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99 Federal Steps to End Violence Against Women - Section Two

Living in the belly of the beast

Very few Canadians remain ignorant of the extent of the violence committed by men against women and children, One in four women will be assaulted at some time during her life. One in eight female children will be sexually attacked before puberty. One in ten women face physical attacks from their partners and husbands. Women are attacked by men they know. Very few people remain ignorant that the situation is worse for women of colour, women with disabilities and Aboriginal women. Eight out of ten Aboriginal women of those asked in an Ontario study have been abused or assaulted. Disabled women report that more than five out of ten have been raped, abused or assaulted. The widespread knowledge and belief in these facts is a source of pride to the women in the CASAC, in associations of transition houses, and in the Ontario Native Women's Association who have been fundamentally responsible for gathering the truth and for informing the Canadian public.

Our findings, from women's centres, transition houses and rape crisis centres across the country have been reinforced by other researchers and by reports received by the criminal justice system and the federal government. But women have lost confidence in government and public institutions because they have failed to direct actions to stop sexist violence against women and they have directly interfered with progressive measures aimed at stopping this violence.

The women and groups with NAC also well understand the social economic relationship of the men doing the attacking to the women attacked.

Women are not born victims, they are placed by political and legal processes in situations where they cannot avoid victimization except by using brute force or by appealing to the humanity of each potential attacker. We must have the mechanisms and funds to group ourselves, to map our escape routes, to design our environments and to collect our forces for a better day.

No one man gets into a position to wreck havoc on women and children alone. We must have the mechanisms and funds to hold legally and politically responsible, every institution involved in giving and maintaining his power; involved in ignoring the danger he presents, involved in dismissing complaints from women, involved in the failing to warn and protect women, involved in trapping women as his subordinate.

The experience of working with survivors, has uncovered many of the ways in which men gain maintain and exercise power to attack and control women Here we deal primarily with those mechanisms in which the federal government has a role and therefore a responsibility to all of us to stop participating in the abuse of women. To say the very least, men's excessive privileges block women's democratic power to participate and shape our society.

Women's groups choose to emphasis what is to be done rather than to repeat either women's individual stories, of horror or the accumulated statistics. We have chosen to list, in order of frequency, the configurations of social legal and economic power most destructively used against women and their children. The focus of recommendations is on the immediately possible and easily enacted federal government reforms. There is no need for increased government intervention but rather for corrections to the government intervention already at work.

Men use their position in the family to attack women

If one were grouping men who attack women, the largest group would certainly be husbands, ex-husbands and common-law spouses, fathers, and step-fathers. Women everywhere in Canada report that men in their families are the gravest and most frequent danger to them and their children.

Women struggling their way out of victimisation strongly suggest that men in the family have had the social and legal power to attack them and their children. What else could account for the terrible statistics? "Every year 1 in 10 Canadian women who are married or in a relationship with a live-in lover are battered." According to the Women We Honour report (1992), of all cases of femicide solved by officials in Ontario between 1974 and 1990, between 64% and 82% were "intimate femicides." (women killed by their male intimate partners.) 'What cannot be disputed is that these murders clearly constitute the vast majority of all known femicide." The rate of intimate femicide in Ontario is very similar to that in Canada as a whole. Of course, feminist services are usually working with survivors who can vividly tell the tales of entrapment by law, by policy and by government practice. Their stories are dispatches from the battle on the home front.


Husbands, be they common-law or married spouses, initiate and escalate their attacks when women lose a certain economic or social power in relation to them. His tyranny intensifies in situations which force her to depend on him, for instance, during pregnancy, or with the development of a physical disability, the loss of her job or her social isolation because of a family move or because of his mistreatment of her family and friends. Sometimes he actively and willingly destroys her social connections and economic position to enforce her dependency. According to wives who have been beaten and raped, husbands may also begin or escalate attacks when women gain some measure of social and economic power. His tyranny intensifies as her independence builds; for instance, when the last child begins school, when she has a new job opportunity, or new friends and contacts. Sometimes he deliberately undermines her chances for independence rather than let her position change in relation to him.

