Solutions and Strategies
If problems are to be solved or at least mitigated, we need an appropriate balance between preventative and remedial approaches. Domestic violence is a complex problem which affects us all in terms of higher healthcare, social program and criminal justice costs. It also affects productivity in the workplace and our social health and well-being in so many ways. In my view, however, the most serious impact is on the children who witness abuse and violence in their families. There is no simple solution and I expect that a multiplicity of approaches, taken one step at a time, will prove to be the wisest strategy.
In December 1993, The National Action Committee on the Status of Women, (NAC), published "The 99 Federal Steps to End Violence Against Women". It was sent to me in response to a request for information for this book. Although the booklet does provide substantial commentary, the recommendations are reasonably straightforward. The following is a condensed listing of those recommendations:
- There must be independent, women controlled, rape crisis centers, transition houses and womenís centers in every community in the country.
- Accessibility to women's services must be assured to all women.
- The federal government must establish national standards that the provinces would have to meet in delivering the social programs.
- Apply feminist standards and definitions of excellence to the funding for front line services.
- Women's groups should not conform to standards and practices of the professions and institutions which have never served women well.
- The federal government must finance the affirmative action nature of centersí work to interfere with and end sexist violence.
- The parallel development of anti-violence organizations by and for immigrant women, disabled women, aboriginal women and lesbians.
- Neither of the above recommendations should be abandoned for the other.
- The budget for the Secretary of State of women's programs must be expanded.
- Any partnerships with church, corporations or the state should be voluntary on the part of women's groups.
- The federal government should reverse its policy of refusing core funding to all three national coalition of grass roots feminists services.
- The federal government should enable project funding to experimental work.
- The federal government should reinstate an improved court challenges program.
- When the government is planning to institute changes in law relating to violence against women, it should be consulting in the most timely and protective way.
- Government bodies seeking the advice of national women's groups must allocate the time and money necessary to consult with each other and the women whose interests our organizations represent.
- The federal government must prepare a consultation with national women's groups to plan a long-range strategy addressing violence.
- The federal government should avoid piecemeal, disjointed, legal and social policy change.
- Male violence within the family cannot effectively be dealt with on a crime prevention model or public or mental health law. It is clearly an issue of the status of women within Canada and must be approached that way.
- Women must have economic alternatives to remaining in dangerous families.
- Women must have equal pay and equal job opportunities.
- Social programs must relieve women of the unjust family burden of caring for the sick, the old and the destitute; for this we need at least universal medicare with equal access for all, adequate pensions for women, universal day care and an adequate guaranteed annual income.
- Every lack of control over women's reproductive rights becomes a weapon in the hands of an abusive man in the family. Federal law must be used to uphold a woman's right to control her body.
- Immediate aid must be available to women choosing to leave the marriage or common-law relationship.
- Immediate police aid must be available to women who declare themselves at risk of male violence in the family.
- The federal government must stop funding the police to create Victim Assistance Programs when it is feminist transition houses, women's centers and rape crisis centers that are most needed and most effective.
- Transition houses, rape crisis centers and their programs must become an economic priority of the federal government.
- The federal government must uphold its promise to fund transition houses for aboriginal women on reserves.
- Accessible and affordable housing must be available to women and their children after the crisis if transition is to occur.
- The government should initiate public inquiries with broad mandates when police fail to protect women and children and their families.
- All parts of the legal system have declared themselves to be race, class and gender biased. The federal government has a responsibility to see that women everywhere in Canada have free access to legal aid and legal advocacy for every step of their struggle to leave, to complain about, to witness against, and to sue both the men in the family who have attacked them and the institutions which have upheld that manís power to attack them.
- The federal government should release women in jail for defending themselves against abusive husbands or partners.
- The federal government must change immigration law for the protection of women at risk in their families.
- The federal government must stop the coercion of women as witnesses to the attacks against them.
- The government must develop a consistent pro-woman attitude to our families of choice. Women expect a legal and social recognition of their lesbian relationships.
- No attacking husband is a good father. In situations where men have been convicted of wife assault, women must have a legal mechanism for severing his parental rights.
- There is no excuse for any residential institution to structure itself so that there remains opportunities for male staff to attack women and children.
- The federal money should be used to create systemic opportunities for women. Federal money aimed at pro-woman initiatives should not be used for unsuccessful programs for violent men.
- The federal government should promote the use of permanent restraining orders and should encourage judges to see that a restraining order is a legal statement about a man and his behaviour toward women not about a relationship. Mutual restraining orders are dangerous and ridiculous and should be banned.
