99 Federal Steps... Towards an END to Violence Against Women - Section 4

Unsafe communities

In the 1990's conservative forces within the federal government promoted the idea that local community organising alone can prevent violence against women. Feminists began in our local centres and continue to work there for many reasons. We know that communities can be made safer and more convivial for women but we also know that the decisions made at the top at the federal government level are essential to the success of local initiatives. Federal government policy controls so many factors that set up the local scene: housing social programs for the poor, sick, elderly, disabled, jobs and income for everyone, immigration, self government for aboriginals, laws meant to restrain the oppressive abuses of women, aboriginal people and people of colour and funding for any initiatives that can make a difference and that can set national standards so that all Canadians share some measure of social security. 

Devolution of federal responsibility to municipal governments is not progressive when, as now, it is not accompanied by any devolution of funds or other power with which people in their municipalities could create fair and livable communities or with which they could coordinate with other communities to create a fair and livable country.

Unless progressive policies are in place at the national level, local policy cannot hope to solve the problems. The forces of oppression are international and must be interfered with at the highest level. However even when they are in place, local changes will be necessary to deal with the discrimination against women which permits and encourages sexist violence.

Clearly the situation around prostitution tells one part of the story. No federal party yet has adopted the obvious pro woman position of fully decriminalising prostitution. Feminists are agreed that using the law to harass women does nothing to bring an end to the sex trade. Instead it tortures poor women in an endless revolving door of abusers; johns, pimps, vice cops, lawyers, judges, probation officers, debt collectors, etc. If the federal government took responsibility to fully decriminalise, half those men would be out of the parade of attackers. We would still be left with the problem of women prostituting to make their way in life. Until women have incomes and opportunities we will continue to have the problem. As long as sex tourism is promoted we will have an even greater problem in the holiday centres across the country. As long as the government tolerates American military units taking their recreational leave in our cities we will be dealing with expectations of women for sale.

As long as women of colour and aboriginal women and disabled women take the brunt of the shortage of jobs and abundance of oppression they will also be the greater number of prostitutes displayed in all their vulnerability on -the streets and harassed in our name by the system.

Until the system changes to entrench equality we are left with the neighbourhood problems of condoms, needles, noise, and fractious struggle over who can walk where. There can be no solution to those problems without addressing the larger issues.

So it goes too for the local needs of disabled women, women living with abusive men, women with children, single women, lesbians, women trying to sustain their local culture, immigrant women trying to get safely located. The underlying federal policies have such an impact that they cannot be ignored or overcome by local organizing no matter how open hearted and open minded.

Educating and sensitising men about proper treatment of women presents us with the same problems, whether we consider boys in the school yard, street youth, police officers or judges. Of course every local school program to encourage respectful and peaceable treatment is a good practice and makes a contribution. But when we see that we are flooded with American TV shows and their commerialised ideas of women, of race relations, of community standards, of law and order, we know that educational change will require intervention at every level and certainly at the top. We must have media, publishing houses, TV and movie production that can reflect our reality and promote our solutions.

Men exploit casual social contact to attack women

Women report that between 65% and 75% of the men who attacked them were acquaintances who endanger women by using the woman's sociability against her. So does he use the inadequate housing, inadequate social spaces, and poverty that makes normal sociability so dangerous for women.

Men attack women neighbours, friends, and members of social groups to which they belong. On the streets they single out prostitutes for verbal, sexual and physical abuse. Most women report that police and prosecutors frequently dismiss their complaints as unfounded simply because they talked, drank or danced with the man before he attacked. Men threaten, harass and attack women as we leave women-only functions and lesbian events. Municipal government and law enforcement officials treat prostitutes as disposable woman. Isolating and criminalising women from our communities does nothing to end prostitution; it further impoverishes those women with fines and legal costs. It stigmatizes them, making ordinary social relations that much more difficult. It maintains their vulnerability to attacks by the men who "'buy" them, to attacks from men who "sell" them, to attacks by men who defend them from the other men, and to attacks from the men who claim to defend the rest of the community from the prostitutes. 

