Earlier this week, I challenged a tweet from Warrington Central Police which implies that the victim is responsible for stopping domestic violence and that, once reported, the police will ensure it stops. They did respond to my challenge, defensively, but they did respond which is more than other police forces have done in the past. I challenged because it is this language which prevents women from reporting to the police. Women know that the greatest risk to their life and that of their children is leaving the relationship. Several reports on research in the US suggest that the majority of physical violence resulting in hospitalisation occurs after separation and that the majority of male offenders are not living with women they abuse. Richards, in a London study in 2003, found that 76% of women are murdered by violent men are killed during separation. That study also found that 50% of sexual violence occurred during or after separation.* Women living domestic violence know this – a tweet suggesting that the police will immediately stop the perpetrator does not give women confidence since it suggests a police force which simply does not understand the reality of domestic violence. With ‘austerity cuts’ slashing budgets to women’s services which have resulted in refuges closing, women are quite aware that safe spaces are decreasing. This also assumes that they have no children as very few violent men are actually denied contact with their children forcing women to live with domestic violence even after the relationship has ended. Neither the family court system, criminal justice system nor government services are adequate to deal with domestic violence. Like the tweet above which suggests that one phone call will render everything hunky-dory, the system does not prioritise the safety of victims. Instead, it holds the victim responsible for ‘allowing’ the abuse to continue and completely erases the perpetrator.
I challenge these types of tweets fairly frequently so I would not have thought anymore about it had I not woken to the news of the murder of 8 people in Edmonton, Alberta where the formal police statement includes the phrases ‘extreme domestic violence’ and “domestic violence gone awry’. Identities of the murder victims and the perpetrator have not been formally released (although I see the media is already trying to get around that law), but the police are clear that the perpetrator has a long criminal record that includes arrests for domestic violence, sexual violence and uttering threats in 2012 and this year. I have to wonder why the perpetrator was not in prison since Canadian law does not require the victim to testify in order to proceed with a criminal trial. I await the excuses as to why this man was not being monitored more appropriately considering his history of domestic violence is a clear indicator of the potential to commit fatal violence.
What is most concerning are the statements from police chief Rod Knecht which demonstrate a clear failure to understand what domestic violence actually is: the murder of 8 people is not an “extreme form”. It is domestic violence. These are only some of the statistics on domestic violence in Canada:
- On average, every six days a woman in Canada is killed by her intimate partner. In 2011, In 2011, from the 89 police reported spousal homicides, 76 of the victims (over 85%) were women.3
- On any given day in Canada, more than 3,300 women (along with their 3,000 children) are forced to sleep in an emergency shelter to escape domestic violence. Every night, about 200 women are turned away because the shelters are full. 4
- Each year, over 40,000 arrests result from domestic violence—that’s about 12% of all violent crime in Canada.5 Since only 22% of all incidents are reported to the police, the real number is much higher.
- According to the Department of Justice, each year Canadians collectively spend $7.4 billion to deal with the aftermath of spousal violence. This figure includes immediate costs such as emergency room visits and future costs such as loss of income. It also includes tangible costs such as funerals, and intangible costs such as pain and suffering.10
- In 2010, the rate of intimate partner homicide committed against females increased by 19%, the third increase in four years. During that same period, the rate for male victims fell by almost half. 20
- Victims are now less likely to report an incident to police.22
- More women are experiencing violence after leaving their abuser.23
These statistics are taken from the Canadian Women’s Foundation. These statistics are not shocking to anyone working in the sector and they shouldn’t be shocking to a chief of police. Yet, Knecht’s statement ignores this reality by suggesting that murdering 8 people is ‘extreme’ as though non-fatal domestic violence were not really a problem because no one dies (except, obviously, the one woman a week who is murdered). And that domestic violence isn’t really a problem unless it goes ‘awry’ – as if there were a ‘normal’ pattern of domestic violence that really wasn’t that big a deal (unless of course you are one of the 200 women a night turned away from shelters because they are full) and that the number of women reporting to police declining is their fault.
Over the next few days, we are going to hear a narrative of a poor depressed man who was not really responsible for his actions – this is already apparent in the CBC coverage. We will hear statements about ‘good fathers’ or ones like that made by coroner Kevin McCarthy on the brutal murder of Deborah Ruse by her ex-husband Oliver, who then committed suicide:
“Tragedies like this bring home to us all the complexities of relationships and the frailties of life.”
We will hear a lot of discussion about mental health services and depression. We will hear a lot of excuses made for perpetrators of domestic violence. What we will hear little of in the mainstream press is that perpetrators make a choice to commit domestic violence and that depression does not cause domestic violence, nor does it cause the murder of 8 people. We will hear a lot about father’s rights and nasty women preventing fathers from seeing their children, as though domestic violence has no impact whatsoever on the emotional and physical wellbeing of children in the house. We won’t talk about men’s entitlement to women’s bodies. We won’t take about the fact that police are statistically more likely to be perpetrators of domestic abuse than the general population and that it is these very perpetrators who are being sent out to investigate domestic violence in the wider community. We won’t talk about the culture of hyper-masculinity within police forces or their failures to deal appropriately with their own officers who are perpetrators. We won’t talk about how language used by the police minimises domestic violence, erases the perpetrator and leaves women with no faith in the very institution who are supposed to protect them.
Instead, we will hear Knecht talking about domestic violence going ‘awry’. We will hear the term ‘isolated incident’ even though 1 in 3 women experience domestic violence in their lifetime. And, then we will hear of another male family annihilator with a history of domestic violence brutally murdering his current or former partner and children – where the same excuses, minimising language and misrepresentations of domestic violence by police will occur. The media will remain silent on the irony of the organisation with a serious problem of domestic violence being responsible for investigating the very crimes a not-insignificant number of their members commit. And, police forces will continue to tweet out statements which hold victims accountable for being victims.
*Scottish Women’s Aid run a training course called Why Doesn’t She Leave? I highly recommend attending for anyone who may be working with women and children living with domestic violence or those trying to support family members and friends.