- Young women must be assured by federal policies of an economically independent future.
- Young women must have the aid of the federal government in holding the adults and positions of authority responsible for the young men in their care and under their influence.
- Police must be instructed and compelled to respond to accusations of assault and sexual assault by young women who know their attackers.
- The federal government must produce education programs to counteract the social pressure on the young men to imitate the atrocities of adult men against women.
- Organizations such as Media Watch which provide an anti-sexist media literacy should be encouraged with federal funds.
- Racism must be acknowledged in law as a compounding effect of sexist attacks.
- People, especially women of colour and aboriginal women, must have financial access through some new version of the Court Challenges Program to using the Canadian Charter of rights and freedoms to challenge any law or judicial decision which fails to support racial equality.
- Since women are at risk all over the world from sexist attacks, and since state governments play a role in sponsoring that violence, gender must be added to the definition of the convention refugee.
- English, French and other training courses must be open to women whether they are targeted for help by the government or not
- The federal government must make available translation and interpretation services for women who have been attacked or have to deal with police, Crown offices, courts and emergency services.
- Any consultation with the community must include adequate numbers of delegates from feminist advocacy groups of women of colour, aboriginal women and immigrant women.
- The systemic racism of the criminal justice system must be reformed as part of any plan to advance the equality of women or to free women from criminal sexist victimization.
- The disproportionate representation of men of colour and of aboriginal men charged and incarcerated for crimes against women should be acknowledged not as an accurate reflection of who does and who does not commit sexist violence but as a failure to charge and convict more privileged white men.
- The disproportionate representation of aboriginal women and women of colour in Canadian jails and court rooms must be understood to reflect enforced poverty and violence heaped on these women. There must be release and court deferment programs since even in circumstances of gross inequality, these women hardly pose a threat to the Canadian public.
- The federal government must produce funds to match its promise of transition houses in aboriginal communities and on reserves.
- The federal government must fund women's groups to create special aid and programs for and by women of colour and immigrant women.
- Professional associations must have higher standards to meet than the criminal justice system. Men should not have access to professional credentials when there is any hint of abuse because of the enormous privileges bestowed on men with those credentials.
- Professional associations must account to politically appointed public inquiries when accused of protecting their members from criminal investigations.
- The federal government must ensure that women have access to legal advice and legal advocates so they can pursue criminal complaints and civil suits against professionals and their associations.
- Women must have independent legal counsel to represent them in the complaint process currently used by professional associations.
- Number 59 is not listed in the booklet.
- The federal powers must be used to impel professional associations to design environments that reduce opportunities for attack.
- The federal government has a responsibility to complete the process of integration of women in every learning institution over which it has influence or jurisdiction.
- Every job site under the influence and control of the federal government must be integrated immediately and at all levels.
- The federal government must legislate protection and labor law for domestic workers and farm workers and immediately remove the live-in requirement imposed on domestic workers in recognition that it gives male employers more power to attack them.
- The federal government must enhance the effect of sexual harassment laws by enforcing a woman's right to a safe work environment with human rights legislation.
- All 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.
- The federal government must fully decriminalize prostitution.
- The federal government must play a role in putting a stop to the herding of prostitutes by police into particular areas of the cities.
- The federal government must foster and fund the efforts of those cities and towns that propose changes toward an equal status for women.
- 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 and all women trapped by low incomes.
- Police and prosecutors must be instructed to investigate properly and pursue prosecution when women complain of attacks by neighbors, club members etc.
- 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.
- Municipal and regional governments should be encouraged through the federal government to create safe and effective transport systems that are accessible to all.
- No federal funding plan for mega tourist events should be approved without an assessment and discussion of the increased danger that can be predicted for the women in the host city.
- No implementation or funding of the 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.
- Money allocated from the federal budget to address violence against women should not be diverted into 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.
- The federal government initiatives must reflect the current facts that it is the vulnerability of women and children that is the definitive factor in preventing this type of crime. Monies must not be directed to police, jail, deputizing 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.
- Limit and monitor the use of guns by police. Women have suffered more loss than protection from unnecessary use of force by police.
- 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.
- Stronger gun control would save lives and should be implemented.
- The federal government must involve itself in the enforcement of the Butler decision on the basis of the harm it does to women and children and how it undermines women's equality.
- The federal government must financially promote the development of sex-positive and women-positive sex education materials for use by adults and youth especially those with a disability.
- The federal government must assure women access to legal aid dollars to sue the producers, promoters and distributors of pornography which those women deem harmful to them.
