WOMEN IN FEAR
EXPERTS ARE SEARCHING FOR THE KEY TO MEN’S REIGN OF TERROR AGAINST WOMEN
It was a gruesome start to a week that shocked many Manitobans. Late on the evening of Saturday, Oct. 12, a young man wielding a machete entered the New York Burgers hamburger bar in Winnipeg’s working-class North End, seized waitress Marilyn Jensen, 19, and pulled her towards a waiting car—pausing on his way to slash the cord of the restaurant’s telephone. The following afternoon, Sunday strollers on the banks of the Red River at St. Andrews, just downriver from Winnipeg, spotted the severely mutilated body of a young woman floating in the water. It was Jensen’s. Just four days later, police called to an address in the inner city of the Manitoba capital found the blood-soaked body of Clara Jane Harper, 50—stabbed to death with a knife from her own kitchen. Then, on Oct. 19, RCMP in Portage la Prairie, 80 km west of Winnipeg, discovered the battered remains of 43-year-old Diana Marie Hamm. The mother of two had been clubbed to death with a baseball bat.
The violent deaths of three women in seven days tragically underscored the relevance of a report that Manitoba’s justice minister, James McCrae, released last week, damning the way that the province’s justice system deals with domestic violence. In each of the three deaths between Oct. 12 and 19, police laid charges against men who were either married to or intimate with the victims. Declared Pamela Jackson, the director of a Winnipeg counselling
service for battered women and their abusers: “There are just too many women being killed. It feels like open season.” The violence and fear are felt far beyond Manitoba: across the country, women are pointing to a torrent of assaults by men—and demanding that governments act.
The handful of official records and credible estimates that are available offer a sobering glimpse of the extent of the fear—and the savagery. According to Gallup Canada Inc., 56 per cent of adult Canadian women (and 18 per cent of men) polled in a survey conducted in September said that they were afraid to walk in their own neighborhood after dark. A similar question in the seventh annual Maclean’s/ Decima poll last November found that fear especially high in the cities, peaking at 68 per cent of women polled in Toronto. The reasons for their anxiety are apparent in the crime statistics. Of every four Canadian women, experts estimate, one will be sexually assaulted during her life. On average, three sexual assaults are reported every hour in Canada. As well, two women a week die at the hands of a current or former husband or lover. But there are no centralized statistics on the horrifying phenomenon of women being abducted—some later to be found dead, others simply vanishing.
Increase: Feminists charge—and statisticians acknowledge—that men have always abused women. The number of women being killed—234 in Canada in 1990—has grown in recent decades roughly in line with the population increase. There are far more reports of sexual assault now than there were even five years ago, but it is unclear how much of that increase is a result of greater willingness of women to take their complaints to the authorities. What is different, in fact, is that women are vocally insisting, with great determination and growing political force, that the carnage end. Those demands became urgent after Marc Lépine sought out women in a murderous rampage through the classrooms and halls of the University of Montreal’s engineering school, leaving 14 dead, on Dec. 6, 1989. Earlier this year, a parliamentary subcommittee examining the issue deplored what it called men’s “war against women.” And the full
extent of women’s anger may become even more evident when a nine-member federal panel, appointed by Mary Collins, minister of state for the status of women, begins public hearings on the subject early in January.
That panel will examine a tragic range of violence that may be as subtle as emotional harassment or as brutally direct as rape or a knife to the throat. Said Toronto-area Conservative MP Barbara Greene, who participated in the parliamentary subcommittee that reported earlier this year: “I think more and more people have come to realize that there is a continuum in our society ranging from the sexist jokes and the sexual harassment to date rape and other physical violence.” But it is the deaths and the unanswered questions of the disappearances that emphasize the full horror of the problem. A far from exhaustive catalogue from across the country in recent weeks:
• On Sept. 26, Emma Ann Paul, a 25-year-old mother of three from Sydney, N.S., was strangled to death. Police have issued a nationwide warrant for the arrest of her boyfriend, Norman Francis, 32, on a charge of second-degree murder. Paul is one of eight women who have been murdered by intimate partners in Nova Scotia in the past year.
