On violence against women

John Devitt

A few days ago I received a telephone call from my best friend.  As soon as I answered and we had wrapped the regular pleasantries, she broke down into tears.  With a trembling voice she recounted to me events of this past weekend.  She had been walking home a few blocks after taking a cab back from a house party.  At first she thought she was being paranoid, thinking she was being followed, and started to text her housemate to have him meet her halfway.  She decided that it was just her mind playing tricks with her and put her phone back in her pocket before sending the text.  It was at that moment that a man grabbed her from behind, covering her mouth and telling her that if she called for help or tried to get away he would kill her.

The emotional trauma of the event has blocked details from her memory, but she remembers fighting for her life.  As his hands tightened around her throat, he threw her up against a wall over and over again and then to the ground.  A born fighter, all the while she kicked, screamed, scratched and bit back.  She’s not sure why, but eventually he gave up and disappeared.  She ran into the street, bruised, bloody and hauling a dislocated shoulder, screaming for help.  Someone from a nearby balcony called to her letting her know they had reached the police and they were on their way.  The following day the man turned himself into police and confessed to the entire ordeal.  Now she begins the long process of putting the broken pieces of her psyche back together.

This occurred in a city not far from Revelstoke, but as events in the past weeks have demonstrated, it can happen here just as easily.  As reported by the Revelstoke Current (https://legacy.revelstokecurrent.com//2012/05/23/an-unusual-crime-for-revelstoke-can-you-help-solve-this/) on May 21st, a woman was assaulted near the Illecillewaet River.  An attack that luckily was not any worse.

Later that evening after the telephone call from my friend, I was watching some television before heading to bed.  Flipping channels I arrived on a program that was a modern update of traditional Grimm’s Fairy Tales.  Within the first few minutes of the show, a young woman in a red hooded sweatshirt is shown going for a morning jog into the woods by her home.  She is attacked by a shadowy figure before an immediate commercial break, providing “dramatic” tension that leaves the viewer wondering about her fate.  Thinking of the deathly terror my friend had faced, I immediately felt nauseous and turned off the television.

Upon reflection I thought about how often rape, sexual assault, abduction, murder and physical attacks against women are used as plot points in mass media.  Just the example of the “classic” tale of Red Riding Hood demonstrates how deeply this violence is engrained in our culture and is simply the tip of the iceberg.  The British Columbia Federation of Labour indicates that one in four Canadian women have been victim of rape, attempted rape, sexual assault or abuse during their lifetimes (http://bcfed.ca/issues/women/violence).  Even more alarming is the figures provided by the “We Can End All Violence Against Women Campaign” that states over half of all Canadian women (51%) have experienced at least one instance of physical or sexual violence since the age of 16 (http://www.wecanbc.ca/resources/violence-against-women).

The good news is although we allow our media to bombard us with these images, collectively we have agreed as a society not to allow this violence to continue.  In 1993 the United Nations General Assembly defined violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life” (http://www.un.org/documents/ga/res/48/a48r104.htm).  Due to the targeting of a specific group, with gender as the primary motive, violence against women is similar to a hate crime.

Nationally there are many organizations actively involved in stamping out these despicable acts.  A few are included at the end of this article for reference.  Additionally, every year from November 25 to December 10th 16 days of remembrance and activism are recognized internationally to end violence against women (http://www.swc-cfc.gc.ca/dates/vaw-vff/index-eng.html)

Two weeks out of a year does not mean we limit our support to only that window.  We can support our local women’s shelter.  We can encourage taxi companies to provide improved service that is reliable and regular, not forcing long, walks home at night.  We can encourage our bars and restaurants to revisit the bar watch security network they had once explored.  This network was to help liquor establishments communicate with and notify each other of problem patrons that may be likely to commit violent acts.  We can develop neighbourhood watches in our community.  Just because we believe “that sort of thing can’t happen here” doesn’t mean we should turn a blind eye and not be proactive.

One ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Revelstoke Women’s Shelter  http://revelstokewomensshelter.com/

250 – 837 – 1111

Battered Women’s Support Services http://www.bwss.org/

We Can End All Violence Against Women  http://www.wecanbc.ca/

The White Ribbon Campaign  http://www.whiteribbon.ca/

Amnesty International Stop Violence Against Women Campaign  http://www.amnesty.ca/campaigns/svaw_overview.php