Intimate partner violence survivors stress need for bystander intervention

·4 min read
The murders of Anastasia Kuzyk, Nathalie Warmerdam and Carol Culleton are being examined during a coroner's inquest in Ontario's Renfrew County over the course of the next three weeks, with a focus on intimate partner violence and preventing future instances of domestic homicide.  (CBC News - image credit)
The murders of Anastasia Kuzyk, Nathalie Warmerdam and Carol Culleton are being examined during a coroner's inquest in Ontario's Renfrew County over the course of the next three weeks, with a focus on intimate partner violence and preventing future instances of domestic homicide. (CBC News - image credit)

Warning: This story contains disturbing details of abuse. 

After Heather Imming's longtime husband struck her with a tire iron and left her in their yard in Carleton Place, Ont., neighbours took her in while community members watched her house at night so that she could sleep without fear of more injury.

"I want that for every victim, for every woman," Imming said Monday.

Imming was offering the raw perspective of a survivor of intimate partner violence during the 11th day of a coroner's inquest examining the killings of three women.

On Sept. 22, 2015, a man with a known history of gender-based violence murdered Carol Culleton, Anastasia Kuzyk and Nathalie Warmerdam in and around Renfrew County, after repeatedly breaching the conditions of his probation without reprimand.

Inquest jurors, who are hearing from experts and first-hand witnesses, are being tasked with recommending changes to policies and protocols to better protect and support survivors of intimate partner violence in rural communities in the future.

Imming said the abuse she suffered in the 1990s from her husband of 15 years started with pushes and shoves, then escalated to strangulation and, finally, the attack outside her home that left her with permanent brain damage.

"He threw his tire iron aside and used his thumbs to try and remove my left eye. He said to me that if I can't see him in the courtroom, I can't identify him," she recalled.

Seeking dangerous offender status

Imming advocated successfully to have her husband designated a dangerous offender, she told the inquest. He died in prison in 2002 following a second conviction for intimate partner violence, against a different partner.

"I would love to see them utilize the dangerous offender application more," she said. "I think it should be not so onerous for the police and Crown to [do that]."

courtesy Lanark County Interval House and Community Support
courtesy Lanark County Interval House and Community Support

A psychologist who reviewed the case of the man who murdered Culleton, Kuzyk and Warmerdam has called on Ontario's Ministry of the Attorney General to develop teams of experienced Crown prosecutors who could be consulted on potential dangerous offender designations for high-risk perpetrators of intimate partner violence.

The murderer had been convicted of intimate partner violence against Kuzyk and Warmerdam and stalked Culleton before his killing rampage, the inquest has heard.

Ontario's probation and parole service concluded after the murders it would have been "reasonable" to consider whether the man needed more intensive supervision while he was out on probation.

"It's the level of dangerousness they need to be looking at, rather than the list of convictions," Imming said of dangerous offender applications.

The 5 Ds of Intervention

While Imming said community support helped get her through her ordeal, she said people witnessed her abuse but never said anything to her.

"I wish they had," she said.

"After I was hurt, my neighbour next door to me said that when I left for [a] period of time, they thought I was buried in the backyard. So they obviously knew something."

Julie S. Lalonde, who also testified at the inquest on Monday, said there are ways for bystanders to step in safely when they witness a person being abused.

Lalonde, originally from Sudbury, dated a man for two years before she ended the relationship. She said he stalked her for more than a decade after that breakup. Eventually, her stalker died.

"I fundamentally believe the community is the answer to most of our social ills, but particularly gender-based violence," she testified.

Lalonde then outlined the "5 Ds of Intervention" she teaches in workshops:

  • Distract, which could be as simple as purposely spilling a drink if someone is being harassed at a bar in order to create a distraction and break the tension.

  • Delegate, which means alerting a person of authority.

  • Document, which involves keeping notes and footage of any abuse.

  • Delay, which calls for waiting until it's safe and checking in with the victim.

  • Direct, which entails creating a "safety bubble" between the victim and the abuser.

"If there are multiple people around and some of the other ones can go and have a conversation with that individual and try to reason with them, great," Lalonde said of the last step.

"But if I have to make a choice between educating you and protecting you, I want you to always go towards protecting. That is the most important element."

Taylor Hermiston
Taylor Hermiston

At the same time, Lalonde cautioned that survivors are often wrongly put on a pedestal as an example of how others should look or act.

"I speak from a place of power, because I've done a lot of work to get better. But that doesn't mean that I am better, more resilient or stronger or smarter than women who are not here today who should be here today."

The inquest will continue with more witnesses on Tuesday. Jurors are expected to begin deliberating on their potential recommendations on Friday.

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