The tragic death of Dr. Elana Fric-Shamji has left three children without a mother and a community of family members, friends and colleagues shocked and grieving. Her husband, Dr. Mohammed Shamji has been charged with her murder. Police have since revealed that her husband was previously charged with one count of assault and two counts of uttering death threats in May 2005.i
While the charges against Mohammed Shamji have yet to be proven in court, those close to Elana Fric-Shamji are inevitably left wondering how they could have helped and what they could have done to stop the tragedy.
Through many past tragedies where women have been murdered by an abusive spouses, we have learned that there are some simple things that neighbours, friends, family members and co-workers can do. First we have to learn to recognize warning signs that someone is experiencing abuse and risk factors that indicates the abuse could be lethal. The next step is to name those warnings signs and risk factors for what they are, first to ourselves and then to the person we are concerned about. When we name warning signs and risk factors, we stick to the facts, just what we have seen and heard, no speculation, no filling in the blanks with our own story. Finally we check in with the person we’re concerned about, “Are you okay? Is there anything I can do to help you? Do you know where to find support?”
These difficult, but potentially lifesaving conversations are called, See it, Name it, Check it conversations; SNCit, for short.
Many times, as family members, friends, neighbours or co-workers, we might be aware that something is amiss, but we feel it’s not our business. The reality though is that it is our business. Domestic violence is not a private matter; it impacts all of us. It is up to us, in our communities to work together to stop it. Together, we can help the victims of domestic violence become survivors, instead of devastating statistics.
Domestic abuse doesn’t discriminate. Domestic violence can and does happen to people regardless of their socio-economic, career or marital status. Hairdressers. Office workers. Waitresses. Doctors. Chefs. Stay-at-home moms. Construction workers. Your best friend. Your sister. Your neighbour. Your mom. Your client. Anyone can find themselves in a situation facing domestic violence. We know that a lack of resources and economic dependence makes it more difficult for women to leave abusive relationships, but is often a difficult decision to make regardless.
While someone with a well-paying job and a prominent social status may have the economic means to leave an abusive partner, there are many other dynamics that may keep her trapped in the relationship. She may love her partner and believe he can change, she may want to hold the family together for her children, she may fear a loss of status if she leaves the relationship and she may fear the consequences of leaving the relationship. Leslie Morgan Steiner, an accomplished business woman and author discusses some of the many reasons why women stay in her Ted Talk.
It’s important to know that while leaving an abusive relationship will help keep someone safe in the long run, in the short term, it increases the risk of serious harm or even death. The Ontario Domestic Violence Death Review Committee found that 69% of the cases they reviewed between 2003 and 2014 involved a pending or actual separation. Social support from family and friends and colleagues is extremely important for anyone leaving a relationship, regardless of their social status. Those close to someone experiencing domestic violence can only offer support if they recognize what is going on.
The best way to mitigate the risk of separation is to ensure that a safety plan is in place. Workplaces can play an important role in making it safer for someone to end an abusive relationship. Accommodations such as flexible scheduling, and paid leave can increase safety and help a worker to re-establish their lives after leaving an abusive relationship. The best way to decide what accommodations are needed is through developing a safety plan for the workplace.
But whether or not someone is ready to leave an abusive relationship or not, a safety plan is critical. Employers and unions can work with local domestic violence experts like women’s shelters to develop and monitor a safety plan.
With the help of a supportive social network, a woman can more easily take the necessary steps to leave an abusive relationship and find that safe space. Too often, we feel that speaking up is an intrusion. But when it comes to the safety of those we care about, we have to learn to overcome our hesitation to help.
Learn about what you can do to help and support someone leaving an abusive relationship who may be in danger. Please pass on the information to anyone you know experiencing domestic violence.
Domestic violence is something we need to be talking about more, every day. We can’t afford to assume that this type of abuse only happens to a certain type of woman or comes from a certain type of man. It happens to people of all races, ages and income brackets. The perpetrator can sometimes be respected members of our communities. We might ignore the signs, thinking “he would never do that”, or that “she would ever put up with abuse.” Ignoring the warning signs puts lives at stake.
If you think someone you know is experiencing domestic violence reach out and speak up. Do something about it and find out how you can help. No matter what.
iFraser, L. & Glover, C. (2016, December 6) Toronto neurosurgeon accused of killing his wife was once charged with assaulting her. CBC. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/mohammed-shamji-murder-1.3884532