He routinely slapped, punched and kicked her. He humiliated her sexually and repeatedly committed acts of the most revolting cruelty against her and her children. And finally, after five years of Billy Stafford’s abuse, Jane Stafford retaliated: the rural Nova Scotia woman killed her sleeping common-law husband with one of his own shotguns. Now, Brian Vallée—a CBC producer who worked on a fifth estate episode about Jane—has written Life With Billy, a graphic account of the case.
LIFE WITH BILLY
By Brian Vallée (Bantam, 21+0 pages, $l+.50)
Jane’s first exposure to wife-beating came when she was a child, watching her hard-drinking father assault her mother. In time, she herself became a classic victim—whom Vallée describes as a woman “blamed so often for the attacks against her, she comes to believe they’re her own fault.” But when Billy threatened to kill both Jane’s son from a previous marriage and a neighbor, she shot him. Charged with firstdegree murder in 1982, she was acquitted on the grounds of self-defence. On appeal, that decision was reversed and she served two months of a six-month sentence for manslaughter.
In an introduction to Life With Billy, Stafford writes that she agreed to tell her story for the sake of “all of those others out there who are living that same hell as I did.” Vallée, citing a federal report, states that domestic violence is “a fact of life” in one Canadian household in 10. Many can see nowhere to turn and sometimes suicide or murder seems the only way out of an abusive situation. Transition homes are severely overcrowded, and in many rural areas they do not even exist. Value’s book forces the reader to face the repugnant subject of wife-beating point blank. Apart from the lurid account of the discovery of Billy’s body, Life With Billy relates Jane’s ordeal with simplicity and quiet compassion. The book’s appendix lists the names and phone numbers of transition houses in Canada. Prefacing that list is one last reminder of the seriousness of domestic violence: “For security reasons, no addresses are included.”
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