These same husbands sometimes behave most brutally when women exercise their autonomy by leaving. Recent evidence suggests that women and their children remain at risk of violent attack, and even death, for about eighteen months after she ends the relationship.

Some men claim that their position in the family entitles them to unequal power over and sexual privileges from the rest of the family. If they don't succeed in overpowering their wives they use this to justify attacking their children. Sometimes the threat to do so blackmails wives into submission. Sometimes the safety of the children cannot be secured no matter how much she submits. For many men, rape is the final act of a beating. Some even claim it is the initiation of reconciliation.

Men continue to rape their wives, and say they have the legal right to do so. They claim no knowledge or understanding that there was legislative change in 1983 making rape in marriage a crime. Perhaps they reflect the reality that legislation is not enforced by the criminal justice system.

As well, women reporting mainly through women's organizations tell that abusive husbands also physically and sexually attack their children, especially the females.

Current evidence shows that wife abuse during pregnancy results in a significant number of birth defects than all the diseases put together for which children are usually inoculated.

Centres find no evidence that a higher percentage of poor men attack their female partners than middleclass and upper-class men; nor do we find evidence that men of colour or aboriginal men attack their female partners in proportionately higher numbers than white men. In fact, there is some evidence to the contrary.

Men who beat and rape their female partners seldom acknowledge their violence as a violation of their partner's rights, or as sexism. Although women would like to think programs to reform husbands can work,so far they seldom have. More women contact such programs for help for men in their families than do men themselves. Few husbands begin counselling or treatment programs designed to help them stop their violence against women on their own, usually it happens because the woman has attempted to leave the relationship or the court has ordered him to do so. Very few men continue counselling or treatment programs after their wife has returned (hopeful of his change) or after he decides she is not coming back, or after the court ordered time required to avoid prosecution or jail has elapsed.

According to women involved, therapists working with abusive husbands rely on contact with wives for their work because the men continue to lie about even the most simple events. Too often women are at risk of further abuse because they place too much  hope in the ability of the counsellor to "fix" him;  women let down their guard and find themselves vulnerable.

As the CASAC brief to parliament stated in 1991, it is an extraordinary man indeed who regrets his violence to such an extent that he initiates and follows through on a program of self change without being ordered to by a court or convincingly threatened with the loss of his position in the family.


In the majority of sexual attacks on children reported to women's groups, the attacker is the father (either biological or social) and the victim is the female child. Fathers also sexually attack male children especially if there are no female children available. We also receive reports of other male family members molesting and raping children especially female children; older brothers, uncles, grandfathers and male 'friends' who are considered part of the family.

Most of the men who attack (female and male) children, identify themselves as heterosexual and can be described that way by the rest of their sexual practice and lifestyle.

Enormous numbers of children who are removed from the care and protection of their mothers are subjected to attacks from the men charged with "father like" care. These men reported to us are: priests, teachers, foster fathers, child care workers, institutional health care attendants and "reform" school staff. If the surrogate father is white and the children are not, the likelihood of the attacks increase as do they if the surrogate father is able bodied and the children are disabled.

Residential schools destroyed the social bonds of entire communities of aboriginal peoples and held their children captive to white male attackers. Also vulnerable were the children trapped in residential institutions designed for the disabled children and the children of the poor.

Women are coming forward in vast numbers to declare past abuse by fathers, male family members and care givers The women testifying about Bishop O'Connor in Williams Lake, B.C., those who were attacked at the Jericho school for the deaf and the young women held in Grandview school in Ontario are among the most recent. Virtually every centre in the CASAC network reports an increase -in calls from adult survivors of childhood incest. In coming forward women are demanding social sanction against their male attackers and those men in positions of power who colluded with them.


Men use their position in the family and in relation to it, to attack adults especially elderly women, and women with physical or mental disabilities, who are forced to depend on them. We have had increased reports from older women and women with disabilities about men sexually and physically attacking them: sons, older brothers, legal guardians and "care givers".


