Montreal women's shelter juxtaposes scenes of violence with Halloween decorations

A Montreal women's shelter is hoping to draw attention to the real dangers women face at home by juxtaposing images of domestic violence with Halloween decorations.

The "Fear Windows" campaign launched by La Maison Grise shelter depicts scenes of violence — in silhouette — in windows around the city.

"It's Halloween, we talk about legends, we talk about imaginary monsters, but there are women and children for whom living in terror is a daily reality," said Manon Monastesse, the executive director of the Quebec federation of women's shelters, the Federation des maisons d'hebergement pour femmes, which includes La Maison Grise.

While people often think women are at risk on the street or from strangers, Monastesse said the home is the most dangerous place for women and children living in situations of violence.

"Yes there are attacks and we see a lot of street harassment, but in the context of violence against women, it's mainly in the home," she said, adding it can also be a dangerous place for children.

In recent weeks there have been several alleged killings of children by their fathers in Quebec.

Police in Laval, Que. charged a father with killing his two children earlier this month, while a Brossard, Que. man was charged with killing his wife and two children in September.

Monastesse said people often conflate conjugal violence with fights between couples, but she said that's not the reality.

Instead, she said, the violence is one aspect of the abuse committed by someone who wants control over their partner.

"The violent spouse, what he wants first of all is to have absolute control," she said. "We talk more and more about 'coercive control,' which is really a total control over your spouse, and that's what conjugal violence is about."

Because the abuse often has psychological, verbal and financial elements — women in abusive relationships often don't have control over the money they earn — it can be extremely difficult for women to escape.

"Leave. It's easy to say on the outside, but when we're in this relationship of absolute control, it's like there is no way out because the partner has a psychological hold ... because the first thing the violent spouse will do is totally isolate his spouse from her networks," Monastesse said.

But she said violence and harassment can also continue after a woman leaves the relationship.

"The most dangerous moment, in terms of femicide, is the separation, when he knows that she is going to leave, and the first six months following the separation," she said. "Because in the head of these men, it is, 'if she's not with me, she won't be with anyone,' and the same thing applies for the children."

Quebec police estimate that 18 of the 26 women murdered in the province in 2021 were killed by a current or former partner.

This year, at least 11 homicides of women in the province have been investigated as femicides.

Monastesse said that's just the tip of the iceberg. Last year, 200 women who were staying in shelters that are members of her organization said they had been the victim of a homicide attempt, adding the majority did not report the incident to police.

She said she hopes the campaign will lead women who are experiencing violence to get help, while La Maison Grise also hopes to raise donations through the campaign.

"By juxtaposing these scenes of domestic violence with terrifying Halloween decorations, we hope to draw public attention to the real horrors that go unmentioned," Nathalie Lamarche, the general manager of La Maison Grise, said in a release.