Her ex-boyfriend went to jail for raping and beating her. Now she sees him right next door

Two women with stories of suffering the scars of intimate partner violence say something has to change before it's too late.

Advocates for change say justice system not doing enough to curb assaults by husbands, boyfriends

CBC agreed to keep this woman's identity protected. She says she is afraid of the man convicted of assaulting her. (CBC/John Pike)

Shared celebrations, shared adventures, shared trauma. 

Two women living with the scars of intimate partner violence rely on their friendship to get through rough days, and their survival to call for changes to protect other women in Newfoundland and Labrador. 

"I know I'm going to be suffering the rest of my life because of him, and what he did to me," one woman, who asked that her identity be withheld, said through tears. 

More than five years ago, she broke up with her boyfriend when she felt he was too controlling. He showed up at her house, she let him in, and feared she'd never live to see another day. 

Evidence presented to court shows her ex-boyfriend raped and beat her that night.

Georgina McGrath says she was assaulted by the man she lived with, and now advocates for others who experienced violence at the hands of someone they were in a relationship with. (CBC/John Pike)

'Chills just went through my body'

He was convicted of sexual assault, assault causing bodily harm and forcible confinement. Sentenced to over two years in federal prison, he also had to submit a DNA sample and be registered as a sex offender for 20 years.

After serving his time, he was released on probation and ordered to stay away from his ex-girlfriend. 

'I don't feel safe. It's hard.' - Survivor of intimate partner violence

When his parole was over last October, she noticed a man cutting down trees on the property next door. 

"He turned off his chainsaw, and as soon as he spoke the chills just went through my body because I knew it was him."

Her abusive ex told her his family owned the land and he planned to build a house there. 

"I think it's just his way of still trying to control me," she said. 

This photo was taken by the woman after her ex-boyfriend told her he was moving in next door. (Submitted)

"I don't feel safe. It's hard. And he's walking around like a pillar of the community, like he did nothing wrong." She said her neck hurts from looking out the window to see if he's around. 

The woman tried to get a peace bond against him, but was told with no evidence of physical threat, she couldn't get one. 

"A piece of paper is not going to do anything anyway," she said, adding that she feels "powerless." 

"I just want to live in peace and to be protected by the justice system. And like for girls and women who are going through the same thing, I just want to be a voice too for these people that cannot speak out, or it's too late for them to speak out."

'It never goes away'

Georgina McGrath has been friends with the woman for many years. 

"Unfortunately one of the things that we share together is domestic violence," she said.

McGrath told CBC she too was assaulted by the man she lived with, but didn't go to police right away.

"I lived with my abuser for five weeks after getting out of [hospital]. And I was raped twice during that time. And I was told all the time that his biggest mistake that he made was that he didn't murder me that night," she said, eyes welling with tears. 

"The only way that I could get him out of my house was to give a statement to the police."

When McGrath worked up the courage to make that statement, her boyfriend fled to Ireland. That's where he's stayed, but she still lives in fear. 

"Day-to-day things, somebody raising a voice, somebody saying a word that he would have said. Someone speaking in the terms that he would have spoke in, everything comes back. You relive it. It never goes away."

McGrath now advocates for changes to end violence against women and girls in this province, starting with education in schools and stricter laws. 

"I am a firm believer that today's bully is tomorrow's abuser," McGrath said. 

Disturbing numbers

According to Statistics Canada, one out of every two women 15 and older in this province will experience physical or sexual violence.

In 2015, in Newfoundland and Labrador, 1,109 women reported violence by a boyfriend or husband, while 343 men reported an assault by their partner. 

Lawyer Lynn Moore says sweeping changes are needed to reduce the numbers. 

"We have the criminal justice system, but that system in itself is lacking," she said. 

"We know that in 1997 Judy Ogden was killed by her intimate partner, we know that Bernice Rich was killed by her intimate partner, and we know that Veronica Doyle died as a result of illegal contact with her intimate partner."

Judy Ogden was killed by her estranged husband who was out on bail, and ordered to stay away from her. Lynn Moore was Crown prosecutor at the time. (Submitted by Daniel Benoit)

Over the last seven months, Philip Smith, 25, ignored orders to stay from his ex-girlfriend Cortney Lake. He killed himself last month, and police say he is their only suspect in Lake's murder. The body of the 24-year-old mother of one has never been found. 

Paul Maher, 35, is charged with attempted murder for an alleged attack against a woman, after staff at the Health Sciences Centre called police because of her injuries. He's been charged with assault and breaches, among other offences.

32-year-old Craig Pope, who is charged with second-degree murder for the fatal stabbing of David Collins, had previously been charged with breaking and entering, criminal harassment, and breaching orders to stay away from the mother of his children. 

Ray Newman, 39, is charged with trying to strangle his girlfriend years after being acquitted of the murder of his estranged wife, Chrissy Predham-Newman

What will it take?

Court orders barring a violent partner from contacting their victim is one of the protection measures in place. 

We have to be looking at why do men think it's OK to be violent with their intimate partners.- Lynn Moore

"It depends on the person who's subject to the order and how seriously they take the court orders, but we have known for quite some time that those orders do not save lives," Moore said. 

"We need electronic monitoring for an offender like this, so that a computer in the RNC pings when an offender is near an address that they're not supposed to be near," said Moore. 

Moore said counselling and rehabilitation in our corrections system is long overdue.  

"We send people to a prison that would make the Dickens era look bad," she said of Her Majesty's Penitentiary in St. John's.

Lawyer Lynn Moore says violence in a relationship is a learned behavior and part of the solution is educating children. (CBC/Jeremy Eaton)

"We have to be taking more broad-based steps. We have to be looking at why do men think it's OK to be violent with their intimate partners."

Moore said that kind of violence is by and large "a learned behaviour" and children should be taught at a young age that it is wrong.

Decades of deaths and discussion have done little to address the problem, according to Moore and other advocates. 

"Because we live in a patriarchal system which protects and elevates the position of men in society to the detriment of women, and it's just not important enough for us." she said. 

"If it was important enough for us we would be doing it."