Women report half as many incidents of dating violence as they do husband attacks to rape crisis centres The men use a range of coercive tactics, from seduction to the threat of social embarrassment and isolation. They commit sexual assault, rape and beatings. They trap women in cars, in their homes or the woman's home, at social gatherings and sometimes in public places. Some believe it is their right to control "their" women, and some assume they are exhibiting acceptable "courting" behaviour.

In the social dating situation, men mimic married men's expectations and behaviour. They presume and demand sexual access to and social control over girls and women. When men impose sex without full and expressed agreement they are committing rape. When challenged in their presumption by the women they are trying to control, men often resort to physical beatings. In dating relationships, as in marriage, men will sometimes refuse to tolerate a woman's right to end a relationship. Transition houses and rape crisis centres frequently deal with calls from women who have been beaten or raped by ex-boyfriends. There are also reported a significant number of incidents involving groups of boys or men attacking one woman. These events began as parties and usually occur in spaces controlled by the men, for instance club houses, men's dormitories or fraternity houses. Among college and high school age men the use of alcohol is usually involved. Workers in rape crisis centres often cannot distinguish between "'date rape and child abuse as the girls/women reporting attacks to us can be as young as 12 or 13 years. The victims call it date rape when the male attacker is their age peer.


18. Male violence within the family cannot effectively be dealt with on a crime prevention model or a public or mental health model. It is clearly an issue of the status of women within Canada and must be approached that way. (Every initiative should have to relate to that understanding to avoid cynical use of the public's outrage to fund silly, ineffective programs).

19. Women must have economic alternatives to remaining in dangerous families.

20. Women must have equal pay and equal job opportunities.

21. Social programs must relieve women of the unjust "family" burden of caring for the sick the old and the destitute; for this we need at least universal medicare with equal access for all, adequate pensions for women, universal day care, and an adequate guaranteed annual income.

22. Every lack of control over women's reproductive rights becomes a weapon in the hand of an abusive man in the family. Federal law must be used to uphold a woman's right to control her body and to eliminate the use of such practices as forced sterilization, forced pregnancy, forced abortions, forced reproductive experimentation with particular focus on the rights of aboriginal women, women of colour, women with mental and physical disabilities and lesbians.

23. Immediate aid must be available to women choosing to leave a marriage or common law relationship;

) financial aid for the move itself to establish safe housing and make a reasonable transition. (Currently women are not assured of this. It is at the whim of each welfare worker and subject to different policy in every province)
) legal aid for custody and property settlements and for advice about proceeding with criminal and civil legal remedies.(Currently this is not a right of women across Canada).

24. Immediate police aid must be available to women who declare themselves at risk of male violence in the family;

) Everywhere in Canada police must change the priority given to calls for help from women in their homes. These must be the first order of business for any policing system since they are clearly the first order of risk, to the well being of a majority of
) Police must be instructed to presume women are telling the truth about the danger in the situation, since after twenty years it is dear that there are very few false reports and that the police put vast numbers of women and children at risk of death by
gauging the situation differently than do the women involved.

25. Women victims require genuine advocates who are independent of the police and the criminal justice system and who are linked to the fight for women's equality. The federal government must stop funding the police to create Victim Assistance Programs (VAP) when it is feminist transition houses, women's centres and rape crisis centres that are most needed and most effective.

26. Transition houses, rape crisis centres and their programs must become an economic priority of the federal government There is no excuse for the lack of these essential resources and preventative programs when women choose to leave a dangerous situation.

27. The federal government must uphold its promise to fund transition houses for Aboriginal women on reserves.

28. Accessible and affordable housing must be available to women and their children after the crisis, if "transition" is to occur

29. The government should initiate public inquiries with broad mandates when police fail to protect women and children in their families.

30. All parts of the legal system have been self-examined (there have been numbers of studies in the last five years) and have declared themselves to be race, class and gender biased. The federal government has an obvious responsibility therefore to see that women everywhere in Canada have free access to legal aid, legal aid services and legal advocacy for every step of their struggle to leave, to complain about, to witness against, and to sue both the men in the family who have attacked them and the institutions which have upheld that man's power to attack them.

31. The federal government should release women in jail for defending themselves against abusive husbands or partners. (There are already fourteen identified by the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Associations.)