• On Oct. 2, at 7:30 p.m., 47-year-old Caroline Case, owner of an exclusive gift shop in west-end Toronto, phoned one of her three daughters to say that she would be home in five minutes. The next morning, Case’s white Mercedes-Benz station wagon was found over-
turned in a ditch northwest of Toronto, with blood and mud smeared over its interior. A massive police search has faded to turn up any evidence of her fate.
• On Oct. 24, Scott Boucher, a 22-year-old carpenter from Tilbury, Ont., shot and killed his ex-lover, Denise Bulley, 32, and shot and critically injured her estranged husband, James Bulley, 29, before killing himself. The shootings took place in front of the couple’s children.
• On Oct. 25, a knife-wielding man threatened and sexually assaulted a west-end Montreal woman who had given birth to her second child only a month before. According to the victim, her attacker slapped her on the face, punched her in the stomach and ripped open her shirt. When her attacker noticed breast
A funeral was held in Calgary for Jennifer Janz, 16, a street kid whose body was found in a shallow grave in August. Janz had been killed by a blow to the chest. Police have still not made an arrest.
milk on his hand, the woman told him she had AIDs and the assailant fled. Police are searching for a serial rapist who has stalked the area since March.
• On Oct. 30, just one day after the release of the Manitoba report on domestic violence, Winnipeg police found the mutilated body of Sylvia McKay, 35, in a blood-soaked bedroom of her inner-city home. They also found the body of her husband, Wilfred McKay, 42, hanging from a staircase banister in what investigators concluded was a murder-suicide prompted by the woman’s threat to leave her husband. The couple left eight children.
That latest tragedy in Winnipeg underscored the the grim fact that for some women, home is anything but a sanctuary. Rosemary ONE IN FOUR CANADIAN WOMEN WILL BE SEXUALLY ASSAULTED
Gartner, a professor of law and sociology at the University of Toronto, has studied the police files and coroner’s reports on 670 women killed in Toronto and Vancouver between 1921 and 1988 and found similar patterns. Two of her most chilling conclusions: women are most likely to be killed by people whom they know intimately, and they are more likely to be killed in their homes than anywhere else. Indeed, less than a tenth of the victims studied by Gartner were killed by complete strangers. Gartner also found that domestic murders usually occur when men fear that they are about to lose their partner. Said Gartner:
“They either suspect that the woman is going to leave them or that she is involved with another man. Often, those suspicions are unfounded— but they act on them.”
Outrage: It was precisely such domestic violence that prompted the Manitoba report released last week. The inquiry that led to it began last year, after Winnipeggers expressed outrage over the deaths of two young women at the hands of their ex-boyfriends—both of whom committed suicide within the space of 10 days. In both cases, the women had just ended the affairs. In one instance, the attacker had also been under a court order restraining him from contact with the victim because of a previous assault. Responding to the controversy, Justice Minister McCrae appointed Winnipeg lawyer Dorothy Pedlar to conduct an investigation into the ways that the police, courts and parole agencies deal with domestic violence. Last week, Pedlar issued a sweeping report that contained 76 recommendations. Noting that many men attack their victims repeatedly, Pedlar aimed most of her recommendations at ensuring that men accused of assaulting women are not given the opportunity for additional violence.
In fact, Pedlar criticized the Manitoba courts for taking too lenient an approach to men charged with assaulting their spouses or girlfriends. Often, she claimed, courts have done little more than tell accused wife-beaters when to appear in court, taking no action to restrain them from possibly renewing their attacks on the women involved. While stopping short of endorsing the demand of some Manitoba women that almost all alleged abusers should be
denied bail, Pedlar declared that men accused of attacking their wives or girlfriends should be released only under strict conditions prohibiting them from contacting their victims or possessing firearms. Anyone breaking those rules, she added, should be jaded to await trial. Said Pedlar: “If the justice system does not take conditions imposed by the court seriously,
then it’s little wonder that on some occasions offenders don’t take them seriously.”
