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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).