Luke’s Place is named in memory of Luke
Luke was a 3½ year old boy who was murdered by his father on his first unsupervised access visit in August of 1997 in Durham Region. This unsupervised access was allowed by the court process despite pleas from Luke’s mother to permit supervised access only.
What makes Luke’s Place unique?
Luke’s Place is a centre for change devoted solely to improving the safety and experience of abused women and their children as they proceed through the family law process. Luke’s Place has focused on the development of a specialized response to support abused women in this difficult and challenging process including
- individual service and group support for clients
- a Resource Manual and training process for staff and volunteers and an Emergency Motions Toolkit for our staff and other service providers
- free Summary Legal Advice Clinics in the Durham region supported in part by Legal Aid Ontario
- the Virtual Legal Clinic, which connects women in remote communities to lawyers
- in-person and online training for shelter staff, lawyers, and other social service professionals throughout Ontario
- mentoring and policy development support with agencies throughout the province
- training for lawyers on “Effective Lawyering for Clients Leaving Abusive Relationships”
- bi-monthly legal information postings to our popular news blog
Luke’s Place has also focused on raising the profile and understanding of this issue provincially and internationally through
- participation in think tanks, stakeholder consultations
- presentations at provincial and international conferences and to parliamentary committee
- distribution of published materials
- completion of two research projects to date.
Luke’s Place envisions a family court system that responds efficiently to end domestic violence and effectively provides for the safety, emotional and financial needs of abused women and their children after leaving a situation of abuse.
Increasing numbers of abused women find themselves in family court with little or no legal representation. They are expected to figure out for themselves what lawyers and judges spend years studying and practicing, to fill out endless forms correctly and file them on time, to appear in court and make complicated legal arguments, to understand the rules of evidence, and to do all that while maintaining a pleasant and cooperative attitude. For most, it is like trying to speak a new language with no chance to learn it first. They must do all of this while recovering from the trauma of abuse and often in fear for their lives.
Difficult enough under any circumstances, the task becomes all but impossible for women who are fleeing abusive relationships. In addition to the challenges faced by any non-lawyer representing herself, abused women must deal with:
- fear of their abuser, without the protective shield offered by having a lawyer
- insecurity and lack of self-confidence brought on by the years of abuse
- safety concerns for themselves and their children
- lack of understanding of violence against women by many in the court system
- lack of appropriate services and supports
- possible criminal court proceedings that conflict with or impact her family court case
In its Annual Report to the Chief Coroner (2005), the Domestic Violence Death Review Committee states:
Abuse victims face many challenges in seeking safety for themselves and their children after separation. The focus on conflict resolution, parent education programs, and the pressure for parents to put the past behind them for the sake of the children has not served the unique needs of abuse victims and their children. The Committee’s reviews indicate there have been a number of tragedies associated with the lack of recognition of domestic violence as a critical factor in determining child custody and access arrangements.
Research conducted in Durham Region (Sinclair, D. “In the Centre of the Storm”) supports the findings of other Canadian research that abusive men often use the family court system to continue to exercise their control once the woman and children have left. Not only do abused women face an increased threat of physical violence as they leave, but they also face challenges that arise from the family court process including pressure to participate in joint mediation and joint custody arrangements that put them at risk, facing an abusive partner who attempts to obtain custody of the children as a way to continue abuse and control, custody and access arrangements in which the abuser has access to them and uses visits to harass and control, and endless court motions by the abuser, incurring costs in legal fees until the victim is worn down or financially unable to continue. In effect, abusive men attempt to use the family court system as an extension of their abuse. At times there are extreme outcomes in these cases, including abduction of children and homicide.
How Luke’s Place began
At the “Steps For Change” community conference in 1999, over 225 professionals and survivors met in Durham Region to explore solutions for addressing the difficulties experienced by woman abuse survivors and their children. At that conference, Executive Directors from organizations throughout Durham Region and political leaders made the recommendation to develop a woman’s resource centre dealing specifically with custody and access issues. There was unanimous support to name this centre Luke’s Place. Luke’s Place Support and Resource Centre for Women and Children was incorporated in December 2000 and opened its doors to deliver service in September 2003. Luke’s Place is a non-profit, registered charitable organization serving abused women in Durham Region, while providing information and specialized training throughout the province, nationally and internationally.