For his part, McCrae swiftly endorsed the report, pledging to implement many of the proposals soon. Indeed, the Manitoba justice minister said that he had already instructed provincial Crown prosecutors to urge judges to imprison accused abusers who violate bail conditions and restraining orders. He said that he would issue a further directive requiring police to lay charges in all cases of suspected partner abuse—not just those involving legal spouses. As well, he said that he will provide a means for women to more easily secure court orders restraining abusive partners from attempting to contact them. “We’re not going to get to the root of the problem if we don’t go eyeball to eyeball with abusers and tell them that what they are doing is wrong,” declared McCrae. “The abuse and murder of women in Manitoba must stop.”
The suspicion that police and the courts have not always dealt sternly enough with men accused of assaulting their wives and girlfriends is widespread. An Ontario neurosurgeon, Dr. Rocco de Villiers, expressed outrage when he learned that the man who is considered the chief suspect in the brutal Aug. 9 murder of his daughter, Nina, 19, had been free on bail in connection with an earlier offence at the time of the crime.
Jonathan Yeo, 32, had been charged in midMay with sexually assaulting a woman in Hamilton. But on June 7, an Ontario justice of the peace released him on $3,000 bail posted by his wife—with no prohibition against possessing a
weapon. Yeo, who shot himself after being surrounded by police five days after de Villiers’s death, is also the chief suspect in the Aug. 12 slaying of Karen Marquis of Salisbury, N.B. Declared Rocco de Villiers: “It is an outrage and violation of the public trust. If he had remained in custody, my daughter, Karen Marquis—and Mr. Yeo for that matter— may still be alive.”
Still, many women’s activists say that police forces and prosecutors have become steadily more vigilant over the past decade. One measure of that, they note, is that both the federal solicitor general and several provincial attorneys general have instructed police to lay charges against abusive men—even if the victim does not want to pursue the case. “I think it is true that we are finally being taken seriously on this issue,” said Lise Mahar, a counsellor at Montreal’s Auberge Transition, an 18-bed shelter for battered women. “It is no longer a case of the
police taking the guy who hit his wife around the comer and letting him go with a stem lecture. Men are being prosecuted now; restraining orders are being issued.”
Justice: Still, some women say that the justice system could—and should—do much more. Noted Nancy Miller, Calgary project director for the Alberta Status of Women Action Committee: “Unless police park themselves on the doorstep, restraining orders don’t offer much protection.” Added Miller: “And they don’t do anything to ease the real psychological terror. It can be terribly frightening to be waiting for that violence to happen again.”
The way that police and the courts handle domestic violence will be one of the issues confronting the new federal inquiry into the problem. Representatives for the panel, which was first promised in last May’s throne speech, announced last week that they expect to begin a round of public consultation—involving both traditional open hearings and private interviews with the victims of abuse—in January. According to Marthe Vaillancourt, one of the two leaders of the panel and a Quebecer who has worked with battered women for two decades, it will “examine violence in all its forms done to women— whether it is physical, sexual or psychological, whether rape or sexual harassment.
Everything that prevents women from being equal citizens in society.” At the same time, Vaillancourt’s anglophone counterpart, Patricia Marshall, a Toronto-based women’s rights activist, acknowledged that the committee will try to alter deeply entrenched attitudes. “We have to move a long way,” said Marshall, “because there is a high level of tolerance for violence in this society right now.”
Funding: Critics of Collins’s panel, however, accuse the federal minister of sidestepping direct action. Noting that the federal government has indirectly reduced funding for many social agencies—including shelters for battered women—by cutting transfer payments to the provinces, they claim that Collins’s priorities are wrong. Said Moyra Lang, Edmonton project co-ordinator with the Alberta Status of Women Action Committee: “Our stand is that this has been studied to death. I think it is time to take the money that they are using for this study and implement education and counselling pro-
grams accessible for all women and children and for men who abuse.”