32. The federal government must change immigration law for the protection of women, at risk in their families.

.) Immigrant women must be assured of their right to stay in Canada should they report assault by their sponsor husbands.
.) Sponsorship laws must be changed so that women are landed at the point of entry. There is no need to enforce legal dependency on husbands and sponsors.
.) The federal government must direct Employment and Immigration Canada to develop a policy that ensures sponsored women who have breached their conditions of landing by not marrying within the specified time period because of attacks by their male sponsors, not be deported.

33. The federal government must stop the coercion of women as witnesses to the attacks against them.

.) Threats of mischief charges, threats of child apprehension etc are inappropriate.
.) Women must not be forced into mediation or negotiation with a violent husband or partner.

34. The government must develop a consistent pro-woman attitude to our families of choice. Women expect legal and social recognition of their lesbian relationships. The government must stop endorsing interference with the custody of lesbian mothers. There is no evidence of children at risk  in these families; there is evidence that men use that threat, to motherhood.

35. No attacking husband is a good father.

.) In situations where men have been convicted of wife assault, women must have a legal mechanism for severing his parental rights.
.) In situations where there are even hints of wife assault, an automatic right for men to have custody and access (and therefore contact with the wife) is extremely dangerous.
c.) The legislative drift to mandatory joint custody along with the application by judges of the "friendly parent rule" are equally dangerous. Violence against women and children in the family is pervasive and the government continues to fail to restrain attacks or even to identify them legally. In situations where women do come forward, and the government decides not to lay charges we must not pretend that, because the government has not pursued charges, the women and children involved are not at risk.

36. With all the information available, there is no excuse for any residential institution to structure itself so that there remain opportunities for male staff to attack women and children. Institutional care must include practices such as double staffing that ensure the safety of residents. Criminal checks for past convictions is a ridiculous standard for individual men (as most male abusers are not criminalized and should not be constructed as a legal shield for the institutions.

37. No group wants programs to change the violent abusive behaviour of men: in the family more than women in those families.  However, the programs based on changing the minds of individual men are unsuccessful. Until there is a systemic shift toward equality for women we believe this will remain so. Federal money should therefore be used to create systemic opportunities for women. Federal money aimed at pro-women initiatives should not be used for unsuccessful programs for violent men. There is some hope for programs organised by aboriginal people in small communities where men are confronted as a group and the whole community is informed and involved and where the connections to colonialism can make change a joint project for men and women. Yet the National Association of Native Women has expressly disagreed with diverting sex offenders from court to Native counselling programs.

38. The federal government has the legislative means to stop the men who continue to threaten and attack their ex-wives and partners, sometimes up to two years after the woman has escaped. Women want this legislation enforced. The federal government should promote the use of permanent restraining orders and should encourage judges to see that a restraining order is a legal statement about a man and his behaviour toward women not about a relationship. Mutual restraining orders are dangerous and ridiculous and should be banned.

39. Young women must be assured by federal policies of an economically independent future.

40. Young women must have the aid of the federal government in holding the adults in positions of authority responsible for the young men in their care and under their influence. Universities and colleges must increasingly be subject to civil suits and public inquiries. Sometimes personnel must be held personally responsible for supplying the resources and social permission for attacks on women. Obviously there must be no exemption (despite current debates) for these communities, from human rights law and the application of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

41. Police must be instructed and compelled to respond to accusations of assault and sexual assault by young women who know their attackers. It is commonly known now that men attack the women they date. There must be no further pretence that a young woman's choice to be alone with a man, to be at a party, to take a drink or to take a ride home with him, means she is disqualified from the right to use the law against her attacker. These situations demand adequate police investigation and diligent prosecution.

42. The federal government must produce education programs to counteract the social pressure on the young men to imitate the atrocities of adult men against women.

43. Organisations such as Media Watch which provide anti-sexist media literacy should be encouraged with federal funds. The regulatory  powers of CRTC must be used to promote women's equality through positive programming and controls on advertising. CBC production and the National Film Board, especially the productions of Studio D, must be maintained and expanded to provide young women and men with alternatives to the role models presented on American television.