When a stranger is dangerous

Men gain power to attack women as strangers because women are denied the social and economic resources and opportunities to reduce our vulnerability. Our findings indicate that 10-15% of the women who call rape crisis centres were attacked by men who were strangers to them. These predators observe women's day-to-day activities and seize the opportunities that arise.

Women link these attacks to the poverty enforced on them, to the sexualized racism and to the discrimination against women with disabilities. Men carefully seek the vulnerable: women who appear confused, weak, lost, alone, disabled. Frequently, they are also women who will not easily get either protective intervention or redress in action from the criminal justice system: poor women, women of colour or prostitutes.

They most often attack on the street in unattended public transit, in unsecured homes, and unsafe public places. We have had an increase of reports from women attacked by strangers when major tourist events and sporting events occur in her town or city.

There are men who systematically attack a series of women or group of women by patterning themselves after the Jack the Ripper myth. They engage the police and the media in a public cat and mouse game in which the lives and well being of women are at stake.

We know that the men have often had previous contact with the criminal justice system and the mental health system and are in many ways products of that contact. We know that often women have reported these men to police well before any violent crime occurs but have been ignored.

Sometimes these men openly explain that they victimize women they have never met to punish them for some imagined wrong: being women, prostitutes, promiscuous, feminist.

Women's groups are aware and alarmed to realize that the federal government is instituting a National Crime Prevention Strategy under the Minister of Justice without taking the above realities into consideration. No plan will reduce sexist violence against women. Stranger attacks constitute the least frequent forms of violating women, however, the consequences are nonetheless devastating to the individual women subjugated. Without real change in the conditions that make women prey there is very little hope for change. And the failure to cooperate with the feminist organizations working on this issue is to steer the crime prevention efforts toward a further waste of time and energy.

Men use weapons to attack women

More women than men are hurt by guns. We know men commonly use guns against prostitutes, wives, ex-partners and feminists. Gun control is a small part of the solution to limiting men's power to attack women. Knives, cross bows, bottles, screw drivers and fists are also used. The effective way to limit men controlling, attacking and killing women, is to reduce the social and legal inequality which gives men power over women.

Women are conscious that the 'Law and Order' approach to ending violence continues to justify an acceleration in police arms and community vigilantism while maintaining the existing frequency of sexist violations of women and children. Paramilitary style of policing has cost too many lives in the Canadian public. And too often those lives have been of the children of Aboriginal women and women of colour.

The government, courts and police actively discourage women from self-defence resistance to attackers and punish women who have, with no other options, defended themselves and their children. What actually reduced the murder of husbands in Canada was the existence of transition houses. Clearly women would rather escape if given the opportunity.

Men use pornography to attack women

Men humiliate, assault and kill women and children in front of cameras for sexual gratification and profit. Women who have been trapped in the pornography industry are coming forward to speak about the male abuse they have endured. So far, most of these revelations have been of American rather than Canadian producers. But the fact that the victims are American does not make it any the less a fact of male violence against women.

Men use pornographic materials to bully women.The existence of a pornographic movie house or video outlet in the neighbourhood certainly disturbs, inhibits and threatens women but usually the uses are even more overt.

Some men leave pornographic materials at women's doors, send them in the mail, post them in the office in a ritual of sexual harassment, often also involving racism.

Some men use pornography as a catalogue of the sexual practices which they are entitled to experience no matter how brutal and racist and destructive to women and children. It is far too common an occurrence for men to force women to enact during rape, the scenes they have seen in videos and pictorials.

Young men and increasingly young women use pornography as sex education material. On the other hand, many men attack women for owning sex education materials.

The Supreme Court decision on the Butler case affords us, as a community, an opportunity to explore a harm-based legal analysis and enforcement fight against pornography rather than one based on obscenity. Women are aware that the police and customs officials are confiscating gay and lesbian sexual materials instead of those aimed at heterosexual men.The federal government is also refusing to show any progressive leadership in protecting artists, sex educational materials, or women as they could by progressive enforcement of the Butler decision.


