Question: We all know that individual men attack individual women, can you tell us why you are indicting the state? Really, what does the government or the police have to do with whether a woman finally decides to leave the battering husband or if she decides to report a rapist? Especially for a woman who might have all the advantages of being white and middle class?
Answer: I’m here to bear witness to the fact that there is no uniform group of women out there that gets a decent desirable response from the state after a beating or a rape. The threat or the experience of mens’ sexist violence is the common experience for every women I have ever spoken to. The effects of this violence are pretty much the same no matter what our race, or class. Women feel the same feelings and think the same things after an attack . We feel guilty, embarassed, think about what we could have done to prevent the attack and wonder who will blame us for what happened. As well, every woman understands that there are implications to fighting back. Institutions as well as individual men punish women for our demands for decent human treament.
As recently as 5 years ago the head of the North Vancouver RCMP told our workers that he did not believe there was any such thing as date or acquaintance rape. The following year we worked with a young white, employed and attractive middle class woman and that police detachment. Not only did the officers say they didn’t believe her, they accused her of making the attack up and the investigation they did was so poor there was no way a crown counsel could prosecute.
As recently as three years ago the Burnaby RCMP was quoted in the Globe and Mail saying that most young women who report rape are only trying to get out of trouble for coming home late and that his officers charge women with mischief for making such reports. The same detachment refused to release a composite drawing of a rapist attacking women in Burnaby’s Central Park to prevent further attacks.
As recently as last week, a woman called us to say that the police officer investigating her case had told her that if women don’t remember dates exactly then they are obviously lying, and that women report rape out of remorse for having sex.
Over the last 5 years I have seen the term “wife beating” change into “domestic violence”, “husband” or “boyfriend” into “partner” or “spouse”. People at all levels of power co-operate with this obscuring of who has power and who suffers the violence.
Women have called our transition house telling us that the police will arrest her if she can’t find a place to go. It’s either jail or the transition house!! Sometimes he is arrested, but sometimes he gets to stay home, to “cool off.” Usually it is because she defended herself, she slapped him or threatened him hoping to back him off. It doesn’t matter if she is white, Asian, aboriginal, wealthy, poor, a student or a crisis worker, the treatments and effects are pretty much the same, the man is not cautioned or prevented effectively and too many women experience the police a s threat to her, not to the batterer or the rapist.
I brought some newspaper stories about some of the women who were killed in the past year. You can see that women considered the police, sometimes trying desperately to get police to do something to stop him, sometimes trying to figure out if they trusted the police enough to report. In all cases you can see that the police failed women and they were murdered.
Anti-violence workers across the country looked to the Minister of Justice to offer some meaningful leadership to prevent more deaths, Anne McLellan gave us legislation that increases the penalties for people convicted of stalking, only 20% of the women who called us this year called the police, a lot fewer got as far as charges much less conviction. Longer sentences and crueler penalties haven’t helped any woman that I’ve worked with.
Repeatedly, transition house workers and rape crisis workers are told by police officers that if they arrest the man for breaking a peace bond or restraining order, that they will have to arrest her as well, since she was there!! ?
Medicating a women for violence is another common cross race, cross class experience. Almost every battered woman and most raped women who tell a medical professional about the violence she has experience is offered medication to help her cope with sleeplessness, sadness, fear. In our transition house we stopped sending women to a particular Asian doctor after he prescribed 3 of our residents with anti-depressants, one after the other.
Welfare jeopardizes women in many ways, I have time to give only one example. Time and time again, the women who answer the crisis line at 2 and 3 and 4 o’clock in the morning have fought unsuccessfully with Emergency Services. The situation is always similar. He was hitting, or threatening, something drastic enough that the police were called . The police arrested the husband or boyfriend, he will be in jail for the night until he sees a Justice of the Peace usually by 9:00 am . She has just enough time to change the locks to protect herself and her kids and their belongings. Emergency services refuses, the supervisor refuses, sometimes we’re told to take it up with the minister in charge of economic development and social security … The woman has no choice, she has to leave her house unsecured. Then she has to call her welfare worker convince the worker it is necessary, then provide the worker with three estimates to be approved. In the meantime, the man has changed the locks or he has trashed the house.
This is pretty representative of the type of help women get from welfare. And increasingly, the NDP has made the standards of welfare legislation so that the low standards they set for women and children are enshrined in law.
Time and time again we have had to advocate for women in order to secure legal aid. For women in transition houses the situation is somewhat eased, but that is only because we serve as an intermediary, we are the guarantee that she is really really worthy of legal help. The off loading of responsibility by the federal government when they changed transfers to the provinces has allowed British Columbia to refuse legal help to anyone making more than $ 833 /month and puts legal aid workers in the position of interrogating women to ensure that they aren’t lying about abuse. Usually women don’t know that she has to expose the beatings or the threats in order to get legal aid and often the worker won’t recognize being locked out of the house or yelled at regularly is abuse. In these cases women must do without.
The Vancouver Tribunal on Women’s Rights was held at the Aboriginal Friendship Centre in October 2020.