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99 Federal Steps to End Violence Against Women - Section Three

Other forces of the hierarchy add to the power of men over women

While many of us are aware that poor women, women with disabilities, women of colour and aboriginal women are more likely to be victim of assault, we seem to have difficulty seeing the advantage men have over these women and how those legal, social and economic advantages become part of the weaponry of violent attacks. Every kind of entrenched advantage (whether because he is of the dominant race or because he is a professional) is too often used to harm women. No program to end violence against women can be effective if it does not disrupt and transform those power relations toward equality. While propaganda says that the danger lies in the dirty, crazy, drifting stranger, often one of the bitter moments for those few women who face their attacker in court comes early in the proceedings when predictably a defence lawyer says that the man is "a fine upstanding member of the society with ties to the community".

The potent mix: how men use racism to attack women

So far every government policy and practice that divides us by race, disadvantages aboriginal people and people of colour. Any disadvantage of race or class position complicates and intensifies an already severe gender disadvantage for women. Within Canada that system of interlocking disadvantages and discriminations directly supports men in attacking racial minority women.

Some men speak and act out racist stereotypes of women while they attack. Some men say openly that they know they can get away with it because of the privileges of their race in relation to the race of the woman. Still others use a racist advantage as a source of their power without acknowledging it.

Certainly, men are aware that women will have to surmount racist as well as sexist stereotypes and practices if they try to get help or try to get justice against their aggressor. As NOIVM wrote in their submission to the parliamentary subcommittee studying violence against women in February 1991, "Judges are constantly making derogatory remarks about the women who have been victimized, racist comments are commonplace." In the Northwest territories, racial and sexist stereotypes cast upon Inuk women abound in judiciary responses to rape. Puktuutit, an Inuit Women's Association, to the same subcommittee reported that judges in the north speak of the rape of women as though it was part of the culture and therefore not a crime.

"For the people of the Eastern Arctic, there is no prima facie age restriction when it comes to sexual intercourse.... the morality or values of the people here are that when a girl begins to menstruate she is considered ready to engage in sexual relations."

A Korean advocate for immigrant women in Vancouver told the Canadian Panel of a battered woman who had succeeded in getting the police during one abusive incident only to have the police allow her battering husband to translate for her since her English was limited.

Even the systemic Canadian racism aimed at men works to endanger women of colour and aboriginal women. There is enormous pressure on women to hide incidents of violence from the authorities. As Glenda Simms (President of the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women, June 1991) has put it,

"Violence against women is the single most serious issue of our time. Do you realize that some Black women choose not to report the men who batter them because they know that Black men are victimized by racism and violence at all levels of the justice system. Who do you turn to when you don't trust those entrusted with justice?"

Race can, in fact, be a greater factor in incarceration than is sexist violence. Men of colour sometimes use the existing racism as an excuse to avoid facing the consequences of abusing women of colour. Women are called racist when they name and define attacking behaviour as sexist, when they report or confront abusive men, when they speak up in the community, and when they organise independently of men.

Most attacks reported to CASAC involve white men who have brutalised aboriginal women, women of colour and immigrant women as well as white women. Very few white women report attacks by aboriginal men or men of colour. While some of these figures can be attributed to the fact that men attack within their own families most often, it also seems obvious that men attack women held below them in the hierarchy of power in Canadian society. Women with less skin privilege are more vulnerable and less likely to be believed or protected.


44. Racism must be acknowledged in law as a compounding effect of sexist attacks.

45. People, especially women of colour and aboriginal women, must have financial access through some new version of the Court Challenges Program to using the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to challenge any law or judicial decision which fails to support racial equality.

46. Since women are at risk all over the world from sexist attacks, and since state governments play a role in sponsoring that violence, gender must be added to the definition of a convention refugee. And the current guidelines of the federal government as to how immigration officers are to handle women's claims regarding gender related persecution must be made mandatory. (They are currently only discretionary).

47. English, French and other training courses must be open to women whether they are targeted for help by the government or not.

48. The federal government must make available translation and interpretation services for women who have been attacked and have to deal with police, crown offices, courts and emergency services.

49. Any consultation with the community must include adequate numbers of delegates from feminist advocacy groups of women of colour, aboriginal women and immigrant women. The minimum standard for adequacy in representation should be determined by the population.

50. The systemic racism of the criminal justice system must be reformed as part of any plan to advance the equality of women or to free women from criminal sexist victimization.

51. The disproportionate representation of men of colour and aboriginal men charged and incarcerated for crimes against women should be acknowledged not as an accurate reflection of who does and does not commit sexist violence but as the failure to charge and convict more privileged white men.

52. The disproportionate representation of aboriginal women and women of colour in Canadian jails and court rooms must be understood to reflect enforced poverty and violence heaped on these women. There must be release and court deferment programs; even in circumstances of gross inequality, these women hardly pose a threat to the Canadian public.

53. The federal government must produce funds to match its promise of transition houses in aboriginal communities and on reserves. Those houses and the funds for them must be under the control of aboriginal women's groups and women living in these communities. Consultations must be planned with the national women's groups that represent their interests: Native Women's Association of Canada, Pauktuutit, etc.

