FIQ (Fédération Interprofessionnelle de la santé du Québec)

Femicide: the despair of a healthcare professional

Femicide: the despair of a healthcare professional

Over 30 years ago, on December 6, 1989, 14 women were murdered at Polytechnique Montréal. Every year there are commemorations for this tragic event. Alas, the political class uses it as an opportunity to be seen and score political points, instead of better protecting the public by, for example, adopting stricter legislation on firearms.

This year, in Quebec, as of November 15, 2021, there have been 18 femicides and two infanticides reported.  I wonder what will be done for these victims and the collateral victims.  Will the government help the children and loved ones by offering financial, psychological or social support?

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, violence against women has increased. This year alone, the number of femicides has more than doubled. And yet, the government doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to take action.

According to the Council on the Status of Women, requests for help have increased substantially. In 2020-2021, SOS violence conjugale received 7,000 calls more than the year before. The number of calls rose from 90 to 200 per day. During the pandemic, housing and shelter capacity has been reduced and 15,000 requests had to be turned down in 2020. Accusations of domestic violence increased by 8.7% for the same year.

As a healthcare professional, I sometimes witness domestic violence. Such was the case one Saturday evening in October. I was called to the resuscitation room to try and save the life of a patient in a highly critical condition. I ran there and administered care to a woman who was barely 32 and was having difficulty breathing because her spouse had squeezed her neck too hard. She had bruises all over her body. In the waiting room, there was a man and her two kids with police officers. My colleagues and I were giving her care: testing her blood, checking her blood pressure, giving her medication and intubating her because she couldn’t breathe anymore. Hooked up to a respirator, a tear fell from her eyes, a tear of worry, of leaving her children behind, a tear of despair. This last look was for me because I was close to her face and told her we would take good care of her. I saw in her eyes that my words weren’t enough, not for her or for me.

I often feel caught off guard in such situations. I feel powerless, discouraged, because, like my colleagues, some wives and mothers, I was not trained to provide the psychological support this patient would have so needed in that resuscitation room that Saturday evening. This training is cruelly missing from the educational programs for healthcare workers. It is time to train and include more healthcare professionals on crisis teams so that we can be part of the solution.

My family often asks me: “How do you do it? It has to change!” I simply tell them that I do what I can, but that I would need training for reacting in crisis situations. It is true that there’s the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to help us, but even then, there isn’t enough staff to respond to all of the requests for help, which are steadily increasing. It is high time that there were enough resources and that the EAP was more easily accessible. 

On October 6, 2021, the Quebec government adopted Bill 59. It contains provisions that oblige employers to take the necessary measures to ensure protection for workers in a situation of domestic, family or sexual violence. It’s a step in the right direction, but there’s still so much left to do. For example, each police force could have specialized domestic violence investigators and more prosecutors to reduce delays. The Ministry of Public Security could use tracking bracelets in situations of domestic violence. Housing and resources for violent men could use more funding because the waiting lists are too long. More social housing units for victims are also needed. The list of necessary measures is long. 

We also need to educate and raise awareness among the men in our society from a very early age. Support programs need to be implemented for them in daycares and schools.  Prevention is the only way! It is therefore the responsibility of the minister in charge of the Status of Women to make representations within the Cabinet and to ensure that resources are allocated and funding to women’s groups increased.

I will end with a quote from Madeleine Ferron (1922-2021), an artist, writer and novelist: “To succeed, persistence is not enough, one must always surpass oneself.” 

That’s what healthcare professionals do every day for their patients. When it comes to violence against women, the government should also surpass itself!

A healthcare professional who is (still!) waiting for action