65. All "'Safer City" or local crime prevention initiatives to be funded and/or endorsed by the federal government must meet the scrutiny of National Women's Groups as to whether they will address women's vulnerability to sexist violence. This is particularly important since all safer city initiatives are being promoted on the basis of the community desire to affect violence against women.

66. The federal government must fully decriminalize prostitution.

67. The federal government must play a role in putting a stop to the herding of prostitutes by police to particular areas of the cities. It serves short term police interests, property developers and causes neighbourhood unrest. Vice squads designed to manage prostitution should be dismantled.

68. The federal government must foster and fund the efforts of those cities and towns that propose changes toward an equal status for women.

69. The federal government must commit itself to creating safe and affordable housing suitable for the full range of women: disabled women, women with children, lesbians, women of colour, aboriginal women, older women, students: all women trapped by low incomes. Housing must be designed with an understanding of the privacy and security needs of women as well as their need for safe social contact.

70. Police and prosecutors must be instructed to investigate properly and pursue prosecution when women complain of attacks by neighbours, dub members, etc.

71. The federal government, in conjunction with the national media, should announce discussions on the danger and ethics of the crime reporting techniques in Canada especially as they apply to crimes of violence against women and children, and in particular, to the heroizing/demonizing of the serial rapist and killer. Attackers must loose their current capacity to manipulate the situation.

72. Municipal and regional governments should be encouraged through the federal government to create safe and effective transport systems that are accessible to all, including people with disabilities, women with small children, shift workers.

73. No federal funding plan for mega tourist events should be approved without an assessment and discussion of the increased danger (particularly of men with guns and men demanding to find women for sale) that can be predicted for the women in the host city.

74. No implementation or funding of a national Crime Prevention Council should be in place without securing for women, the authority and influence of national women's groups within such a body.

75. Monies allocated from the federal budget to address violence against women should not be diverted to efforts to reduce property crime or to create illusions of safety for women by telling women to be less afraid or by telling women the government is reducing street crime.

76. Federal government initiatives must reflect the current facts that it is the vulnerability of women and children, particularly aboriginal women, women of colour, women trapped in poverty and women with disabilities that is the definitive factor in preventing this type of crime. Therefore, monies should be allocated directly to ameliorating those conditions. Monies must not be directed to police, jails, deputising the community, social worker programs, research on these vulnerable groups, or new bureaucratic bodies. Those measures do not reduce violent crime done by strange men against women and their children.

77. Limit and monitor the use of guns by the police. Women have suffered more loss than protection from unnecessary use of force by police.

78. Police must be instructed to respond to threats of attack from men on ex-wives, prostitutes and women's advocates with an extra alert as to whether he has a gun. These are the occasions when weapons are commonly used against women and their children.

79. Stronger gun control would save lives and should be implemented.

80. The federal government must involve itself in enforcement of the Butler decision on the basis of the harm it does to women and children and on how it undermines women's equality.

81. The federal government must financiaIly promote the development of sex-positive and woman positive sex education materials for use by adults and youth, specially those with a disability.

82. The federal government must assure women access to legal aid dollars to sue the producers, promoters and distributers of pornography which those women deem harmful to them.

83. The federal government must actively defend the producers of art and education materials from any obscenity based attacks. 

Men use the criminal justice system to abuse women

The criminal Justice system is biased against aboriginal people and people of colour, against poor people and against women. Men, particularly rich white men, are privileged by the attitudes, policies, procedures, and legislation which define the system. These systemic biases adversely affect women tying to use the police and courts for their protection or relief of male sexist violence. They ignore the existence of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which should override and eliminate any such bias, or any combination of bias. 

When women have managed to get the funding to challenge some law or procedure, the federal government has responded by spending a fortune defending the status quo instead of considering whether the challenge might make a contribution to improving the status of women or the status of the group of women involved, (ie, women of colour; lesbians, poor women, women with disabilities, prostitutes, or women victims of sexist violence.) Instead of eliminating the expense of fighting against every challenge presented by oppressed people, the federal government withdrew the Court Challenges Program funding for disadvantaged people, including women, to raise those challenges to the courts. 

