Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Prevalence of Violence Against Women in Canada

Just because this was stuff I happened to be looking up for my work today:

  • In the best national survey of such things done to date, in 1993, it was found that 51% of Canadian women had experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence since the age of 16, and of those women at least 60% had experienced more than one such incident. More than twice as many of these women had experienced violence at the hands of men known to them that at the hands of a stranger. (Statistics Canada, 1993, "Violence Against Women Survey", The Daily, 18 November)

  • "According to a 1996 Canadian government statistic, Indigenous women between the ages of 25 and 44 with status under the federal Indian Act, are five times more likely than other women of the same age to die as the result of violence." (Amnesty International (Canada). Stolen Sisters: A Human Rights Response to Discrimination and Violence Against Aboriginal Women in Canada. Ottawa: Amnesty International (Canada), 2004.)

  • Almost 60% of those who reported experiencing sexual assault to the police in 1998 were younger than 18 years old, and the median age was 17. (Juristat, Vol. 19, No. 9, p. 6)

  • Fewer than 10% of women who experience sexual assault actually report it to the police. (Federal-Provincial-Territorial Ministers Responsible for the Status of Women. Assessing Violence Against Women: A Statistical Profile. Ottawa, 2002. p. 19)

  • 54% of girls under the age of 16 have experienced some form of unwanted sexual attention. 24% of these have experienced sexual assault, and 17% have experienced incest. (J. Holmes and E. Silverman, 1992, We're Here, Listen to Us: A Survey of Young Women in Canada)

  • 40% of women with disabilities have been assaulted, raped or abused. Further, it is estimated that 83% of women with disabilities will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime.(L. Stimpson and M. Best, 1991, Courage Above All: Sexual Assault against Women with Disabilities)

  • In U.S.-based research, 92% of homeless women were found to have experienced severe physical and/or sexual assault at some point in their lives, and there is no reason to expect a significant difference in Canada. (Research by Angela Browne cited in Jyl Josephson, "The Intersectionality of Domestic Violence and Welfare in the Lives of Poor Women", in Natalie J. Sokoloff with Christina Pratt, eds., Domestic Violence at the Margins. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2005.)

  • "Almost 40% of women assaulted by spouses said their children witnessed the violence against them (either directly or indirectly) and in many cases the violence was severe. In half of cases of spousal violence against women that were witnessed by children, the woman feared for her life." (Holly Johnson. Measuring Violence Against Women: Statistical Trends 2006. Ottawa: Statistics Canada, 2006.)

Here are some references that you may find useful.


Red Jenny said...

here is something you might be interested in reading. It is a more personal and emotional way of getting at the same thing as the statistics you posted.

I believe violence is one of the reasons why so many women, by our actions, perpetuate stereotypes of femininity. Women often act submissive (I catch myself doing it all the time) and it is really hard to stop. Violence and the threat of such is definitely a big part of it. From the post I linked above: "Survivors of abuse are some of the nicest and kindest people in the world. We get trained to be that way by our abusers. We get trained to never think for ourselves and to never focus on our own needs. We get taught to give and give and give and never take. We get taught to read the signals and to know when you want attention and when you want to be left alone. We read your moods intensely and constantly. We respond to your needs immediately."

For women without support or a place to go for safety and healing, it is much worse. To see just how bad this affects survivors you just have to visit online support groups and forums.

So many womens lives have been devastated by this. Although public attention is growing, it is still terribly lacking - in particular, for marginalized and isolated groups such as the homeless, disabled, aboriginal, immigrants.

Scott said...

Hey Jenny...thanks so much for that's a powerful post. It actually relates to some of what I'm writing in the chapter that I was digging these facts up for, about how it is so common with violence against women for us (meaning progressives in general, especially men but a significant proportion of women and other gender oppressed people, even some self-identified feminists, as well) to acknowledge it in an abstract sort of way but remain completely disconnected from any real engagement with it -- willful blindness about it happening to people in our lives, as in the post you link; knowing that it has happened or does happen to a particular person but doing nothing to understand what that really means; doing nothing to respond to how pervasive and damaging it is in society in how we operate politically in our activist groups and communities; and refusing to reflect on how we (and in this one I mean particularly men) might be complicit in doing things in ways that aren't necessarily overtly violent or abusive but that depend on and/or perpetuate dynamics that are part of the same continuum.