In fact, the more than 300 women’s shelters and sexual-assault centres across Canada have serious financial problems. According to last
summer’s subcommittee report, at least one woman is turned away for every one who finds refuge in a shelter in several provinces, including British Columbia, Alberta and Quebec. For her part, Deborah Trent, co-ordinator of the Montreal Sexual Assault Centre, says that lack of funding forces some women to wait up to a year to receive counselling. She added: “Imagine how a woman feels who has finally managed
to summon the courage to seek help—only to be told she has to wait a year to talk to a qualified counsellor.”
But helping the victims of past attacks does not address the task of deterring future assail-
ants. As a result, psychiatrists and psychologists are now trying to determine the motives of offenders. Dr. Oto Cadsky, for one, a forensic psychiatrist at the Alberta Hospital in Edmonton, is the director of an outpatient clinic that each year assesses about 200 men, ranging from wife-beaters to psychopaths, who have committed violent crimes against women. The typical wife-beater, he says, is the son of a father who struck his wife; he sees himself as master of his household and looks upon his wife as property. Violence erupts when women challenge or confront him.
By contrast, Cadsky says that most rapists are otherwise “normally socialized” and successful in their chosen—normally competitive—fields. But they are driven to obtain what they want at any cost. According
to Cadsky, most rapists “practise” their assaults in escalating stages, usually progressing from forcing sex on an unwilling girlfriend, to raping prostitutes and then sexually attacking any vulnerable woman. But Cadsky, like other researchers, has reached few conclusions about what fuels the rapist’s obsession.
Similar uncertainty surrounds the development of those who are violent because of mental illness, men who, as Cadsky puts it, “pick up a gun and shoot 57 women in a lecture theatre. They have some deep-seated psychological problems and also harbor a fear, or hatred, of women.” But those inconclusive observations do not provide a basis for any early breakthrough that would allow analysts to cure—or even to deter—either type of assailant.
Martial: Meanwhile, a growing number of women are taking action to protect themselves in individual ways.
Among the most popular strategies is wen do, a form of martial arts geared towards women’s self-defence. Dalija Kuca, a social services worker in Toronto, says that she is taking a course in the technique in order to feel more confident when alone. Said Kuca: “I just want a chance to get away from any attacker.”
At the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, female students conducted a safety audit of the campus last year to draw attention to poorly lit areas and other potential danger zones. As well, the campus women’s centre runs annual self-defence courses and students conduct a popular “Safe Walk” escort service every night. Still, Neena Saxena, a member of the women’s centre, says that many students continue to ignore the risks. “All women have some fear of going out at night,” said Saxena, a fourth-year psychology student. “But too many wrongly think that universities are safe and isolated places.” To raise awareness of campus
violence, the Ottawa-based Canadian Federation of Students, which represents 450,000 university and college students, organized a “No means no” button campaign about campus date rape last year. Said student federation deputy
chairman Allison Lewis: “A lot of people who have left home for the first time are especially vulnerable.”
But much more than personal activism or political initiatives will be needed to erase—or even significantly reduce—violence against women. Indeed, many activists are calling for a
concerted effort to change harmful attitudes about women that some boys pick up at an early age through everything from parental example to rock videos. “We need to make violence against women as socially unacceptable as
smoking in public places is these days,” said Susan McCrae Vander Voet, executive director of a Toronto-based committee on violence against women and children. Added Glenda Simms, president of the Ottawa-based Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women: “I would like to see the next generation change dramatically. I don’t think we are educating our young people—not only are they illiterate, but they don’t know how to relate to each other.” Indeed, last week there was yet another stark illustration of the ways in which violence against women is reaching into the teenage generation. In Quebec City, a 15-year-old youth pleaded guilty to attempting to murder a 13-year-old former girlfriend. The young man, who cannot be named because he is a minor, grabbed the girl as she delivered newspapers one morning in late Septem-
ber, dragged her to a nearby parking lot, beat her, poured a bottle of gasoline over her and set her on fire. It was a horrifying illustration of why women are insisting that attitudes have to change—and the violence has to end.