Violence against Women and Girls
Violence can be physical (such as punching, kicking, choking, stabbing, mutilation, disabling, murder), sexual (such as rape, any unwanted touching or act of a sexual nature, forced prostitution), verbal/psychological (such as threats to harm the children, destruction of favourite clothes or photographs, repeated insults meant to demean and erode self-esteem, forced isolation from friends and relatives, threats of further violence or deportation if the woman attempts to leave), stalking (such as persistent and unwanted attention, following and spying, monitoring of mail or conversations), financial (such as taking away a woman’s wages or other income, limiting or forbidding access to the family income), and other forms of control and abuse of power. Violence against women is about the control and coercion of women. It is a significant problem in Canada and around the world, also including female genital mutilation, child marriage, dowry-related murder, honour killings, female infanticide, and trafficking in women. Mass rapes and enslavement of women are also used as an instrument of war and genocide.
Half of Canadian women have survived at least one incident of sexual or physical violence.
Over a quarter (29%) of Canadian women have been assaulted by a spouse. Forty-five percent of women assaulted by a male partner suffered physical injury. Injuries included bruising, cuts, scratches, burns, broken bones, fractures, internal injuries and miscarriages.
In Canada, four out of five people murdered by their spouses are women murdered by men. In 1998, 67 women were killed by a current or ex-spouse, boyfriend or ex-boyfriend. That’s one to two women per week. In 6 out of 10 spousal murders, police were already aware that violence characterized the relationship.
Girl children are targets of abuse within the family more so than are boys. Four out of five victims of family-related sexual assaults (79%) are girls, and over half (55%) of physical assaults of children by family members are against girls. In 1997, fathers accounted for 97% of sexual assaults and 71% of physical assaults of children by parents.
Only 10% of sexual assaults on women are reported to the police. Extrapolating from these data, there are 509,860 reported and unreported sexual assaults in Canada per year.That’s 1,397 per day; which means that every minute of every day, a woman or child in Canada is being sexually assaulted. Very often, sexual assaults are repeated on the same woman or child by the same offender.
98% of sex offenders are men and 82% of the survivors of these assaults are girls and women.
43% of women in one study reported at least one incident of unwanted sexual touching, forced or attempted forced sexual intercourse, or being forced to perform other acts of a sexual nature before the age of 16. The majority of these cases were at the level of unwanted sexual touching, usually repeated incidents by the same offender.
Sexual assaults often occur in contexts in which the abuser is in a position of trust in relation to the person assaulted, such as a husband, father, other relative, doctor, coach, religious advisor, teacher, friend, employer, or date. The majority of sexual assaults are committed by a man known to the victim who is likely to use verbal pressure, tricks and/or threats during an assault. Two-thirds of sexual assaults occur in a private home.
Wife battering carries on into old age. Spousal homicide accounts for one third (30%) of murders of women over 65.
A minimum of one million Canadian children have witnessed violence against their mothers by their fathers or father figures. In 52% of these cases, the mother feared for her life, and in 61%, the mother sustained physical injuries. Children who witness violence against their mothers often exhibit signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, and their social skills and school achievement are adversely affected.
Fear of violence also limits many women’s lives. Forty-two percent of women compared with 10% of men feel “totally unsafe” walking in their own neighbourhood after dark, which in Canadian winters can begin at 3:30 pm, even earlier in the north. Over a third (37%) of women, compared with one in ten men, are worried about being in their own homes alone in the evening or night.
In Canada, a man who beats and rapes his female partner can stay in his own home while the woman and children must sometimes move from shelter to shelter, disrupting their lives, work or schooling. In a 1993 survey, 295,000 abused Canadian women had no access to counselling or housing services.
Who is most likely to be abused?
All women are vulnerable to violence, but some are more vulnerable than others.
Around the world, as many as one woman in every four is physically or sexually abused during pregnancy, usually by her partner. In Canada, 21% of women abused by a partner were assaulted during pregnancy, and 40% reported that the abuse began during pregnancy. Abuse often begins or worsens during pregnancy, when a woman is most vulnerable, and most dependent on her partner’s support.
