VICTORIA – Black eyes, numerous stitches and guns put in her mouth convinced Robin Russell she would be better off taking her chances with death rather than continue living with an abusive husband.
Seven years after leaving her violent and hostage-like marriage, Russell said Wednesday at a news conference she considers herself one of the lucky ones, tearfully offering condolences to family members of the 18 people left dead so far this year because of domestic violence.
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“From hitting me, fracturing my nose, knocking my teeth loose, black eyes, numerous stitches in my face, throwing objects at me, putting guns in my mouth and threatening anyone who tried to help me, I tried to leave many times, but with this kind of fear and isolation it’s harder than most people would understand,” she said.
Russell said she still lives in fear of attack but needed to speak out to ensure other people can get the care and protections she received when she decided to leave her home.
“I’m still afraid,” she said. “When a person tells you that when you finally find someone and become happy, he will be waiting around the corner to throw acid in your face and ruin your life, it sticks with you forever.”
Russell told her story at the release of a report that pleads with British Columbia’s government to invest up to $30 million annually to fight domestic violence which has taken a deadly toll in B.C. so far this year.
The Ending Violence Association of B.C., said a domestic-violence outbreak has left 18 people dead, including 12 women and a child, 11 others were injured.
The report was intentionally released to mark the seven-year anniversary of the murder-suicide of an Oak Bay, B.C., family where estranged husband Peter Lee killed his six-year-old son, Christian, his wife, Sunny, both her parents and then himself.
EVA’s executive director Tracy Porteous said the 2014 deaths — the highest number since the Lee family murders — should register serious concerns.
“I don’t recall since Sunny (Park’s) death, if we’ve ever had a year that’s had this many deaths in the entire year and we’re at the beginning of September,” she said. “It’s very alarming. If I could have brought an alarm bell today, I would have rung it. We are very concerned about women’s safety.”
The report calls for increased spending for existing community-based victim services and funds for new programs that are available to every community in the province. It also recommends early intervention counselling and management for abusive men, and an increase in the number of case-assessment teams that work to keep women and children safe.
Porteous said of this of the 18 deaths this year, not one of the victims was known to have contacted a victim-services organization. She said she couldn’t pinpoint the exact cause of the increase in domestic-violence deaths, but said if they had been able to utilize such services they may be alive today.
B.C.’s independent Representative for Children and Youth Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond said the government reallocated about $5 million from other budget items this year to fund a domestic violence plan, but what is needed is new funding to ensure other potential victims of family violence have access to safety and protection services.
“I’m concerned we’re stalled,” she said.
She said Alberta has nine domestic-violence courts, while the recently-deceased provincial court judge Josiah Wood ran a similar court in Duncan “off the side of his desk. It is an embarrassment.”
Turpel-Lafond said B.C. women requiring protection orders must pay a $200 court processing fee and then hire a security service to serve the order.
Porteous said of the more than 150 recommendations anti-domestic violence groups have made over the past 20 years only four have been implemented.
Russell said she credited the help she received from community-based victim services and the RCMP to give her the strength and courage to start her life over.
“Community-based victim services were literally everything to me,” she said.
Children and Family Development Minister Stephanie Cadieux and Attorney General Suzanne Anton released a joint statement saying the government has initiated a $5.5 million domestic violence program this year in addition to the $70 million the government already spends on protection and intervention services.
“This strategy will be our path to creating a province where all women have the supports they need to help prevent violence, escape from violent situations, and recover if they’ve been victims of crime,” said the joint statement.