Discrediting Women

The system discredits women at every level both actively and passively, and women know it 70-90% of women talking to rape crisis centres and transition houses have already refused to initiate or participate in criminal proceedings because they will be disregarded, disbelieved, discredited and blamed. Many of those who did initiate or cooperate have been rejected or abandoned by the same system. Police and crown counsel avoid investigating and prosecuting sexualized attacks.

The more likely the woman is to suffer attack the less likely she can successfully complain legally against her attacker. Wives, daughters, prostitutes, lesbians and women with mental and physical disabilities are all facing this. When the woman is also poor or a woman of colour her chances are further reduced. Aboriginal women, says Theresa Nahani of the Native Women's Association of Canada are forced to live without any protection of law.

During investigations, police are still menacing women with the threat or use of polygraph tests, withconsent-to-release-of information forms requiring women who have complained of rape to release counselling and medical information to the police, and the possibility of police laying mischief charges should the woman fail to convince the police of her situation. So too have women wanting legal action taken against their fathers for past sexual abuse been disbelieved, and advised that it is too late to prosecute and that theprosecution of these cases is not a priority. The police hold to themselves the right to decide whether laying charges is in the interest of the community.

Women and their advocates witness the incompetence and disinterest of many crown counsels who are charged with prosecuting sexual offenses. Too often women who want the criminal justice system to respond to their complaints are told "we don't believe you", or "it is not worth the court's time to proceed in this matter because there is no likelihood of conviction."

The judiciary continues to allow the use of a women's past sexual history even after the changes to the Rape Shield Law (Bill C-49). The same judges continue to accept men like Dr. James Tyhurst as expert witnesses in cases of sexual assault but will not recognize the testimony of women's equality workers as experts on these matters.

Defence attorneys are deliberately seeking women's past sexual history during the pretrial process where women have less protection. (The new law does not restrict or limit investigation or inquiry of women's history during the pre-trial process.) They engage in fishing expeditions, about victim's lives, in an effort to discredit her as either 'the sort of woman who couldn't be raped' or the sort who cannot be believed' because she is bad' or crazy'. There is even some attempt to say that if women have been attacked before then they cannot be reliable witnesses to the new attack. 

Recently, defense attorneys have been increasing their demand for sweeping 'disclosure orders" from judges giving them access to women's journals and counselling records. There is no theory or criteria of relevance in criminal law which can deliver some fairness to the decisions about what should be allowed. Women are dependent on the individual judge and at the mercy of the defense attorneys.

Isolating women

Women go to women's centres because they know that they are not to blame and they need to rid themselves of inappropriate self-blame and self doubt. Exactly how could they do that without discussing it? Rape crisis centres, transition houses and women's centres will not release their records so this legal process can serve to either reduce reports of come or to accelerate another collision between the courts and women's groups. Increasingly, defence lawyers for abusive men subpoena women's support agents in rape crisis centres and transition houses. Not only is this unnecessary since workers would gladly help the system determine the truth of the situation, but when the defence uses this tactic it is dearly an effort to use the rape crisis centre or transition house against the woman or at the very least to make sure the advocate cannot actively help the case of the victim.

In this way the system continues to try to isolate women. Rape survivors' advocates and advocates for women beaten are treated as suspicious by the system. Victims are asked with suspicion whether they are in contact with centres. Women with allies in court are seen to be subverting the system by being political. Court monitors are asked to leave the court room. But women know they have a greater chance of achieving their individual rights by grouping.

Over the past few years, and under increased scrutiny, the justice system has repeatedly, and in every part of the country, been forced to admit to gender, race and class bias. As Bertha Wilson former justice of the Supreme Court has stated, "The studies show overwhelming evidence that gender-based myths, biases, and stereotypes are deeply embedded in the attitudes of many male judges, as well as the law itself. These structured inequalities not only hide and condone incidents of male violence against women and children which are being reported to the system but in some cases, they facilitate violent attacks by freeing dangerous men.

