The recent murders of Mimi Kates and Amber Culley by a deranged former romantic partner is a terrible crime, but also a terrible harbinger for women stuck in abusive relationships.
There are countless women either living with men they fear, living alone after fleeing a man who has hurt them, or living with friends and family in hope their lover turned abuser will stay away.
After Eric Shestalo killed Kates and Culley, he mercifully (for the justice system at least) killed himself with a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
One less misogynist to terrorize women, his horrific damage done.
But how was a former partner of two women, due in court the day of the murders, charged with assaulting one of them, able to drive from White Rock to the place where the women sheltered in fear, and kill them both?
“He should have been held in custody until his trial,” a simple solution from Hilla Kerner, an advocate with the Vancouver Rape Relief & Women’s Shelter.
“Unfortunately, I think the system doesn’t have mechanism in place to protect women.”
When Shestalo drove his 1990 Jeep to Chilliwack on July 21 to, instead of attending the Chilliwack Law Courts, murder two women in cold blood, he wasn’t the first by a long shot. Domestic abuse is an epidemic in our communities, and the tip of the iceberg is the long list of “K” files on the daily court list in Chilliwack.
K files are domestic assault cases and, without any meaningful statistics in Canada since 2017, anecdotally they seem to be on the increase.
I spoke with Kerner this week, who said their small organization responds to hundreds of women every year who come to them with complaints and fears about intimate partner violence.
After the double murder of two women in Chilliwack, Kerner said they received a great many messages – I received quite a few myself – from women saying they were in similar situations.
As with the journalistic hesitation about reporting on suicides, I myself had a hesitation when Kerner told me this next thing.
“Many women will be scared when there is a case in the media because we know from women that men will tell them ‘You see? That’s what happens to you if you go to the police.’”
Kerner said it has a terrorizing impact and “it’s emboldening men.”
Good grief, I said. Should I not write about this lest it makes things worse for other women?
Kerner said no, the men who use media coverage to threaten their partners would do it by some other means anyways.
“They should be in the media,” she reassured me.
Kerner said the case of Shestalo being out on bail then killing two women was completely predictable.
“Isn’t that looking back with perfect hindsight?” I asked her.
Exactly, she said. We need the justice system to look backward to see what mistakes were made so we can look forward, she said.
“It’s true that not all men who threaten women will kill them, but enough of them do that as a society we should be worried about men. As an advocate we should be worried. And the criminal justice system and the Crown and police should be worried.”
The killing of an intimate partner is the extreme end of the domestic abuse spectrum, and is of course quite rare. But the physical and psychological abuse some men put their ex-partners through is epidemic, and I can tell you that, just through the number of K files I see on the daily court docket in Chilliwack alone.
On the July 26 docket I counted 31 K files out of maybe 80 cases before the courts on that day. (Of those 31, four accused were women – at least had traditionally female names – which is something I should point out as I’m focused here on male abuse of female intimate partners.)
But even in Chilliwack, where homicides are rare, between one and four a year over the last 15 years, we had a domestic murder-suicide on April 15, 2021, and on Feb. 26, 2019. Shane Travis Hughes is still before the courts charged with the murder of his partner Christine Denham.
I wrote back in 2019 that the tragedy seen daily in our court system is that the devil so many women fear, is the devil they know.
Not only is it not getting better, the situation might be getting worse.
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