54. The federal government must fund women's groups to create special aids and programs for and by women of colour and immigrant women.

Men use professionals' position to attack women

Men with professional credentials in the "helping professions" have particular access to and power over women which an astounding number of them use against women. Doctors, therapists, teachers, clergymen, police, and instructors are most often reported to women's groups. The Task Force of the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons heard reports of abuse by lawyers, teachers, clerics,dentists, and optometrists.

From their professional position these men have access to many potential victims. When Vancouver Rape Relief publicised the case of one medical professional, forty other women called to say they had been attacked by the same man.

The initial weapon is the extra respect and authority afforded them in our society by virtue of their job. Under the guise of professional interest some use questionnaires and interviews to gather personal her stories (finances, interpersonal relationships, physical and mental insecurities) with which to manipulate. Usually these men have enough control over their working environment to dispense with secretaries, receptionists, colleagues, etc, who otherwise be present as deterrents.

Some proceed by using the collected information to manipulate the female client, some proceed by pretending that their sexually predatory behaviour is part of their professional technique while some simply attack knowing that their membership in a professional association, their community standing and their information about the woman will make it easy to intimidate their victims and easy to ward off any social and legal consequences of the attack.

Women across the country have complained to churches, Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons and other professional associations with unsatisfactory results. Professional associations which have contracts with government for self regulation, are still too often guilty of protecting professional credentials rather than women. In some provinces, complaints are now better received by regulating bodies, but nowhere is there a preventative program in place. Even some professional men who were criminally convicted of assaulting women are still practising with the same power to attack. Only rarely have men been stripped of professional privilege without criminal conviction despite the association's responsibility to do so.
Professional associations have made no progress in designing and promoting work practices that would prevent sexual and physical assault of the women relying on those professions.


55. Professional Associations must have higher standards to meet than the criminal justice system. Men should not have access to professional credentials when there is any hint of abuse because of the enormous privileges bestowed on men with those credentials. Professionals must not be able to evade accountability by moving from one province to another.

56. Professional associations must account to politically appointed public inquiries when accused of protecting their members from criminal investigations. And the federal government must be quick to appoint such inquiries.

57. The federal government must ensure that women have access to legal advice and legal advocates so they can pursue criminal complaints and civil suits against professionals and their associations.

58. Women must have independent legal counsel to represent them in the complaint processes currently used by professional associations. After initial investigation, any hearings should be held in public.

60. The federal powers must be used to impel professional associations to design environments that reduce opportunities for attack.

Men attack women who are making gains toward equality and integration

Male bosses, educators, immigration sponsors, students and workers use physical and sexual assault in ways that threaten and block women making life choices, regarding finances, employment and education and political organizing.

Some men demand sexual favours from women who have already earned academic, legal or economic/employment status. If a woman refuses his advances he threatens her with job loss, academic discrediting, and sometimes more violence.

Some of these men say openly that they attack women because they resent women's advances in professional, educational and employment settings. Women's groups deal with many calls from women attacked for breaking a "glass ceiling" or locating themselves in previously male preserves.

Some men attack women for their part in the growing resistance to sexist male violence and male domination. Virtually every town in the country has suffered horrendous campaigns of verbal and physical harassment against young women and their organisations. Women intervening on behalf of battered women have been beaten and shot.

Women on all major university and college campuses have been organizing for the rights of women. Often they were countered with direct and implied threats of sexual violence. Many of their efforts have been met with retaliation and backlash from both male students and the male administration. Certainly there is a dear and immediate relationship between how administrators and teachers talk about the struggle of women and the permission male students perceive they have from these authorities to treat the women around them with contempt.

There is also a clear and direct relationship between the progress of integration in any one situation and the treatment of women in that situation. The research on women in the corporate world indicates that when participation reaches fifteen or twenty percent, the resistance from men hardens. Once a certain threshold is crossed the struggle subsides and the harassment diminishes.

Some men in Canada specifically target those women trying to advance their economic and immigration position by accepting domestic work and farm work. Foreign domestics, by order of Canadian law, must reside in their employer's home which, prevents their escaping sexual attacks. Despite many calls for help by women's groups, we know of no criminal proceedings to effectively address the abuse of a domestic worker. Like farm workers, their position as unprotected workers and as potential immigrants leaves them with no practical legal recourse against their employers.


61. The federal government has a responsibility to complete the process of integration of women in every learning institution over which it has influence or jurisdiction. Women must be present in significant numbers on staff and faculty as well as throughout the student body. Women will not retreat and quick integration could reduce male violence against women.

62. Every job site under the influence and control of the federal government must be integrated immediately and at all levels. Women will not be turned back from job equity and job access. Violence on the job sites can be reduced by quick and firm integration. Even without the incidents of violence, the women of Canada are embarrassed and enraged by a federal government which refuses to treat women equally in its capacity as employer.

63. The federal government must legislate protection in labour law for domestic workers and farm workers and immediately remove the live-in requirement imposed on domestic workers in recognition that it gives male employers more power to attack them. The government must also rationalise the immigration rights of these women by granting landed status at the moment of entry.

64. The federal government must enhance the effect of sexual harassment laws by enforcing a woman's right to a safe work environment with human rights legislation.