Why it’s still worth talking about violence against women

Thoughts on the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women

Cooper Street in Ottawa.

This is Cooper Street in downtown Ottawa. If you’d walked down that street at about 10 p.m. on Nov. 18, as I did, you’d have seen a man yelling at a woman. You’d also have seen the same man ordering a woman out of a beaten-up pick-up truck and, when she wouldn’t budge, grabbing and pulling at her with some force. You’d also have seen the man drive away with some recklessness, the woman inside, yelling. Almost no one else noticed. It’s the same thing that happens thousands of times in Ottawa every single year. It’s common, simply put, to witness that kind of thing.

The man didn’t slug the woman or shoot her with a gun. He might not have committed a crime, even. But when I saw what was happening, I noted his plate number and called the police. I waited a while before making that call. Passersby certainly weren’t grabbing for their phones; indeed, most didn’t seem to even notice the disturbance. So many questions arose from those few minutes: Should I have called the police? Was that a private matter? Why did so many people just walk by? Did they not care, or just not notice? Perhaps most importantly, what happened to that man and that woman? Is she okay? Is he okay? Are they still together?

It’s impossible to answer most of those questions definitively. The police, and just about anybody who talks about violence against women, would suggest dialing 9-1-1 is the proper course of action. As for the rest of those questions, well, it’s anybody’s guess. Police did tell me more about that couple: Later on that night, they pulled the guy over on the highway and nailed him for slapping licence plates on an unregistered vehicle. Because of my call, they asked his female companion if she felt endangered. She was “adamant”, in the cops’ words, that she did not. Of course, it’s hard to know if that’s how she really felt.

In the aftermath of all this, I talked to two people who knew a few things about domestic violence: Isobel Granger, a staff-sergeant with the Ottawa Police Service’s partner assault unit; and Holly Johnson, an associate professor at the University of Ottawa whose research explores intimate partner violence. Conversations with both women were as overwhelming as they were illuminating.

I’d asked the police for some data that illustrate the prevalence of domestic abuse. Eventually, Granger called me and asked if I’d come in and explain the numbers she had in front of her. They didn’t tell the whole story, she said. Yesterday, we chatted for over an hour about the complexity of what the police categorize as partner abuse. It was pretty sobering. Granger plunked down a thick pile of paper that listed every investigation into partner abuse in 2011. It comprised 3,142 investigations conducted by 19 detectives in the unit—do that math,  and it’s clear just how overwhelming case loads can become for each detective. Each morning, as the sun rises, there tend to be a handful of men in the Elgin Street station’s cell blocks who were hauled in the night before after allegedly assaulting their partners.

That’s in Ottawa, the census metropolitan area that, according to Statistics Canada, had the lowest rate of intimate partner violence in 2010 (259 per 100,000 people). That year, Statistics Canada reported over 102,500 victims of intimate partner violence across Canada, or 363 victims per 100,000 people. Thunder Bay registered the highest rate (969 per 100,000), followed by Regina, Saint John, N.B., and Saskatoon. But that’s only the reported stuff. Statistics show that only a fraction of partner violence—28 percent, according to 2004′s General Social Survey—is called into police. Granger told me that when her unit appears on the evening news, a spike in calls to police tends to follow. That says a lot about how many people don’t call every other day. Granger says partner assault happens all over the city, sometimes out in the open, sometimes vocally, other times silently. She pointed to cyberstalking as a frustrating evolution of such violence. It’s no secret that the internet can be a dangerous place, and, Granger reminded me, victims of violence aren’t immune from the online world’s darker side. I left that conversation with the impression that policing violence against women is a hell of a tough gig.

Nor is the job handed to people like Johnson, who studies such violence for a living, an easy one. She talked about a lot of things, and it’s worth writing about all of them: why many women don’t call the police when they’re abused, or refuse help if police do visit; how effective awareness campaigns might be able to reduce the amount of domestic violence; how male role models, particularly in the world of sport, can influence the people who look up to them; the problems posed by anonymity, or presumption of anonymity, that pervades the online world; the “pornification” of media, much of which is consumed by children. There’s more, too, and journalists could write about all of it every day without becoming repetitive.