Young women and female children are highly vulnerable to sexual assault. In 1997, persons under 18 were 24% of the population but represented 60% of all sexual assault victims and one fifth (19%) of physical assault victims. Of sexual offences against kids under 12, the ages at which boys are most likely to be sexually assaulted, girl victims outnumber boys by two to one. Women under 25 are also at greatest risk of being killed by their male partners.
A DisAbled Women’s Network survey found that 40% of women with disabilities have been raped, abused or assaulted. More than half (53%) of women who had been disabled from birth or early childhood had been abused. Women with disabilities may also be physically, sexually or financially abused by people who aid in their care. Less than two-thirds of shelters for abused women report being accessible to women with disabilities. However, women with disabilities report that only one in ten who sought help from women’s shelters were accommodated.
Research repeatedly shows that a vast majority of Aboriginal women have been assaulted, and that the chances of an Aboriginal child growing up without a single first-hand experience of abuse or alcoholism is tiny. Violence may have begun while at residential school or by parents whose souls were damaged by the residential school experience of rape, physical abuse, and cultural genocide. Violence continues into adulthood, ranging from 48% to up to 90% of Aboriginal women being assaulted at the hands of their partners, depending on the community in which they live. Aboriginal women also experience racially-motivated attacks and are harassed on the streets by the public and police more so than non-Aboriginal women.
Violence against women crosses socioeconomic lines. However, low-income women may be more often trapped in abusive relationships because of a lack of financial resources for housing and income support. For Inuit women and others, “The virtual absence of alternative housing arrangements often forces women and children to stay in dangerous and potentially deadly situations.”
In addition to racist violence, women who are of minority racial, ethnocultural or linguistic groups also suffer violence at the hands of their intimate partners. However, their access to the justice system and to services are not the same. Only 57% of Canadian shelters offered services that were sensitive to cultural differences. Women who have difficulty speaking the official language where they live face enormous barriers in accessing services and dealing with the justice system. When services and the justice system fail, women find it even more difficult to escape abuse.
Women working in certain occupations are also more vulnerable to violence. For example, foreign domestic workers work for low wages isolated in private homes and are vulnerable to threats of deportation if they complain of physical or sexual abuse. They are often unaware of their legal rights or of services. Other occupations in which women are very vulnerable to workplace violence are health care workers and women in the military. All women in subordinate positions are vulnerable to sexual harassment in the workplace, and women in male-dominated occupations may be subject to workplaces that are hostile toward women. Women working in the sex trade are at enormous risk of sexual and physical assault, ongoing abuse, and murder. They receive the least amount of support due to the stigma surrounding prostitution, and the belief that prostitution is a “lifestyle” decision. This ignores the fact that almost all young women who end up in the sex trade are fleeing abusive homes, and that economic options for young women on their own are minimal.
Why not talk about violence against men, spousal violence, or just violence?
Males commit the overwhelming majority of all violent crimes, and usually against women or girls. In 1996, half (48%) of all violent crimes committed in Canada involved a male perpetrator against a female victim. Thirty-nine percent of violent crimes involved males attacking other males, while 7% were female assailants of other females and 6% were girls or women against boys or men.
To call violence against women “spousal assault” obscures the fact that most of the violence is perpetrated by men against intimate female partners, and as men tend to be physically stronger than women, more women end up in hospital, or dead, as a result of the violence.
More than half of all reported physical assaults on adult women are by family members, half by their spouses. Only 14% of assaults on men are committed by family members, 8% by their male or female intimate partners. A similar pattern emerges for people under 18: Boys are more likely to get into fights with acquaintances and strangers, while girls are more likely to be physically and sexually assaulted by family members. The fact of being harmed and controlled on a continual basis by someone who is supposed to love you is the deepest betrayal of trust, and carries an enormous long-term psychological impact. It is significantly different in character than other types of assaults such as one-time, isolated conflicts with strangers.
Any kind of violence is wrong, be it against men, women or children. The idea is not to paint men as villains, but to try to understand the root causes of violence and how to prevent it. If we are afraid to look at the clear gender relationship in violence, and what it tells us about the issue and potential solutions, we will simply perpetuate the problem for generations to come.
Is violence biological in men? Is there anything we can do about it?
