CANADA

Fear on the streets

Violence becomes ‘part of women’s lives’

GREG W. TAYLOR October 23 1989
CANADA

Fear on the streets

Violence becomes ‘part of women’s lives’

GREG W. TAYLOR October 23 1989

Fear on the streets

CANADA

Violence becomes ‘part of women’s lives’

It has been 15 months since Elaine Patricia Bown died in Toronto, aged 17. Last week, the full horror of her death was made plain in a hushed Ontario Supreme Court room in the same city. Jurors viewed a videotaped police interview in which James Arnold Harbottle, a 21-year-old drifter who is charged with Bown’s murder, said that before her death Bown was tied up in an abandoned building, tortured with a knife and raped with an empty vodka bottle.

Then, she was strangled with her own brassiere. Before setting her body on fire, Bown’s assailants apparently removed the girl’s new Doc Martens boots, a type of footwear favored by self-styled “skinheads.” Harbottle has pleaded not guilty to the crime and, in the videotape made after his arrest, he said that the murder was the work of a 16-year-old youth who has also been charged but who cannot be identified under the terms of the Young Offenders Act.

But Bown’s death was far from an isolated incident. Instead, it was only one tragic illustration of the violence that is done daily to women by men in Canada, according to a study that also was released last week.

Drawing on her own interviews and a survey of other studies, 42-year-old Ottawabased author Linda MacLeod said that one in four women in Canada can expect that they will be sexually assaulted at some time in their lives—half of them before they are 17.

Said MacLeod: “Physical and sexual violence... are part of the daily lives of women in their homes, at work, at the homes of friends and relatives and on the street.” MacLeod delivered her conclusions at a conference on urban safety that drew 850 municipal politicians, police and researchers to Montreal last week. Other speakers at the event noted that violence directed against victims of both sexes is increasing in most North American cities in step with several causes. “The biggest concern we have is drug*-.

abuse,” said Toronto Mayor Arthur Eggleton. He added, “Drug abuse is leading to child abuse and sexual assaults on women.”

MacLeod drew a bleak picture for women in Canada. Her report, funded by the federal secretary of state’s department, asserted that one million Canadian women are abused by their husbands or live-in partners every year.

As well, 15 per cent of murder victims are wives killed by their husbands—compared with six per cent who are husbands killed by their wives. And 56 per cent of urban women say that they feel unsafe walking alone in their own neighborhoods after dark—a feeling reported by only 18 per cent of men. Said MacLeod: “In our socis ety, women are seen as ap^ propriate victims precisely ; because they are women.”

5 Indeed, several events in

1 recent weeks seemed to un| derscore MacLeod’s grim V conclusions. On Sept. 18, Gail

2 Laura Naugler, 34, of Hebbville, N.S., was shot to death

by a former boyfriend who

then turned the gun on himself. The killer, Darrell Wayne Lowe, 23, had been charged a week earlier with threatening to shoot Naugler but had been released to await a court appear-

anee. Then, on Sept. 30, a 17-year-old girl reported that she was sexually assaulted and molested by at least seven men and youths who crashed a house party in east-end Toronto, trapped her in a room, then sauntered away unchallenged. By last week, police had made seven arrests. Observed MacLeod: “Women’s fear is increased by their understanding that they have no safe place.”

At the same time, the experience of social workers across the country clearly indicates how widespread—and psychologically damaging—violence against women is. In Vancouver, Women Against Violence Against Women, a collective that works with victims of sexual assault, maintains a crisis hotline. Staff worker Ruth Gillings told Maclean’s that calls to the crisis line have increased dramatically, to 1,636 in 1988-1989 from 789 in 1985-1986. Many of those calls, Gillings said, are from “adult survivors who experienced violence or abuse 10 or 20 years ago and who realize it is okay to talk about it now.” Added Gillings: “You cannot forget. And just talking about the experience, and realizing that you are not alone, is a tremendous relief.”

Meanwhile, increases in overall urban crime have only added to women’s fears. And Canada, said Mayor Richard Berkley of Kansas City, Mo., can expect to share the tragic experience of many American cities where, he told the conference, crack cocaine and other drugs have contributed to a 17-per-cent increase in crime between 1984 and 1988—including an 11-per-cent rise in murders, a 33-per-cent jump in aggravated assaults and 10-per-cent increase in rapes.

But MacLeod and other observers pointed to more deeply rooted causes for the violence. In particular, the Ottawa researcher charged that Canadian society has until now focused on the female victims of violence rather than on the men who commit the crimes. Concluded Anna Willats, 33, a counsellor at the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre: “The only way we are going to stop this kind of violence is for men to stop doing it.” Added Sydney, N.S.-based psychologist Susan Hyde, who has examined violence against women for the National Action Committee on the Status of Women: “The more women are isolated, the more they tend to blame themselves and see it as a personal problem as opposed to a social problem.”

Among suggestions for dealing with the problem, MacLeod called for more social and economic support for women in order to reduce their dependency on the men who often abuse them. She also said that better street lighting and such measures as transparent elevator doors could add to women’s safety, and that urban police forces should make themselves more visible and accessible. Certainly, the urgency of some response to pervasive violence against women was brutally evident late last week, as a Toronto jury confronted the horror of Elaine Bown’s untimely death.

BRUCE WALLACE

GREG W. TAYLOR with BRUCE WALLACE in Montreal