Something stuck out in both conversations yesterday. When I asked them how they define success in their various encounters with partner assault, Granger and Johnson each hesitated to answer. I sensed they weren’t entirely confident in their responses. Johnson even called the struggle to combat such violence “depressing,” which was pretty raw. Presumably, success would mean a wholesale reduction in partner assault. But neither really mentioned that goal until I asked about it.

One more anecdote: I asked Johnson how helpful something like today’s National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women is to those who want to reduce violence against women. “Awareness campaigns make you stop and think,” she told me, adding that it’s akin to remembering veterans’ contributions on Remembrance Day. Johnson outlined a number of ways partner assault might be reduced, including aggressive ad campaigns that illustrate the lunacy of violence. She also pointed to the work of a number of organizations that support women who need help, and the achievements of the White Ribbon Campaign, an initiative led by men who work to end violence against women.

There’s one distinction I’d draw between Remembrance Day, and similar tributes, and the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. Veterans mostly signed up to fight, and they were working towards an achievable, and laudable, goal. The women who were murdered at l’École Polytechnique in 1989, and all the women who are beaten and tortured every day, never signed up for their fights. They’re not fighting for the end of tyranny, nor some equally glorious end. They’re just fighting for their lives. It’s happening everywhere. And no one knows how to contain it.




Browse

Why it’s still worth talking about violence against women

  1. When I was growing up beating women was something society ignored….or joked about.

    Thank you for making that call.

  2. and they were working towards an achievable, and laudable, goal.

    ***

    This is not necessarily true.

    And although you were in the interview and not me, I can only assume the speaker meant “if you have a day dedicated to something it’s an opportunity to think about that thing.”

    • Fair point on the laudability of veterans’ goals.

      As for your second point, yup, that’s what she meant. Did that not come across?

      • It was the distinction you drew later in the top of the third paragrahp that made me think the comparison was suppsed to be deeper.

  3. A great article – except for the École Polytechnique reference; I was hoping you could avoid that.

    École Polytechnique belongs in the same category as Columbine, Taber, etc. Every time it is used as the example of violence against women, it detracts from the reality of the everyday types of violence that predominate. People are left with the wrong idea of what the issue is, and just how sadly commonplace and everyday an occurrence it is.

    It is a great attention-grabber, but in my mind entirely inappropriate to the context. I’m glad you at least left it to the closing and your reference was only passing. The rest of your article, though, was exactly on point.

    • Don’t try to dismiss it. Misogyny is a very real thing.

      • Do you ever read my posts?

        • I try not to. LOL

    • Thanks for your thoughts. I intentionally left the reference to the 1989 shooting at the end of the piece, because I didn’t want to exaggerate its part in this particular story. I did think it needed mentioning, though, and still do.

      • Given the date on which the post went up, I suppose so. But I think it would have been worth drawing a distinction between Lepine’s actions (attack on a group of strangers by a mentally disturbed individual) and the kind of violence most victims face.

    • On the other hand, it is equally plausible (although not necessarily proven) that Mr. Lepine is only an extreme acting out of prevalent societal attitudes.

      • Even if so, he would be an extreme outlier and so putting the focus on his actions as many do (I give Nick credit for not making Lepine a main focus) tends for many to skew the idea of what exactly “violence against women” means.

    • The men were ordered out of the room and the women were executed. How is this not violence against women.

      • It is not typical violence against women. And it has more in common with Columbine and Taber and all those other school shootings than it does with the acts most victims of violence face.

        The point I’m making is that when people use Lepine as the poster boy for violence against women – a bizarre, atypical occurrence – it actually detracts from the very serious violence women face daily.

        The odds of a woman being injured or killed in a stranger attack by a Lepine is probably less than that of winning the lottery.

        The focus should really be on the kind of violence that Taylor-Vaisey spent most of his article addressing.

