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Toronto Toronto homicide case highlights realities of domestic violence among seniors

An 80-year-old Toronto man has been charged with the second-degree murder of his 79-year-old wife, reviving calls for a broader awareness of the vulnerabilities faced by seniors when it comes to domestic violence.

Police have released few details about the death of Helen Fronczak, believed to be the fourth victim of domestic homicide in Toronto so far this year.

Officers were called to her apartment in a high-rise building near Kipling Avenue and Eglinton Avenue West around 8:25 p.m. Monday. When they arrived, they discovered the woman with obvious signs of trauma. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

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Her husband, Larry Fronczak, 80, was arrested and charged with second-degree murder.

Although much about that case is still unknown, it highlights the reality of domestic violence in the city, said Detective Ann-Marie Tupling, Toronto Police Service domestic-violence co-ordinator. She said the service receives an average of 17,000 to 19,000 domestic violence-related calls each year; the majority of victims of domestic violence are overwhelmingly women.

Because most of these victims are young, researchers argue the particular vulnerabilities faced by seniors are often overlooked.

“I think when we talk specifically about domestic violence we tend to overlook older women who may be victims of domestic violence. They’re certainly at lower risk compared to younger women, but they’re still at risk, and it needs to be recognized,” said Peter Jaffe, director of the Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children at Western University.

In nearby York Region, police are investigating the murder-suicide of a 68-year-old woman and her 73-year-old husband that took place in their home March 11. In that case, police had been called to the same home one day earlier by Sara Cimerman. Her husband, Efraim Cimerman, was charged with assault, and was ordered to stay away from the home. He had no previous criminal record and was released on a promise to appear in court later this month. But the next day, police were called to the home again – this time by a concerned family member – and the couple was found dead.

In Ontario, all intimate partner violence-related deaths are reviewed by a Domestic Violence Death Review Committee (DVDRC). According to the committee’s 2012 report, one in five women killed in Ontario between 1974 and 2012 were over 55.

Two-thirds of them, said Mr. Jaffe – who sits on the DVDRC – were isolated from social and work supports. Just over one-third were killed by an intimate partner. A unique factor amongst domestic-homicide cases involving older people is that, although fewer risk factors are usually present, the ones that are there – usually around mental or physical health – are quite pronounced, Mr. Jaffe said.

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“The most significant risk factor that stands out [in cases of older people] is depression and health concerns,” he said.

Health and mobility issues and financial dependence can be barriers for older people accessing support, said Amber Wardell, co-ordinator for the Ontario Association of Interval and Transitional Houses’s Aging Without Violence project. But part of it, she said, could also be attitudinal.

“Maybe she really believes that this is a personal, private matter,” Ms. Wardell said. “And just that recognition of the idea of what is abuse, what is violence. And how that changes across generations.”

But ensuring those supports are reaching seniors who need them is still a challenge, partly due to the silos they operate in.

Mr. Jaffe agrees: “As a society we’re certainly more aware of elder abuse, and protecting our senior citizens, but domestic violence is still a subset of elder abuse that we tend to overlook.”

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