Judges at every level of the court system make strong declarative statements excusing men for the abuse, even murder of women. Judge Gerald Coultas announced that one man's assaults or four women were "in the nature of a caress". Of course he didn't know of the forty other women who had reported the man to a sexual assault centre but he did know about the four outraged women before him. Judges have blamed the victim for having provoked male rage and for not being obedient enough to male fantasies. Judge Peter Van der Hoop thought a three year old girl ''sexually aggressive". 

The making of monsters

Prisons and parole boards have a deplorable history of ignoring women's and children's safety.

We have seen no success at rehabilitating men in prison or through sex offender and abusive husband programs. The prison system further brutalizes the few men it jails and sends them back to the community to attack more viciously. It is also evident in reports from women whose husbands have continued to beat them after attending court mandated abusive husband programs.

Sometimes that brutality comes in the form of rough treatment and sometimes in the form of conditioning these men to degradation and corruption for instance by paying these men as underworld informers. This is most obvious in the cases of Clifford Olsen and Joseph Fredericks. 

Elite or independent judiciary

The government refuses to reform the judiciary claiming that the "independence" of the judiciary is at stake. (As though women want politicians to interfere with judges) But women do want, in the list of judges, to find people with lives more like our own. Lists must include women of all races and class backgrounds. We want an end to discrimination so that we will see more disabled women, immigrant women and lesbians on the bench.

Clearly, and perhaps most importantly we want judges' appointments based on their understanding and experience enforcing the rights of women for equality as partially defined by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, on our overlapping rights to freedom from legalised class, race and homophobic bigotry.

While politicians could call the justice mechanisms to account in public enquiries, too often they have refused. The Montreal Massacre and the series of murders of prostitutes in Vancouver were not subject to public inquiry when clearly they should have been. In situations where families have forced the government to do so, for example in the Stephensen Inquiry, the family alone raised the funds for legal and investigative work.

When women first organised transition houses and rape crisis centres, it was obvious that the police and local justice officials had managed to avoid collecting the relevant data. This is not only a matter of counting. For instance when women call for help against a husband, the police record it as a 'domestic dispute'. Sometimes rape is bargained down to a case of breaking and entering. Even the murder of women disappears.

Now at the federal level there is information that needs to be gathered and held for public access. There is no central repository of the court cases involving sexist violence. There is no central repository of judicial decisions. There is no database on the sentences handed out by judges. 

Law and order

New federal forces are confronting us with cynical "'Law and Order" initiatives. The public is desperate for change not only because the situation demands it but because sensational versions of the danger are being promoted. Instead of husbands and fathers, we are taught to fear our neighbours especially if they are immigrants or if they are young.

These sudden interests in tough law frequently involve increased monies and powers to police and incarceration. At the Crime Prevention Conference in April, 1993 the Justice Minister wanted to rush through changes to undermine the Young Offenders Act. The Solicitor General announced it was up to individual police departments to determine how they wanted to release the names of people released from prison. He said there was no need for federal policy (the first such name released was of a woman).

The current crisis of public displeasure with policing in North America has been met with a new suggestion by police of programs called community policing. The idea is that public confidence can be restored by storefront police stations, etc. According to this plan the police are part of the community and the community must see themselves as police. Sometimes this sounds progressive and when Considered against paramilitary policing it is. But the community policing proposals in Canada have not even discussed how such policing will reduce violence against women. The few community pilot projects have not been able to indicate any progress for women and in fact have allowed police to increase attention and resources to property crime and reduce resources to women calling for help.

In recent years that agenda has included money and programs that pay police departments under pressure to respond to crime against women to deliver (or to appear to deliver) not criminal investigation and law enforcement but support services. More people are becoming aware of the difficulties in this approach and are raising concerns about the police capacity to meet the needs of victims.

"...let's look at what happens when we try to provide 'generic' services...we need to look at an analysis of power..but we don't want to fall into the trap of homogenizing our services so that we do not then pay attention to the difference...differences that are, to a large extent based on who holds the power and what the goals of the program are in terms of equalization or distribution of power."
-Linda Light (1992)

Women's groups protested the idea and implementation of Victim Assistance Programs (VAP's) from the outset. They understood that VAP's were to be financially and politically supported by government in an effort to encourage the use of the criminal justice system without changing it.