If violence were a biological imperative in men, all men would be violent, and they are not. Many men are decent, loving, responsible and respectful people who do not harm women. To understand the problem, we must understand the various factors involved in the socialization of boys. Many boys are goaded into proving their “masculinity” through acts of violence and a lack of compassion. Violent role models for boys, such as wrestlers, boxers, war heroes, action figures, outnumber peaceful, responsible and caring ones. Weak, insecure men sometimes feel they have to control others, especially women, in order to be a “real man”.
Violence is learned from male role models early in life. Women experiencing violence by male partners are 3 times as likely to state that their male partners witnessed their own mothers being beaten by their fathers than are women who experience no violence from their male partners.
We can see from evaluations of programs for men who batter that it is not simply a question of “anger management”. Although the majority of men (53% to 85%) who complete such programs remain physically nonviolent for up to two years after treatment, many continue other types of threatening or coercive behaviour toward their partners. The most effective programs don’t just deal with anger management but focus on women’s equality and non-violent male gender roles.
In almost half (45%) of wife assault cases in which the police intervened, male violence ceased or decreased following the intervention. Where there are consequences for male violence, violence is reduced.
Are women becoming just as violent as men?
Some people think violence committed by girls and women is skyrocketing, because the media reports “100% increases” in rates of crimes committed by female young offenders. It is important to go beyond media sensationalism. Male youths account for 4 out of 5 cases of youth crimes, and the majority of the crimes for both sexes are property offences.
When you see a story about a percentage increase in female violence, remember that the number is going from very few incidents to few incidents. An increase of one incident to two is an increase of 100%.
Now that there are a variety of role models for girls, including violent action heroes, it is not surprising that some girls as well as boys may be seeing violence as a way to solve their problems and make them feel powerful.
Why don’t we have shelters for battered men?
Shelters for abused women did not come from the government. They began informally with groups of women running a type of “underground network”, sheltering abused women in their own homes because they knew women who were being assaulted and who had nowhere to go. Later, women endured ridicule and skepticism when they argued for the need for shelters. Finally, after years of lobbying and documenting abuse, the first shelters were established. On just a single day in April 1998, over 6,100 women and children were staying in 422 shelters across Canada that offer refuge from violence in the home. About 48% were women and 52% were the children of these women. About three-quarters of the children were under the age of 10. Staffs of shelters are generally very low paid and work many draining, unpaid hours. The rest of the work is done by volunteers.
f there were a need for shelters for abused men, people concerned would organize them the way women organized for shelters in the 1970s.
A shelter for battered men opened in Britain, but was closed for lack of use.
Why do some women stay in violent relationships?
Fear: Women are sometimes murdered or severely assaulted when trying to leave or after having left their violent partner. Between 1974 and 1992, six times as many women were killed by their husbands while separating than while co-residing. A woman may think it’s better to be where she can keep an eye on him than be stalked and killed. She may believe the abuser’s threats that he will kill her and their children if she leaves, and in some cases, she will be right. Although police forces and the justice system have improved since the early 1980s concerning violence against women, they still provide inadequate protection of women from known abusers. The justice system also provides less protection for some women than others, such as the incident in Winnipeg in which two Metis women, fearing assault from a known abuser who was breaking a restraining order to keep away, were found dead after police ignored their five 911 calls made over a period of 8 hours.
Lack of resources, no place to go: In Canada, women earn less money than men for work requiring similar skill levels, and make up the majority of the poor. Many women stay in abusive relationships because they simply have no place else to go in the context of a shortage of affordable housing, lower wages for women, waiting lists for subsidized child care that impede women from finding paid employment and/or training/education to support herself and her kids.
Violence is just a part of life: A woman may have grown up watching her mother being beaten, and receiving the message that violence is just a part of relationships. An abuser may use sadomasochistic videos and gravitate toward violent movies and friends, so the woman is surrounded by cultural messages that violence against women is not only okay, but normal and desirable.
Love, loyalty: Abusive men often come across at the beginning as very romantic and charming. Violence is often followed by a “honeymoon period” in which the man is apologetic, buys gifts and/or swears it will never happen again, and that the abuse is due to the tough time he’s going through and needs the woman he loves to stick by him. This is the man she fell in love with, had kids with, promised to live with forever “for better or for worse”. It is not an easy bond to break.
