All Tiffany wanted was somebody to love and to love her back.
She thought Mike was that guy.
She ignored warnings from friends who had heard his reputation. And she became angry when her mother gave her disapproving two cents worth on Mike.
She focused on the positive influence he became in her life. A single mother living on her own, it was good to have a man in her life who appeared caring and helpful.
The relationship moved extremely fast, and the violence and abuse was not far behind.
She was trapped.
“I just thought they were being overprotective and I didn’t take them seriously, because to me he seemed greater than any person I had met in my life,” said Tiffany, whose real identity and that of her ex are being withheld.
Over the course of the next few years, she experienced the full spectrum of abuse, from being a punching bag, to isolation, confinement and psychological abuse and manipulation.
Her children became pawns as child protective services became involved and Tiffany’s life came crashing down.
It has been a long battle to rebuild her life.
Her story is not unique in Central Alberta.
Red Deer carries the dubious title as the province’s domestic abuse capital.
The city is among the leaders for most reported cases of domestic violence in Alberta, and the rates are among the highest in Canada.
Last year alone, there were 1,670 files opened. That’s a considerable jump from the previous six years, during which there were about 2,800 files total, or an average of 466 a year.
According to Statistics Canada, in 2011, family violence accounted for 26 per cent of all police-reported violent crime across the nation.
It is believed those numbers just scratch the surface, with only an estimated 30 to 40 per cent of cases being reported. One-in-four common-law or married women will experience at least one act of domestic violence in their adult life. The highest risk is for women is between the ages of 18 and 24.
The Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters survey in 2012 on men’s attitudes towards violence against women and found that 10 per cent of men still believe that it is OK to hit a woman if she angers him.
Not every complaint filed with the RCMP results in charges. The Red Deer Crown prosecutor’s office sees about 80 new domestic violence cases a month. In the previous six years, 1,437 files, or 52 per cent of all total files, resulted in court cases.
The Central Alberta Women’s Emergency Shelter (CAWES) consistently runs at capacity with all 40 beds full.
The Red Deer RCMP Domestic Violence Unit has broadened the scope of what calls should originate with the unit. Often they are moved to other divisions, but every file is investigated.
Observers say the numbers show that the public is starting to trust the system again and that domestic violence is being taken seriously in the city.
That wasn’t the always the case.
The Fekete murder-suicide in 2003 exposed how big an issue domestic violence was in the city.
After putting his estranged wife Blagica and their three-year-old son Alex through almost a year of hell, Josif Fekete shot and killed both. Then he turned the gun on himself in front of the only witness, Blagica’s best friend Valerie Carr — who described the incident in her 2005 testimony during an official enquiry.
Blagica reportedly made 100 calls to the police in the preceding 10 months. Carr also made complaints to the police that were not followed up.
Still, Blagica appeared to be finally finding her way to safety. She had taken up residence at CAWES two days before she was shot.
She was not at CAWES when she was murdered. She had agreed to pick up Alex at their former Red Deer apartment where Josif was dropping him off after a court-ordered visitation. Josif came armed with a sawed-off shotgun.
For some men, it’s a fine line between violence and homicide, and the point where the victim decides to finally move on is always the most dangerous.
“When she leaves him, he becomes desolate and desperate and he begins to have suicidal thoughts and suicidal ideations,” said CAWES executive director Ian Wheeliker, who worked with more than 10,000 men in Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan before moving to Red Deer. “If he thinks he can’t get her back, or someone else is going to have her, his suicidal thoughts can turn to homicide in literally the blink of an eye.”
Alberta has some of the highest rates for domestic violence ending in homicide in Canada, trailing only Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
Boom-and-bust resource-based economies play a big role. When times are good, there is more money for drugs and alcohol, plus relationships become strained with people away from home at camps for weeks at a time. Then when times are slow, finances become a completely different lightning rod.
But there are other issues at play.
Domestic violence is generational. The vast majority of offenders and adult victims were either victims of abuse or witnessed it as children.
This exposure creates mental health issues that fester and grow with adulthood.
Wheeliker says they do not let victims or abusers use this as an excuse. However, what it does do is provide insight into the situation and some of the issues that will need to be worked on.
Wheeliker is also clear that it is not always the women who are victims of domestic violence — there are women who are offenders as well.
Tiffany was exposed to a lot of domestic violence growing up. Her mother had a long track record of abusive boyfriends and turned to substance abuse.
Her mother could see the tell-tale signs almost immediately when she met Mike.
But Tiffany did not want to hear it, especially from her mother.
Over the years, Tiffany developed a codependent issue as a coping mechanism, tying her emotions and happiness to being with somebody. She was passive and did everything she could to avoid confrontation with everybody, not just Mike.
For an abusive person, that kind of mindset creates an easy prey.
“I am too forgiving, I believe people will change and I didn’t see the abuse that was happening,” Tiffany said.
Coming Saturday: The 2003 Fekete murder-suicide marked a low point for law enforcement in Red Deer.