When fighting domestic violence against women doesn’t even enjoy unanimous support in Laval

Marc Demers, Mayor of Laval

In a press release issued this morning, the Mayor of Laval, Marc Demers, deplored the fact that City Council could not reach unanimity on a resolution proclaiming the City of Laval a “municipality allied against spousal violence”. Against all odds, the Council member for Chomedey, Aglaia Revelakis, voted against the resolution, as did the three members of Parti Laval, headed by Council member Michel Trottier.

Their reasoning? The resolution did not include a mention of male victims of conjugal violence and was therefore “too restrictive”.

Eerily reminiscent of “All Lives Matter” debates, the resistance to what should have been a pretty straightforward resolution in the world of municipal politics is misinformed and dismissive of a very real problem in Canada – one that overwhelmingly involves women.

According to Statistics Canada and police-reported data, there were just under 88,000 victims of family violence in Canada in 2013. These numbers represent all violent crimes reported to police, but experts working in the field unanimously agree that the numbers of unreported cases are much higher.

The over-representation of female victims was most prominent in the spousal violence category, where nearly 8 in 10 victims were female.

Half of all women in Canada aged 16 or older have experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence, according to statistics compiled by the Canadian Women’s Foundation. Approximately every six days, a woman in Canada is killed by her intimate partner, the organization says. On any given night in Canada, 3,491 women and their 2,724 children sleep in shelters because it isn’t safe at home. On any given night, about 300 women and children are turned away because shelters are already full.

The numbers are similar across North America. A study by the Violence Policy Centre in the U.S. found that nationwide, 94 percent of women killed by men were murdered by someone they knew. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence cites that 94 percent of victims of murder suicides are female.

Right here in Canada, with respect to homicide in 2014, females were victims of intimate partner homicide at a rate four times greater than their male counterparts, according to Statistics Canada.

The most dangerous time for an abused woman is when she is attempting to leave the relationship, as the recent tragic deaths of Quebecers Mylene Laliberté and Daphné Boudreault reminded us.

It’s simple, and no amount of posturing or philosophizing about biased sources and skewed numbers will change that: domestic violence overwhelmingly affects women. It overwhelmingly is the reason for them being assaulted (physically and sexually), injured, hospitalized, and murdered. It is a societal scourge and one we need to take a strong stance against.

No one is denying that men are also affected by conjugal violence and one suspects that due to overwhelming stigma and toxic notions of masculinity, some male victims are very hesitant to come forward with accusations for fear of being viewed as weak.

But in my years of advocacy I have seen one common thread persist: when men’s rights advocates (MRAs) interrupt a conversation about sexual assault or violence against women to “inform” me about male victims, it is never to add to the conversation, it is always to derail or dismiss the initial conversation. There is a perplexing resistance to any movement or support focused exclusively on women, as if acknowledging that women comprise the overwhelming majority of abuse victims is somehow playing the “victim card”, as if that sort of “hand” is something that any human being would really want to play.

Passing a motion in support of female victims of domestic violence shouldn’t be controversial and refusing to do is empty posturing that benefits no one.

“Refusing to support actions against spousal violence targeting women under the pretence that men are also victims contributes to trivializing the issue and belittling the work of everyone who gives refuge to the victims, acts as their advocate or supports them,” stated Mayor Demers in the press release.

I must agree with Mayor Demers. Like activist Matt McGorry recently said in very plain terms when attempting to explain the importance and need for the “Black Lives Matter” movement, “’Save the rainforests’ is not saying ‘F*ck all other forests’”. It simply means that the rainforests are in dire need of attention right now.

Placing the emphasis on a huge problem isn’t a denial that other problems exist or in any way a refusal to tackle them. It’s a conscious decision to place the focus where the biggest issue exists and no one is stopping anyone from working towards multiple goals and causes. Multi-tasking is one of our greatest strengths as humans.

Numbers simply don’t lie. Women continue to be the overwhelming victims of conjugal violence. They continue to comprise most of the people assaulted, abused, and murdered. Refusing to support a motion that supports these victims because you feel it isn’t inclusive enough accomplishes nothing. All it serves to do is trivialize and minimize a very real issue overwhelmingly affecting women. And we already have enough trivializing and minimizing of women’s issues as it is.

Sponsored by Council member Sandra Desmeules, the resolution was eventually passed despite the opposition of both Parti Laval and Action Laval. I continue to remain disappointed, however, that something so uncontroversial didn’t immediately enjoy the unanimous support of all council.