By Dale Carruthers, The London Free Press
Wednesday, October 18, 2017 7:49:08 EDT PM
Maha El-Birani saw the signs: the controlling behaviour, the physical abuse and the isolation.
Her father was mentally unstable, chronically unemployed and had been arrested for assaulting his wife.
El-Birani and her two sisters feared for the safety of their mother, Sonia, who lived in the basement of the home she shared with her abusive husband, Chawki.
The couple had met in Lebanon, where they both worked as teachers, before immigrating to London in 1989 in search of better life.
“My father was abusive from the beginning of their marriage. Mama was extremely principled and always believed that protecting your family’s reputation was very important.” El-Birani told a crowd at the London Convention Centre Wednesday.
The patriarch’s abusive behaviour left the El-Birani women isolated from friends and family, she said.
“We altered our life and behaviour to minimize any of his episodes. We operated as an independent unit, isolated from society and our community and our extended family.”
The siblings’ worst fear came true on April 11, 2012, when Maha and her sister, Houda, returned to their parents’ south London home to find their mother stabbed to death in the kitchen.
El-Birani told her family’s story at the Canadian Domestic Homicide Prevention Conference, a two-day event that opened with four domestic homicide survivors sharing their heartbreaking experiences.
New research being presented at the conference, co-led by Western University academics, shows that the 80 per cent of domestic homicides are preceded by more than a dozen identified risk factors — including prior domestic abuse, stalking, separation and substance abuse — that are known to people close to the victims.
More than 450 attendees, ranging from domestic violence researchers and policy makers to students and survivors, spent Wednesday listening to speakers and participating in workshops.
The conference aims to identify risk factors specific to populations, including immigrants like Sonia El-Birani, who may experience higher rates of victimization.
Chawki El-Birani pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in 2012 and drew a 25-year prison term.
Now living in Lebanon, Maha El-Birani has turned to activism and advocacy. She encouraged people to get angry about domestic violence, saying it doesn’t have to be a negative emotion.
“We need anger to make sure we defend those who are defenceless,” she said. “We need anger to motivate us to change people’s impressions of domestic violence and to end complacency.”