Low self-esteem: A woman may have been battered and raped for so long, she starts to believe the abuser when he says she is worthless, good-for-nothing, will never make it on her own, or deserves it. With every incident of physical, sexual and psychological violence, a little bit more of her soul is destroyed.
Embarrassment/shame: Some women think they are to blame for the violence, that if they were more capable they would be able to “save” their marriages, help their violent husbands. Leaving the relationship is a shameful admission of failure. Particularly in communities and networks where there is little or no support for abused women, and in which people are told not to “air their dirty laundry” in public, women may want to avoid the stigma that would fall on them and their children.
Lack of support: She may have already spoken to neighbours who didn’t want to become involved, clergy or family members who told her to stick with her husband no matter what, police who didn’t do anything, a court which gave her abusive partner a suspended sentence, or a psychiatrist or psychologist who blamed the abuse on her.
Immigration sponsorship and other ties: If the woman is dependent on the abusive partner for staying in Canada, or she doesn’t speak either official language well, or is dependent on the abuser for personal care for an illness or disability, it becomes almost impossible to leave.
A cross-cultural study found that most abused women use active strategies to maximize their safety and that of their children. Some resist the abuse and fight back, some flee, others try to keep the peace by capitulating to their partner’s demands. What may seem to be a lack of response to abuse may in fact be a strategic assessment of ensuring her own and her children’s survival.
Why don’t women always report sexual assault?
Some women and girls don’t recognize date or marital rape as sexual assault, a criminal offence.
Some feel responsible in some way for the assault as a result of believing myths that women who are sexually assaulted “deserve it”.
Some fear not being believed, being ridiculed, being alienated from the group to which they and the offender might belong (family, place of worship, school, etc.) and shame at having been violated - not wanting anyone to know.
Some fear retribution and further violence by the offender if they tell.
Many lack faith in an ineffectual and racist police and justice system: In 1997-98, there were 7,629 sexual assault trials in adult criminal courts. Only 1,533 resulted in a prison sentence. Over two-thirds (39%) of convicted sex offenders were given probation as the harshest sentence. A judge recently ruled a repeat sexual offender not guilty of sexual assault partly because his 17-year-old victim, who was wearing a T-shirt and shorts in summer, was not dressed in “bonnet and crinolines” and was not a virgin. Many women simply do not want to deal with the stone-age attitudes of some police officers and judges; want to put the assault behind them instead of reliving the abuse during lengthy trials in front of total strangers, particularly because the outcome is likely to be unsatisfactory.
What consequences does violence against women have on women and society?
The physical and sexual abuse of girls and women costs the Canadian economy $4.2 billion dollars each year, factoring into account social services, criminal justice, lost employment days, and health care interventions. Nearly 90% of the financial cost is borne by government - your tax dollars. Your taxes go into cleaning up the mess that abusers leave behind.
Children who witness violence against their mothers are significantly more likely to develop aggressive behaviour (bullying ,fighting), emotional disturbances (depression, continual fear, anxiety), criminal activity (destroying property, theft and vandalism) and experience negative effects on social and academic development. The majority of inmates in federal prisons with some history of committing violence against family members witnessed violence as children.
Immediate consequences for women
Death: Worldwide, an estimated 40% to over 70% of homicides of women are committed by intimate partners, often in the context of an abusive relationship.Only a small proportion of men who are murdered are killed by their female partners, and in such cases the women usually are defending themselves or retaliating against abusive men.
Injury/permanent disability: Violence is a major cause of injury to women, ranging from cuts and bruises to permanent disability and death. In Canada 43% of women injured by their partners had to receive medical care, and 50% of those injured had to take time off from work.
Sexually-transmitted infections, HIV/AIDS.
Long-term consequences for women
Women who have experienced physical or sexual abuse, as kids or adults, are at greater risk of health problems, such as injury, chronic pain, gastrointestinal disorders, anxiety and clinical depression. Violence also undermines health by increasing self-destructive behaviors, such as smoking and substance abuse. The influence of abuse can persist long after the abuse has stopped. Over their lifetimes, survivors of abuse average more surgeries, physician and pharmacy visits, hospital stays, and mental health consultations than other women, even after accounting for other factors affecting health care use, and discounting emergency room visits.
Suicide: Women who have been sexually assaulted and/or battered are significantly more likely than other women to commit suicide.
