more fear.
Gurpreet did not receive jail time for the assaults, but conditions were placed upon him to keep him from contacting Ranjit or being near her. She has not heard from him since, and has been told he has moved out of the province.
He has shown no interest in seeing his daughter, and has even denied that the baby is his.
Ranjit doesn’t care. She is doing all she can to provide her baby with positive influences and all the warmth, love and stability a child can have.
“I want to give her a good future. I want to teach her the good,” Ranjit says. “Always, I dream.”