Criminal justice officials promote the description of women's groups as part of the victim's movement. But there is a fundamental difference. Women's groups understand that some women are victimised in order to curtail the rights and freedoms of all women. We fight the victimisation as part of the fight for liberty and equality. We are not fighting only for the right to be better treated as victims. The point is not to create victims.

Victims's services bury the gender relations of crime especially sexist violence against women, and they can be used to minimize and overtake the work of independent women's groups. Even government officials are now starting to recognize the inherent injustice in this approach.

"We must be careful of the victim's movement, because by defining people as victims we might create bureaucracies to deal with their victimization, and I do not want to see bureaucracies built on the pain of the women of Canada."
-Glenda Simms (1992)


84. The federal government must actively respond to the constitutional challenges by cooperating with the efforts to advance the equality of women. The government must ensure in future constitutional cases, that the legal positions and arguments put forward by the government are consistent with a commitment to overcoming the inequality of women.

85. The federal government should review the current laws affecting violence against women in a systematic manner in consultation with the national women's groups closest to the subject; CASAC, transition house associations, LEAF, NAWL, DAWN, NWAC, NOIVM, etc. We must make these laws more effective by reconsidering them as a whole.

86. Change the appointment and selection of judges to reflect the diversity of the population. This should also apply to legal services, society boards, law foundation boards, and law reform commissions. Employment equity standards should be applied to all judicial, quasi-judicial and administrative tribunal appointments.

87. More feminist judges must be appointed to the judiciary (including all judicial, quasi judicial and administrative tribunal appointments). Processes and criteria should be reformed to ensure that feminism is a positive, not a negative, factor in the selection of judges.

88. A new procedure should be devised for appointments to the Supreme Court of Canada which will guarantee women's input. There should be public scrutiny of credentials of nominees. Women should be able to make recommendations and to directly question candidates.

89. There must be a public mechanism at every level for judicial appointment and review that applies progressively stronger discipline and which can remove judges from their job.

90. Complaints about the judiciary after initial investigation, must be handled in public hearings.

91. Mechanisms for judicial appointment education review and dismissal must be based on public input. Ordinary citizens must have influence and power. Political appointments to judicial councils should make up half the membership. While women in Canada want judicial independence we think it has not been achieved and will not be achieved without fundamental reform and on-going public review processes.

92. The funding priorty within the court system must be changed so that crown counsels, prosecuting crimes of violence against women, have adequate time, experience, resources to do the job which will mean less time and money to the prosecution of property crimes and the pursuit of criminalising women.

93. Canadian judges have a growing record of using as 'experts', members of the professions who are hostile to women and women's concerns. This is particularly evident in the use of psychiatrists. Judges must not abandon. their responsibility for determining matters of law and legal fact.

94. When judges confer authority on or credit expertise of witnesses, about male sexist violence they must include women committed to the liberty of women and informed about women's experience. No one has more experience than the front-line workers.

95. Public control of the police must be increased. Political bodies independent of police must have the power to investigate, publicly review and respond to police policy procedures and practices.

96. Sexist violence has not been, nor will it be, solved by an increase in police, police powers and money to police. Instead, there must be changes to the way police operate. Clearly the federal government in its crime prevention strategies must affect policing so that in every Canadian community, they
a) give top priority to calls from women concerning violence.
b) instruct police to begin investigations by believing women and by presuming the women involved are likely accurate about the danger they perceive.
c) instruct the police to cooperate with rape crisis centres and transition houses in ensuring the safety of women.
d) stop funding police to deliver Victim Assistance Programs through police departments. Women need independent services and advocates.

97. Make all police services, crown services and courts accessible to women with disabilities.

98. Ensure translation and interpretation for women of all Languages and cultures in all legal processes.

99. Women must have access to national data on the cases involving violence against women and children, including the impact of Bill C-49. There is no current central collection of complaints to police, charges laid, judges' decisions and reasons for judgment and conviction or sentencing. One women's group should be funded to collect and review that information for public view.


Click here for entire document