June 24, 2000
Court orders don't deter ex-spouses
`I'm always afraid it's him coming after me'By Patricia Orwen and Hamida Ghafour
Toronto Star Staff Reporters
They abandon their homes. They move into secret shelters hidden on city streets. They change their jobs. They change their phone numbers, their hairstyle, their children's schools.
They are women being stalked. Although it is their husbands, boyfriends or former lovers whom the police seek to restrain, it is the women themselves who are the prisoners of a fear that never sleeps.
``I've dyed my hair. I dress differently, but still I jump at every noise, every movement . . . I'm always afraid it's him coming after me,'' says Katherine, a Toronto woman who believes she still may one day share the same fate as Gillian Hadley of Pickering.
Hadley, a 35-year-old mother of three, was shot to death Tuesday by her estranged husband Ralph Hadley, despite court orders that he stay away from her.
Social workers and experts say thousands of women have court orders, but the orders simply don't deter the most dangerous and determined former spouses or boyfriends.
Lorna Pike, a counsellor at Interval House, a women's shelter in Toronto says a restraining order can be ineffective.
``It's not enforced, for one. It's not taken seriously. I'm not sure if it's the spouses who don't take it seriously or if the system doesn't lend itself to enforcement,'' says Pike, a counsellor for five years.
Providing a permanent hiding place for high-risk women may be the only way to keep them safe, says Nadia MacKay, a social worker at the North York Women's Shelter.
``If you have an offender who is intent on killing and may even be prepared to die, then police and court orders really won't make a difference, and the women know that. The only option may be to move the woman to somewhere where she isn't going to be found, something similar to the witness-protection program.''
As of April, 1998, 422 shelters across Canada offered refuge from family violence to 6,100 women and children, according to Statistics Canada. Less than one third of these women had reported the most recent incident of abuse to police. In Ontario then, 2,992 women and children resided in shelters. Just 24 per cent of abused women had called police.
Katherine and her two children have spent three months in a women's shelter since shortly after her former husband hit her over the head with a tire iron. She suffered a severe concussion.
``I know he's not going to obey court orders . . . he has no respect for the law,'' says Katherine, who obtained a restraining order against her former spouse after the tire-iron attack, only to have him repeatedly arrive at her apartment.
One time, he broke down her door. Terrified, Katherine called police, but it took 40 minutes for them to arrive. It was then she decided that only she could save herself.
``I pulled out the suitcases, packed only the most important things, called a cab and said goodbye to that apartment for good. . . . It was either that or I knew I could end up dead,'' says the frail, soft-spoken woman who, like other women in this story, asked that her real name not be used.
``All the court orders in the world couldn't make him stay away from me. . . . The police can't guard me all the time and what are the courts going to do? The system can't lock someone up forever because they might commit a crime,'' Katherine says.
A few weeks ago, Katherine found a new job. She has bought clothes which disguise her figure. She never visits old friends or relatives. ``There's too much chance he's watching them,'' she says. ``I meet them somewhere. I'll just have to live that way for now.''
One of the difficulties she says she faces now is finding the money to move out of town. She also worries about putting her name to paper anywhere, just in case her former spouse decides to do data-base searches. ``There needs to be some system to help me really disappear,'' she says.
Robin also wants to see a some help for women to go into hiding for good. She's one of 30 women and children staying at the North York Women's Shelter.
``I know it shouldn't be that way,'' she says. ``We shouldn't have to give up our freedom like that, but it's better than dying.''
A mother of three, Robin and her spouse separated last fall, but he continued to return to their North York apartment.
``One time, he beat me up. . . . My face was all black and blue . . . I could barely see out of one eye, but the police didn't take it seriously. They charged him, but he said I hit him, so they charged me, too.''
When the case went to court, the judge ordered Robin's ex-spouse to stay away from her, but within days he was back at the apartment.
``I don't believe the system can help,'' Robin says. ``I don't think the police were really there for me when I called them, so I'm not going to depend on them.''
The police did manage to put Eve's boyfriend Chad behind bars but she's still afraid of what he might do - even though one of his bail conditions is that he stay away from her for the next two years.
When Eve ran into him in an alleyway near her house last spring, he kicked her teeth in so hard that when police arrived she had to write a note explaining what happened.
It was only then the court ordered Chad to stay away from Eve. But for the next year her ex-boyfriend continuously harassed her.
That attack happened more than a year ago and Chad finally went to jail three weeks ago.
Chad and Eve lived together for eight months before she tired of his heavy drinking, temper tantrums and kicked him out in December, 1998. But he kept coming back.
``Sometimes if I had another guy over, some friends hanging out, he would just come over and pick me up by the throat,'' she says, flipping the pages of a diary she kept in case she took him to court. ``What does he want out of me?''she says she asked herself. ``Why does he keep bothering me? Rejection. I rejected him.''
At 6 foot 3, and 250 pounds, Chad towered over her. His eyes, which she describes as ``steel brown,'' bulged when he was enraged - which was often. Eve, who suffers from emphysema, says the ordeal has been so stressful that when she heard his steps on the stairs, she would ran to her room and start smoking.
The violence escalated last May as she was crossing the street near her apartment.
``I'm near the alleyway and somehow he got in front of me. I poked him and told him to leave me alone,'' Eve says. ``He said, `Oh yeah?' He turned around and kicked me right in the mouth. Did $2,000 damage to my gums and teeth. I was eating baby food for two weeks.''
He was charged with assault causing bodily harm but released on his own recognizance - despite the fact that he had a criminal record. After that, she rarely left her house, and even something as simple as returning a movie to the video store down the street made her anxious because he might be drinking at a bar nearby.
Eve still refused to go to a women's shelter. (``Why should I leave my own home? I shouldn't be suffering, he should.'')
She was fed up enough to call police when he came over on Jan. 31 this year. Police charged him with breaching his bail conditions. He went to jail for 45 days.
On June 1 he pleaded guilty to the assault charges and received a six-month jail sentence.
``When he went to jail, I felt like I got out of jail. Even my friends said your voice sounds stronger, you're laughing and joking around.''
Still, she is angry at what she thinks is a lax jail sentence. He should have served at least five years. And once someone is charged they shouldn't be granted bail, she says.
Police could hardly enforce the order last time and she doesn't think anything will change. Except that he might become more dangerous.
``He's experienced with explosives. He's been told not to have a gun for 10 years. But I'm so little he doesn't need a gun on me,'' she said, taking a long, hard drag of her cigarette.
Contents copyright © 1996-2000, The Toronto Star.