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Toronto victim of machete attack likely had no choice but to report abuse: domestic violence expert

WATCH ABOVE: As Catherine McDonald, the South Asian Women’s Centre says most women in abusive relationships they see are too afraid to leave and say Tharshika Jeganathan’s life was in jeopardy despite the retraining order.

Sitting in her office on Lansdowne Avenue, the executive director of the South Asian Women’s Centre said she is sad thinking about Tharshika Jeganathan — the victim of a deadly machete attack in Scarborough on Wednesday night

“I think we have to be honest with what’s going on in our community, especially with young women brides in our community. There are too many cases of abuse with newcomer brides,” said Kripa Sekhar.

Sekhar said 27-year-old Jeganathan, who was married in 2015 before coming to Canada in 2017 to join her husband 38-year-old Sasikaran Thanapalasingam, was likely terrified when she went to police in March of that year to report that her then-husband had allegedly assaulted her.

“I think she was forced to report it because she was so afraid for her life. Otherwise I don’t think she would have done it because she would have wanted to save her marriage,” she said.

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READ MORE: Toronto man charged with 1st-degree murder after estranged wife dies in machete attack

Court documents obtained by Global News found that Thanapalasingam, who has now been charged with the first-degree murder of Jeganathan, was charged with assault in March 2017. But after breaching the conditions of his release by contacting his wife in May 2017, he was given a probation order restricting him from having any contact with Jeganathan for a year.

In February, a peace bond was again issued prohibiting Thanapalasingam from going near his estranged wife. It was still in effect when he surrendered to officers at Toronto Police 42 division Wednesday night.

“Once a restraining order is issued, a woman’s life is even more in jeopardy,” said Sekhar.

“I think the issue of violence and abuse against women is a global issue, but in different communities it manifests itself differently.”

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Sekhar said in most cases of arranged marriages in South Asia, there’s usually a demand that the bride’s family bring jewelry and money to the groom and pay for the wedding. And sometimes coming to Canada to join the husband is also seen as a privilege.

“If a woman goes to police back home, there are consequences. Her life is now in danger — she has shamed the family, she has also disgraced the man,” explained Sekhar.

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Sekhar said only about 10 per cent of the clients who access the counselling services at the South Asian Women’s Centre, including a program entitled “violence against women,” finally make a decision to leave. The centre works closely with the shelters to get women in when they’re ready. They give women safety plans and provide them with legal support.

READ MORE: Woman dead after machete attack in east-end Toronto and suspect in custody, police say

Mirusha Yogarajah, a social justice advocate for the Tamil community, said the stigma around domestic violence and around divorce means many women have a difficult time leaving a relationship.

“It is common knowledge that [domestic violence] happens, but we fail to acknowledge it as a community. There’s a lot of dismissal of women’s stories. I’m tired, it’s too pervasive,” said Yogarajah, who has written poetry about women who have been subjected to domestic violence at the hands of their husbands or fathers.

She said she’s alarmed because she doesn’t see a shift in the culture, adding she believes there’s a cultural acceptance of violence that’s perpetuated with movies and media perpetuating misogyny.

READ MORE: At least 148 women were killed in Canada last year. How do we keep them safer?

Yogarajah said there needs to be more awareness, support and access to resources. Speaking about Jeganathan, she said she feels sad that her life ended so tragically.

“I think that she was incredibly brave, and I don’t know that a peace bond or a restraining order is sufficient to protect a woman. I don’t think the system was made to protect her,” Yogarajah said.

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