- The federal government must actively defend the producers of art and education materials from any obscenity based attacks.
- The federal government must actively respond to the constitutional challenges by cooperating with the efforts to advance the equality of women.
- 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.
- Change the appointment and selection of judges to reflect the diversity of the population. This to also apply to legal services, society boards, Law Foundation board, and law reform commissions.
- More feminist judges must be appointed to the judiciary.
- A new procedure should be devised for appointments to the Supreme Court of Canada which will grant guarantee of women's input.
- There must be a public mechanism at every level for judicial appointment and review.
- Complaints about the judiciary, after initial investigation, must be handled in public hearings.
- Mechanisms for judicial appointment education, review and dismissal must be based on public input.
- The funding priority within the court system must be changed so that Crown councils, 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 criminalizing women.
- Canadian judges have a growing record of using as experts, members of 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 fight.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 give top priority to calls from women concerning violence.
- Make all police services, Crown services and courts accessible to women with disabilities.
- Ensure translation and interpretation for women of all languages and cultures and all legal processes.
- Women must have access to national data on the cases involving violence against women and children. There's no current central collection of complaints to police, charges laid, judges decisions and reasons for judgment and conviction on sentencing. One women's group should be funded to collect and review that information for public view.
The recommendations as a group paint a reasonable picture of the strategy proposed by NAC. Although the recommendations encourage a broad range of preventative measures, generally they do not seem to support remedial steps such as counseling. Mandatory counseling, in addition to any other sentence imposed, for those convicted of domestic abuse could be a constructive approach particularly considering the likelihood of repeat offences. If offenders are not educated about the impacts to all concerned and the potential consequences of further abuse, opportunities to mitigate the incidence of violence may be missed. Experts in the field of violence all agree that violence starts small and grows. Early intervention is therefore an important part of any strategy to address domestic abuse.
Most involved in the issue will confirm that on average, more than 30 incidents of abuse will occur before a woman seeks help. By this time the pattern and cycle of violence have been well established and substantial if not irreparable damage has been done. Under the circumstances, I am not really sure why the NAC recommendations do not encourage women or womenís groups to lay or support the laying of charges when there is a clear case of abuse. Shelters are reluctant to advise clients for whatever reason and that appears to be part of the problem. As a quick aside, a January, 1998 newsletter called "Common Sense & Domestic Violence" reported "A little known statistic, which shelter advocates admitted to be true, is that 25% of the women in Alberta shelters go there to use the shelters as hostels and not for reasons of being battered, yet shelters include all guests in their count of battered women."
There are other well known aspects of domestic violence which would tend to support some targeted action. For example, alcohol is involved in 50% of all cases of domestic violence. The NAC recommendations again do not seem to support remedial approaches. Public education on the risks of alcohol misuse would be a starting point. In the last Parliament, I had a Bill which proposed health warning labels to be required on the containers of alcoholic beverages. Its purpose was to caution expectant mothers and others of the risks associated with alcohol consumption. There is no reason why one of the messages could not identify the link between alcohol abuse and domestic violence. Regardless of the approach, the linkage between alcohol and abuse should be addressed.
The NAC recommendations also seem to focus on spousal abuse when the statistics show that only 29% of abuse occur in married relationships. In addition, a significant portion of those occur during the first two years and also when the woman is pregnant. Violence against women is far more prevalent in non-married relationships and therefore emphasis should be placed on public education and marriage preparation programs. The statistics also show that 30% of abuse occurs between the ages of 18 and 24. Given the prevalence factors, education in our schools about the issues of healthy relationships and the problems associated with abuse and domestic violence seems to be a reasonable approach. It is worth repeating that violence starts small and grows. Therefore, early intervention and prevention are key.
In its conclusion, the NAC report states that:
"The community is alert to the bullying and violation of women of all races and classes (including an awareness of the differences of vulnerability among women) and is alert to the violent backlash against women's individual and collective progress.
Women's movement groups which are addressing the appalling status of women in relation to men recognize that violence against us is a method easily used by individual men with an appalling level of collusion from public institutions and the government, and recognize that every advance in the position of women as a group reduces the opportunities for sexist violence against individual women."
The problem of domestic violence affects us all in many ways but all men and women are not part of the problem. The majority of the population are responsible people who want to see progress but not necessarily by pitting women and men against each other. In my view, the best approach to any problem is to assemble the largest possible group to support your objectives and use that strength of numbers to advocate for action. Why this has not happened is also an important issue to resolve.