Over the past twenty years, governments have commissioned or funded literally hundreds of studies about violence against women. A high-profile example at the federal level alone is the $10 million traveling commission, the Canadian Panel on Violence Against Women, which issued a national action plan with over a hundred recommendations in 1993. The women’s movement has also been busy with documentation of the problem and the charting of effective solutions, as it is on the front line of mopping up the blood every day. Government has taken no action on the majority of the recommendations in these hundreds of reports, particularly in the areas of economic equality and housing which are fundamental necessities for women escaping abuse.
What you can do:
Support organizations that advocate and provide services for abused women.
Challenge newspapers, radio or TV stations when they misinform the public about violence against women. Challenge attitudes, practices and policies that promote the development of violent tendencies in boys, excuse violence in men, or show a lack of respect toward women. Equality between women and men is key to ending violence against women.
Discuss this issue with friends, relatives, neighbours, co-workers, and your local media. Challenge your workplace, school, place of worship, book club, or any group to which you belong to take three specific steps to reduce violence against women and to help abused women and children. The National Clearinghouse on Family Violence may have discussion resources you can use in Women’s Health and Freedom from Violence: Practical Tools. Phone: 1-800-267-1291, website: www.hc-sc.gc.ca/nc-cn
Contact your political representatives and ask them what specific measures they will undertake to reduce/eliminate violence against women. Pay attention to structural policies that keep women trapped in abusive relationships - such as lack of affordable housing, lack of well-paying employment, lack of child care, underfunding of services to help abused women and children, and criminal justice reform. If the representative simply lists past actions, remember that initiatives governments have already taken do not come anywhere close to addressing the magnitude of the problem. Ask for specific commitments to implement particular recommendations of the many studies of the past two decades. Set a target date for action and follow-up to see if the representative has kept his or her word.
 Statistics Canada, “The Violence Against Women Survey,” The Daily, November 18, 1993.
 Statistics Canada, Family Violence in Canada (Ottawa: Minister of Industry, 1999) p. 18. The data are from Statistics Canada’s 1993 Violence Against Women Survey of 12,300 Canadian women aged 18 or over. The survey underestimates the amount of violence against women as it did not cover Canada’s northern territories, where violence is prevalent. According to 1997 police reports cited on p. 15 of the same study, “spousal violence” accounts for one in five of all violent offences in the Yukon and Northwest Territories (now the Yukon, NWT and Nunavut).
 Statistics Canada, Family Violence in Canada, p. 12.
 Statistics Canada, “Homicide statistics 1998,” The Daily, October 7, 1999.
 Statistics Canada, “Homicide statistics 1998,” 1999.
 Statistics Canada, Family Violence in Canada, 1999, p. 6.
Ontario Women’s Directorate, “Dispelling the Myths about Sexual Assault.” Fact sheet posted at www.gov.on.ca/owd/resources/sexual_assault_dispel_myths/sexassa.htm Queen’s Park, Ontario: Queen’s Printer for Ontario, 1998.
 In 1998, 179 police forces in six provinces participating in Statistics Canada’s Revised Uniform Crime Reporting Survey reported 25,493 sexual assaults. As the RCMP and other police forces do not participate, the survey covers less than half (48%) of the national volume of reported crime. Therefore a conservative estimate for a national figure of reported sexual assaults would be 50,986, which represents 10% of 509,986.
 Statistics Canada, “Sex offenders,” Juristat (19)3 March 1999, p.1. Juristat is a publication of Statistics Canada’s Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics.
 Data from the Women’s Safety Project, a survey of 420 randomly selected women living in Toronto. Reported in Canadian Panel on Violence Against Women, Changing the Landscape: Ending Violence - Achieving Equality (Ottawa: Minister of Supply and Services, 1993).
 Ontario Women’s Directorate, “Dispelling the Myths about Sexual Assault”.
 Statistics Canada, “Sex offenders,” 1999.
 Statistics Canada, Family Violence in Canada, 1999, p. 5.
 Ibid, p. 30.
 Cathy Trainor, “Canada’s shelters for abused women,” Juristat 19(6) June 1999, p.7.
 Statistics Canada, Women in Canada: A Statistical Report (Ottawa: Minister of Industry, 1995) p. 115.
 Trainor, p. 7.
