Leaving violent spouse not easy for women, experts say

Women experiencing intimate violence face a myriad of hurdles that can make it challenging to leave their spouses, an advocacy group says, and when the woman is pregnant, it can be even harder.

CWF says Raja Ghazi's decision to stay in her home after police warned her to leave is common among victims

Raja Ghazi called police to her home in Montreal North hours before she was attacked. (Kate McKenna/CBC)

Women experiencing intimate violence face myriad hurdles that make it challenging to leave their spouses, something that pregnancy makes even more difficult, an advocacy group said Wednesday.

The Canadian Women's Foundation emphasized those difficulties after the stabbing, earlier this week, of a Montreal woman who was eight months pregnant. 

Raja Ghazi's baby was born Monday via emergency C-section, but died hours later in a Montreal hospital. Her husband has been charged with first-degree murder and attempted murder.

Ghazi called police hours before the attack. Police said they urged her to flee with the couple's two children. While she sent the children away, Ghazi remained in the apartment, where she was later stabbed in the upper and lower body.

It wasn't the first time police had been called to the apartment. Court records indicate Sofiane Ghazi was arrested and charged in June with assaulting his wife. He pleaded not guilty and was released on conditions.

Attempting to leave can escalate abuse 

Keetha Mercer, manager of violence prevention with the Canadian Women's Foundation, said leaving an abusive situation can be exceptionally difficult for women.

Domestic violence is about power and control, Mercer said, and can impact a woman's mental health.

"The long- term impact can isolate a woman, break down her self-esteem and confidence, and make her believe it's her fault," she said.

If the woman is reliant on her spouse for financial support, she must choose between putting herself — and, when applicable, her children — in poverty if she leaves.

Mercer also said violence can escalate if a woman leaves her partner.

"Intimate partner violence is a gradual process," she said. "The frequency of the assaults and the seriousness of the violence can escalate over time."

Abuse of pregnant women not uncommon

Pregnancy can also impede a woman's ability to leave a violent situation, the organization said. According to Statistics Canada, 11 per cent of victims were pregnant during the violent incident between 2004 and 2009.

That amounts to about 63,300 pregnant Canadian women abused by their partner during that time period.

For those currently experiencing domestic abuse, Mercer recommends the website sheltersafe.ca, which lists local resources available to women.

She also recommends creating a safety plan, including having planned escape routes and extra copies of keys.