  4. I wonder why no men call when they are assaulted…? Why are there no women in the Ottawa jails for this crime?
    Oh… yes… I forgot. Men are never victimized. The scientific studies that show otherwise are flawed, itis only policie reports that are reliable.

    • Because it’s hard to explain how a 5’4″ woman can beat up a 6′ man?

      • Not really; many men still believe it is wrong to hit a woman. Many know that if they defend themselves, it is they who will end up in jail.

        I actually know a 6-ft someone who was assaulted by his diminutive kickboxer wife. She was leaving him and assaulted him in the hope he would hit back and she could press charges. As it happens, she was the one who ended up spending time in lockup and having a restraining order imposed.

        The really silly part of the story is that she was the one who called the cops and tried to press charges, despite his not laying a hand on her.

        • And how many men are married to vindictive kick-boxers?

          • Not a lot, I suppose – but there are a lot of men who would not strike a woman even in self defence. And so they could easily be victimized by a much smaller woman. You implied that it would be hard for a smaller woman to beat up a larger man; I’m pointing out that it wouldn’t necessarily be all that hard.

            bc fathers asked why men don’t report; probably for the same reason women don’t. Except the social stigma would probably be much worse. If my neighbour’s wife hadn’t accidentally reported herself, from what I know of him I doubt very much her victim would have called.

            I’m probably setting myself up for a lot of flack here, if Clarkson’s response to bc fathers is any indication, but there’s something I’ve always wondered about: We often hear of physically abused women saying it’s their fault; they deserved it. The standard argument for this behaviour is that the woman’s self-esteem has been so beaten down by the abuse that she uses this to justify it to herself. I don’t doubt that this is true in the majority of situations… but I do suspect that in some instances, esp. where it seems so out of character for the man, that perhaps the woman has been verbally &/or physically abusing the male for so long that he eventually strikes out.

            I’m not at all condoning the violence, but I do think that in a small minority of situations this is the reality. In which case it is really no different from the battered wife syndrome.

          • It’s very easy to deflect attacks by someone much smaller and lighter than yourself.

            I’m sure some men get hit by their wives, but I’ve not seen many men rushed to hospital with broken ribs, smashed faces, pummelled unconscious etc by their wives.

            The thing is, when anything abusive or deadly happens to women, it doesn’t take long for someone to dismiss it

            Oh well, he was crazy. Wasn’t because they were women, it could have been anybody. And then the red herrings….women attack men too, the gun registry doesn’t work, why didn’t the guys protect the women, what we need to do is arm everyone….blah, blah, blah.

            We do that because society in general isn’t facing the cultural teaching there….religion tells people that women are inferior and must obey men. That’s also morphed into a lot of crap about only the strong survive.

            Instead of ‘talking it away’ we need to face it. There’s a lot that our culture needs changing on…but without facing it, we have no hope of fixing it.

          • I don’t at all disagree that violence against women needs to be looked at with open eyes and an open mind, and properly addressed. I completely agree it is a huge problem, and much of it is societally based.

            However, creating or propagating other myths – women don’t attack men – doesn’t help. It shows you are still blinded by stereotypes.

            We should be looking to end violence against others – period. It should be a gender-neutral goal.

            Yes, women constitute the vast majority of the victims. That’s no reason to ignore or marginalize the male victims.

            Finally, bear in mind that in same-sex relationships there can be same-sex abuse.

            Try not to always be so absolutist in your views.

          • This is why I try not to read your posts.

            You’re daft.

          • You look so becoming with those huge blinders hiding half your face…

          • Playing pretzel has unbalanced your mind.

            ‘Virtuous sexism’ is not on, anymore than virtuous racism was the other day.

          • See? I knew you’d find a way to call me sexist… or racist… just because I challenged your black-and-white viewpoint. But I’m used to inappropriate name-calling from you. It usually happens when I’m on the right track and you have run out of arguments.