 Lori Heise, Mary Ellsberg, Megan Gottemoeller, “Ending Violence Against Women,” Population Reports, Series L, no. 11. Baltimore: John Hopkins University School of Public Health, Population Information Program, December 1999.
 Statistics Canada, Family Violence in Canada, 1999.
 B. Lent, “Obstetrical issues in wife abuse,” Canadian Journal of Obstetrics/Gynaecology & Women’s Health Care 4(5) 1992, pp. 330-33, as cited in Canadian Panel on Violence Against Women, 1993, p. 34.
 Statistics Canada, Family Violence in Canada, p. 27.
 Statistics Canada, “Sex offenders,” p. 1.
 Statistics Canada, Family Violence in Canada.
 Jillian Ridington, Beating the Odds: Violence and Women with Disabilities (DisAbled Women’s Network, 1989) pp. 1, 6.
 Trainor, 1999.
 Ridington, pp. 1, 6.
 Canadian Panel on Violence Against Women, Changing the Landscape: Ending Violence - Achieving Equality (Ottawa: Minister of Supply and Services, 1993). See chapters prepared by the Aboriginal Circle, pp. 101-190.
 Statistics Canada, Family Violence in Canada, p. 19.
 Pauktuutit Inuit Women’s Association, Inuit Women: The Housing Crisis and Violence. Prepared for Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (Ottawa: Pauktuutit, c. 1995) p.1.
 Trainor, 1999.
 Canadian Panel on Violence Against Women, pp. 41-44.
 Health Canada, Abuse in Lesbian Relationships: Information and Resources (Ottawa: Health Canada, 1998)
 Derek Janhevich, “Violence committed by Strangers,” Juristat 18(9), June 1999, p.9.
 Statistics Canada, Family Violence in Canada, p. 27.
 Ibid, p. 28.
 Karen Rodgers, “Wife Assault: The Findings of a National Survey,” Juristat 14(9) 1994.
 Heise, Ellsberg and Gottemoeller, 1999.
 Rodgers, 1994. Although male violence stops or decreases in half the cases where there is police intervention, it is important to note that in 40% of cases there was no change in men’s behaviour following intervention, and in 10% of cases, male violence increased. An effective criminal justice response is an important element in dealing with male violence against women, but it cannot be the only response.
 Statistics Canada, Family Violence in Canada: A Statistical Profile 2000 (Ottawa: Minister of Industry, 2000), pp. 12, 14, 18 .
 Ibid, p. 17.
 Health Canada, Husband Abuse: an Overview of Research and Perspectives (Ottawa: Health Canada, 1999), p. 8-11.
 Statistics Canada, 2000, p.14.
 Statistics Canada, “Shelters for abused women,” The Daily, June 11, 1999.
 Statistics Canada, “Youth violent crime 1998,” The Daily, Dec.21, 1999.
 Health Canada, Husband Abuse: An Overview of Research and Perspectives (Ottawa: Health Canada, 1999), p. 21.
 Rebecca Kong, “Criminal harassment,” Juristat 16(12) 1996.
 The Drum: Manitoba’s Source for Aboriginal News. http://collection.nlc-bnc.ca/100/201/300/first_perspective/2001/04-18/drum5.html
 Those who witness their fathers committing violence against their mothers are significantly more likely to become victims or perpetrators of this kind of violence in adulthood. P. Jaffe, D. Wolfe, S. Kaye Wilson, Children of Battered Women (Newbury Park CA: Sage, 1990)
 Heise, Ellsberg and Gottemoeller, 1999.
 This decision was overturned by the Supreme Court of Canada in1999, but the judge in question, and others like him, are still sitting on the bench presiding over sexual assault cases.
 L. Greaves, O. Hankivsky, J. Kingston-Riechters, Selected Estimates of the Costs of Violence Against Women. (London, Ontario: Centre for Research on Violence against Women and Children, 1995)
 Statistics Canada, Family Violence in Canada, p. 31.
 Heise, Ellsberg and Gottemoeller, 1999.
 P.H. Smith, K.E. Moracco, J.D. Butts, “Partner homicide in context: A population-based perspective,” Homicide Studies 2(4) 400-421, 1998.
 Rodgers, 1994.
 Heise, Ellsberg and Gottemoeller, 1999.