The tragic death of a Winnipeg mother of four in what police are calling a domestic homicide is again shining a light on the overwhelming number of women trying to flee a violent partner in Manitoba.
Tessa Perry, 31, died after witnesses say she was violently beaten outside her home in the Maples as onlookers screamed for the suspect to stop Saturday night.
Police have charged the father of Perry’s youngest child, Justin Alfred Robinson, 29, with second-degree murder.
Tabitha Keeper says her best friend had recently moved to Winnipeg from Brandon and wanted to be a teacher after graduating from university.
She says Perry was full of life and worked tirelessly for her children.
“She was an amazing woman that honestly had a full life in front of her,” Keeper said in an interview with Global News Wednesday.
“(She is) the last person I ever thought this could happen to. The last person.”
Perry’s oldest son, Keigan, 15, who is not related to the man accused, says his mom always put him and his siblings first.
Days after his mother’s death, Keigan said his youngest sister, just five years old, is only now starting to understand that her mom is gone.
“When we were hugging, she was like … ‘Can you show me pictures of mommy with angel wings? I want to make sure she’s safe. I want to make sure she’s in heaven.'”
Family members have told Global News that Perry recently moved to Winnipeg from Brandon to get a new start.
Police have said law enforcement officials had previous involvement with the couple prior to the homicide.
“Often domestic violence is not a one-time occurrence,” said Winnipeg police Const. Claude Chancy.
“It is sometimes that it does escalate into what we have as we have in this particular incident… the murder of a victim.”
Manitoba has the second-highest rate of police-reported family violence among the provinces, according to the latest data from by Statistics Canada, collected in 2019 and released last year.
Cara McCaskill with the Women’s Resource Centre says rates of domestic violence have “skyrocketed” in Manitoba during the pandemic.
“At the height of the pandemic, when we were having the most requests for domestic violence services that we had ever had, we had over 50 women and children on our waitlist,” she said.
“And as we would pare down that waitlist, it would only grow back to where it was. There were just so many requests for services.”
McCaskill points to the financial stresses of COVID-19, the pressures of being under lockdown, as well as a decrease in social services through the pandemic as likely reasons for the recent rise in gender-based violence she’s seen at the centre.
She says leaving an abusive partner can be especially difficult if children are involved, and the violence can often turn into a cycle for victims.
“When women return to their abusers, it’s not because, necessarily, they want to. It’s again, that cycle of violence is perpetuated,” she said.
“It’s heartbreaking, honestly, it really is, to know that this issue of gender-based violence and domestic violence is still so pervasive and having such incredibly horrific impacts on families.”
McCaskill says more funding is needed for resources like the Women’s Resource Centre, and those enduring abuse need to know help is available.
“There are a lot of organizations … that are there for survivors that have advocacy programs in place to ensure that survivors are taken care of, that are able to kind of walk somebody through the process of safety planning or potentially planning a leave from the situation,” she said.
“The key is ensuring that people know that there is the help out there and that somebody is there for them and will be able to help them to get out of the situation that they’re in.”
— With files from Brittany Greenslade and Sam Thompson