Saturday, March 16, 2024

Life sentence for victims of intimate partner violence

Sharing an opinion piece I wrote this week that was published today in the Times Colonist, sparked by the sentencing of a serial assaulter of women. 

Tyler Mark Denniston is going to jail. And on the one hand, that’s a win in the world of intimate partner violence, where 80 per cent of the crimes aren’t even reported to police and a conviction is far from certain.

But the impact of the Greater Victoria man’s beatings will be felt by the women he attacked for so much longer than he’ll be in jail. That’s not just about having to live with the trauma - it’s about brain injury

People experiencing intimate partner violence end up with a brain injury (IPV-BI) from that violence as frequently as 90 per cent of the time.  A majority of them, in fact, end up with multiple brain injuries, because intimate partner violence is rarely something that only happens once.

Denniston was given a four-year jail term this week for attacking his then-girlfriend in 2018 and 2019. But he has a history of major assaults of previous girlfriends before that, all of a type most associated with brain injury. He strangles his intimate partners. Hits them in the head. Smashes their heads into furniture.

One of his victims said in an impact statement at Denniston’s trial that since her abuse, she has become someone she doesn’t recognize. She has trouble falling asleep, has terrible nightmares when she does, and is experiencing periods of explosive anger, panic and suicidal thoughts.

Whether she knows it or not, that could be because she is now living with a brain injury on top of all the trauma she has endured.

But if she’s like the vast majority of victims of intimate partner violence, her brain injury will go undiagnosed and unsupported. IPV-BI is such a newly emerging concept that even victims themselves don’t think about whether they’ve incurred a brain injury. The impact of their untreated brain injury can put them at risk of losing their job, their housing, their kids and so much more, and they won’t even know why.

It seems unbelievable that a woman who is beaten by her partner violently enough to incur a brain injury could suddenly find herself on the precipice of profound poverty, homelessness, child-protection involvement and social isolation as a result of the assault. Surely services are there to support her, or she could move to the head of the line for housing and supports to keep her safe?

Unfortunately, there are no designated services at any level – in BC or Canada – specifically for people experiencing IPV-BI. While some bright spots are emerging within Island Health around piloting occupational therapy assessments as a means of helping victims get past diagnosis barriers, that work is in its earliest days.

More broadly, there are no guidelines for health professionals to follow to ascertain IPV-BI-caused injury. No overarching plan. No targeted funding. No consensus as to what should be done, or data being collected.

And if work on all of that got going tomorrow, there are other hurdles. Start with the fact that only one in five women beaten by their partners even report the assault to police, rendering most victims of IPV-BI completely invisible in our systems.

Add in the stigma, lack of witnesses and fear factor for the victim around doing anything that might spark a whole other assault, and it’s not surprising that the majority of women aren’t even going to visit the doctor about that hit to the head they took, or after they’ve regained consciousness from being strangled.

And even when they do seek medical attention, there are no provincially funded community services for them unless their concussion shows up on an MRI scan. Which is not often the case, because it’s an injury that doesn’t show up well on an MRI, and is much better diagnosed through its impact on a woman’s ability to function.

At any rate, unless a woman can pay for that assessment of her functioning, and the services she needs as a result of what’s discovered, she’s never going to get that support anyway. It was nice to see IPV-BI get some solid mentions last fall in the BC government’s Safe and Supported action plan against gender-based violence, but we are so badly overdue for some genuine action on this appalling state of affairs.

So yes, Tyler Mark Denniston is going to jail. But he’ll be out in not much more than a couple of years if he behaves himself, and his life will carry on pretty much the way it always has. His victims, on the other hand, have been handed a life sentence.

Jody Paterson is a lobbyist and advocate on the issue of intimate partner violence and brain injury on behalf of The Cridge Centre for the Family and the Board Voice Society of BC.

Friday, March 15, 2024

How racist are our roots? So racist

My new hobby of diving into ancestry information brings me many treasurers, including these four 1924 Chinese Immigration Act documents of my uncles and aunt back when they were little kids. They all just showed up recently in my "hints," so I'm guessing it was a release triggered by 100 years having passed.

My Romanian grandmother had married a Chinese man in 1910 Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, which must have been some kind of crazy act at the time. Their children were thus half-Chinese, and presumably had to be documented via these forms once the Act took effect in 1923.

Canada had ended the Head Tax that year and replaced it with the Chinese Immigration Act, which would block virtually all immigrants from China from coming to Canada for the next 24 years. From the Canadian Museum of Immigration website:

The Chinese Immigration Act of 1923 virtually restricted all Chinese immigration to Canada by narrowly defining the acceptable categories of Chinese immigrants. While the entrance duty requirement was repealed, admissible Chinese immigrants were limited to diplomats and government representatives, merchants, children born in Canada who had left for educational or other purposes, and students while attending university or college. Between 1923 and 1946, it is estimated that only 15 Chinese immigrants gained entry into Canada.

But hey, my people sure did make up for lost time. In the 2021 Canadian census, more than 1.7 million people reported being of Chinese origin. Take that, racists.