"Isolated" incident not a new type of crime

When news of the Montréal Massacre first hit newspaper stands and TV 11 years ago, the media merely reported, "14 students shot at L’Ecole Polytechnique." Newspapers used the masculine form of the word "students" (étudiants instead of étudiantes) when referring to those who died. The scope of this horrible incident remained buried by confusing coverage. Even when knowledge of Marc Lepine’s deliberate attempt to express his rage over women’s rise in public status was discovered–based on the letter he wrote attacking and blaming feminists for his sorry lot in life–the media dubbed him an "isolated madman."

However, violence against women is not a series of one-time events carried out by psychotic, delusion individuals. Lepine simply escalated the degree of violence used against women, he did not create a new crime. The media missed the true meaning of this one man’s actions when they first tried to play down (perhaps not intentionally) the fact that women were singled out from male students and then defined Lepine’s perceptions of women as somehow anomalous, when in fact they sit closer to the norm than most people care to think.

A 1998 survey of 169 police departments in six provinces turned up the startling statistics needed to demonstrate how prevalent and uncomfortably close to home violence against women is in Canada. For example, 85 per cent of sexual assault victims were women. Seventy-eight per cent of individuals who experienced harassment were women. Women also made up 52 per cent of common assault victims. According to Statistics Canada, in 1999, 51 per cent of female homicide victims were killed by someone with whom they had an intimate relationship (compared with six per cent of males). The 1993 Statistics Canada report, "The Violence Against Women Survey," showed that 51 per cent of Canadian women have experienced at least one act of physical or sexual violence since age 16.

If you don’t believe the statistics, just look to recent events. Several reports in the last two years covered the killing of women who left their abusive husbands–women who sought shelter in women’s facilities only to be hunted down by men unwilling to let them go. In October this year, an Alberta woman and her companion were killed by her former husband. And these are only the incidents making it into the news. We can only guess at how many go unreported every year.

Dec. 6, the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, reminds us to keep our eyes open about big, not-so-hidden social issues. It reminds us that the status of women only had–and still has–one direction to go, and that is up. Anyone who chalks Dec. 6, 1989 up to "an isolated incident" carried out by a "madman" neglects the reality of women’s oppression throughout history. This goes for both men and women–neither sex can deny gendered violence.

This week, men wore white ribbons to represent their commitment to ending violence and oppression against women. Women gathered to remember that they too cannot rest until changes occur, even though they may not have experienced the terror of violence themselves. Dec. 6 keeps us on our toes; it tells us to stay cautious, to look beneath the surface of what we take for granted every day and to ask ourselves, "Have we done everything we can to ensure the respect and safety of women in our society?"

Leave a comment