            Though now you have me forgetting the blinders and thinking of you as the other end of the horse…

          • It’s what you are. You try to disguise it with PC credentials, but it doesn’t work

            First you try to establish the ‘virtue’. Why some of your best friends are black. Some of em are gay. Heavens, some of them are even women.

            Then the other stuff shows up….cuz you’re figuring no one can call your bluff now.

            Case in point….52% of the world’s population are female They live under the constant threat of violence, and have done for several thousand years. Tsk tsk….but wait says Keith. What about men beat up by their wives? Or same sex marriage beatings? The fact this is so miniscule there are no figures on it doesn’t stop you from dismissing the overwhelming abuse and murder of females.

            When I don’t buy this hokum…. you respond with a personal attack. Since I’m female….it’s my looks. Oh and of course my thinking….all wrong. I mean if it’s different than yours then it must be wrong eh?. LOL

            Sod off. You are just being your usual boring self.

          • “…dismissing the overwhelming abuse and murder of females.”

            That, Emily, is about the most blatant lie you have ever said about one of my posts (and you have distorted a good many of them beyond recognition before).

            Point out where I ever even came close to saying that. If I had the spare cash to do so I’d sue your ass for libel for that one.

            I pointed out that there are others who also suffer abuse because you so out-of-hand dismissed the idea in your snarky comment to bc fathers. Somehow you seem hell-bent on insisting only women are abused when common sense alone should tell you that’s utter nonsense.

            As usual, you can see only one narrow viewpoint.

            As for the name-calling – scroll up and see who called who names first. Don’t dish it if you can’t take it.

          • BTW – how is it that my completely acknowledging violence against women as being a terrible thing and lauding any action to prevent it makes me sexist? If you aren’t willing to extend the same to members of the male population, doesn’t that make you the sexist?

          • Just as the other day you were opposed to white immigrants on principle but I am racist because I thought we should consider potential immigrants based on their ability to contribute to Canada regardless of race sex or creed…

            You have the most incredibly arse-backward view of the world of anyone who posts on here…

    • ^ hit by a girl and mad

    • hey asshat, you do realize why this was posted today, don’t you? Memorials were held across the country on Thursday to remember the 14 women who were gunned down at Montréal’s Ecole Polytechnique 23 years ago.

      But no, go ahead, thump your chest and exclaim “me me me me me me” because you are so much more freakin’ important.

      What a jerk, on this day of all days.

      • OK, so you want to stand up for victims of violence against women. I get that. But was there really any need to abuse someone who, judging from his post, has already been a victim of – or knows a victim of – violence, just because that victim wasn’t the right gender?

        Talk about asshats…

  5. Some women can not get out of the situation because they do not have money.
    And when eventually they do get out, money would be still an issue. They will go from one career center to the next. They might have little money (let say child support) which would be on the threshold for not qualifying for government financial assistance (which they would not like anyway, because they would like to earn themselves & be independent). And would not have money for bus fare to get her child to doctor, in some cases. Well, doctor is free but bus is not obviously.

    Asylum seekers come & get instantly a financial assistance and health coverage etc. Well, good for them, because can afford bus fare.

  6. Lots of people pass by, not wanting to become involved. There are many stories out there in which the intervener becomes the accused, and the malefactor assumes saintly airs. One professor I knew saw some physical abuse on Halifax Streets. He knew he could not deal with the abuser physically, so he came close, stood and watched. This unnerved the abuser who cursed and threatened. “What the @#$#@ are you looking at? Get the #$%# out of here!” The prof stood his ground and said, “If you strike me, I will take you to court for assault. If you keep on beating that woman, I will testify on her behalf at your trial. Either way, you’re breaking the law. Stop now.” Faced with a lose-lose situation, the abuser stopped, stomped off and left the scene. The woman didn’t want to press charges, fearing retribution, but she expressed gratitude for a timely and intelligent intervention. For that moment, in that corner of Halifax, there was a brief alleviation of the problem. But one statistic shows that many women in abusive situations return to the same partner, even after severe beatings. I agree with your last sentence: “…no one knows how to contain it.”

Sign in to comment.