Conjugal violence should be included in criminal code, says Shield of Athena head

International Women’s Day event raises awareness of women victimized by violence

In spite of a steady increase of violence against women in recent years, made worse by the three-year-long Covid pandemic, the federal and provincial governments have done little to change the criminal code to reflect this new reality, says the head of one of Montreal’s most proactive women’s shelters.

Shield of Athena executive-director Melpa Kamateros (left) and Vimy MP Annie Koutrakis examine an exhibit of art made by victims of conjugal violence during the International Women’s Day event. (Photo: Martin C. Barry, Newsfirst Multimedia)

Int’l Women’s Day

Shield of Athena’s executive-director Melpa Kamateros made the observation during an interview with Newsfirst Multimedia at a special event held by the group at the Casa d’Italia in Montreal to mark International Women’s Day last month.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, according to Kamateros, emerging data and reports from interventionists on the front line have suggested that all types of violence against women and girls – and especially domestic violence – have intensified.

Changing legal system

However, there have also been new and interesting developments to combat what is now seen as a global phenomenon. She noted that even as calls to intervention centres about conjugal violence incidents have increased, the legal system continues to allow abusers to get off lightly.

Even those committing “femicides” are viewed as having committed a “crime of passion,” or else the accused may show remorse after killing a female partner. Kamateros suggests that adding femicide as a motive to the penal code could go a long way to normalize the situation.

Victims of conjugal violence

“The United Nations now says that there’s one in every three women worldwide who are victims of conjugal violence,” said Kamateros. “And also 40 per cent of femicides or murders of women are done within a conjugal partnership or relationship.”

Seen here during Shield of Athena’s International Women’s Day event at Casa d’Italia in Montreal are supporters from Laval and other areas of Montreal, including Vimy MP Annie Koutrakis (centre), Montreal city councillor Mary Deros (third from right), and Shield executive-director Melpa Kamateros (fourth from left). (Photo: Martin C. Barry, Newsfirst Multimedia)

Even before the pandemic, she continued, “we had what was called the silent pandemic of violence against women.” However, she added, through events such as Shield of Athena’s recent International Women’s Day commemoration, they hope to raise awareness of the issue of violence against women and what’s being done worldwide to eliminae it.

Law should be changed, she says

Shield of Athena executive-director Melpa Kamateros says the criminal code should be amended to specifically recognize conjugal violence as a serious offence. (Photo: Martin C. Barry, Newsfirst Multimedia)

In the meantime, Kamateros pointed out, neither Canada nor Quebec have specific laws to deal with conjugal violence. “There are articles in the criminal code that are applied to physical violence, sexual abuse, threats, isolation, but there’s nothing about economic abuse, psychological abuse, verbal abuse,” she said.

She maintains that certain nations, including Cyprus and some countries in Europe, have already made conjugal violence a specific criminal offence.

She said she is always repeating to Shield of Athena staff that “we’re not scared of what it is we are seeing at our shelters, we’re scared of what it is that we don’t see. And since May 2020 and the beginning of the Covid pandemic until now, there have been 45 deaths of women and children within the context of conjugal violence.”

‘Good work,” says Koutrakis

“Shield of Athena does great work all year around, not just on one day,” said Vimy Liberal MP Annie Koutrakis, who was among the guests at the International Women’s Day observance. “It’s International Women’s Day every throughout the whole year if you really think about it. And we need to be there and honour these women with the support that they need.

“There are a lot of women out there, especially with young families, for whom this is their only refuge,” she continued. “There needs to be infrastructure and supports in place to make sure to set them up for success and not failure going backwards.”

Answers a need: Deros

Montreal city councillor for Park Extension Mary Deros, who was also a guest, said the pandemic in the last two to three years turned the lives of families in her district upside down, so there is more of a need for organizations like Shield of Athena.

‘It’s International Women’s Day every day throughout the whole year if you really think about it’

Annie Koutrakis

“People lost their jobs, costs were up, everybody was at home, often working at home, while children were also at home and it was all very difficult,” she said. “So, the parents, fathers, sometimes might become aggressive, and there was more of a need. That’s why I keep encouraging everyone I know to support Shield of Athena.”