And there's something trying to find its way out of my brain in response to what you said about violence and its role in perpetuating stereotypes of femininity, but I can't quite articulate it. Something about how even if a given woman has never experienced violence or abuse, and a given relationship has never been a violent or abusive one, still the violence is there, lurking...not that it takes agency away from any party in a relationship, but it is the ground upon which any relationship happens. So that when I catch myself doing some stereotypical masculine thing, like for example assuming a pose of expertise and explaining to some fellow activist something she probably already knew while she sits there and listens with faux attentiveness just because its easier than risking the unknown of bruising a male ego that she does not know well enough to be 100% sure will take it well, endemic violence against women at a social level is there, structuring the interaction and creating space that I have been trained from birth to occupy and that the person I'm interacting with has been trained to relinquish, just in case it comes up in one of those situations where if you don't, you get hit for it. And it isn't a fraction of a fraction so horrid as getting hit, as that sense of powerlessness that I've observed in glimpses from writings of or interactions with survivors, but that jolt of knowledge that so many women getting beaten and abused made possible some interaction where I just acted the idiot in a small way...well, that sucks too, in its own way. And I'm still not sure I've said what I'm trying to say, and I'm worried I've said it too melodramatically...

Red Jenny said...

Well, Scott, I will tell you that I came back to my progressive roots as a way to help myself heal from an 8 year abusive common law relationship - you know the old feminist saying "the personal is political". It is very personal for me. I'm not brave enough to talk about it on my blog yet, but it underscores everything I do.

It is interesting when you have been in that position of powerlessness the odd things that happen to your psychology... you really do learn how to perpetuate your own suffering in a way. Actual acts of violence become unnecessary as you become trained. Unlearning this is a hell of a task!

The funny thing is, growing up, I was extremely independent. I read "Our Bodies Ourselves" at a very young age. I never wanted to get married, and went through my first period of radicalization around 18 years old. My mom was also abused and I read books on it, knew the patterns to watch out for, and vowed the same would NEVER happen to me. Ha.

Aside from violence, the biggest weapon that I'm the most vulnerable to is guilt. That horrible and frightening feeling that I'm not giving enough, not caring enough, that I might be (horrors!) selfish. I think that will be a familiar one to many women.

It's not just threat of violence. There's also (and I was reading this somewhere the other day - I'll try to find the link for you) the threat of losing the security of community. Often our men represents our security, even still. Being outcast has a particular concern for women, because I think we haven't fully grasped our ability to care for ourselves, having relied on the good nature of our kind "owners" for thousands of years. One reason why the pattern of abuse almost always involves isolating you from your loved ones is so you have no choice but to stay together for security.

I am trying, like many women, so hard to make my personal life mesh with my political, and I am having trouble with it, so this is an interesting opportunity to talk about it. I want my experiences to have meaning and purpose, rather than this nagging feeling that I lost so many years of my life, so I am trying to learn as much as I can from them. It has helped my to gain insight into many other things, too, since our world is built on the same pattern of domination: colonial, economic, patriarchal, racist...

Hope you don't mind I have monopolized your comments :)

Scott said...

First I've gotta say: comment away! Doesn't feel like monopolization on this end, it feels like communication.

And even if you aren't quite at the point of blogging about it yet, the fact that you are able to communicate about it at all, and that you are able to approach it in politicized ways for your own healing and for social change, to learn from it for yourself and for others, are pretty amazing things. Whatever the path was for you, being there then and not being there now is a pretty amazing thing too.

I can only imagine how hard it must be to unlearn that training...even unlearning the sorts of things that I know I have been socially trained into that I want to unlearn for political reasons is something I find very difficult, and that's with pressures to adopt those norms that were much, much less threatening than abuse from a partner.

I would imagine that along with guilt, shame must also be a powerful factor, at least for some women...shame at it happening, shame at choices made in navigating the issue, that sort of thing.

Are there any general observations that you feel comfortable sharing at this point about your experiences with others (friends, colleagues, allies, loved ones, etc.) once you started being more able to share with people what was happening or what had happened?

I am definitely on my own journey around meshing the personal and the political in my life...coming from a much different place, obviously, but it's still a hard, hard thing...a lifetime of masculinity training that encourages fragmentation of self and disconnection from the emotional and the physical, for example...I'm eager to learn from the experiences of others as they try to stitch together the personal and the political, because even if people are differently located within social relations and are messed up differently and unequally, there are still always connections between those spaces and I think that implies possibilities for learning.

Red Jenny said...

I think meshing the personal with the political is a lifetime's work, but I think it is so important. That fragmented self - yes - I think that is a fundamental feature of patriarchy. I am always curious how patriarchy affects men, too, btw. Some aspects are very obvious but some I'm certain I am not aware of. In the feminist spaces there isn't discussion of this (which makes sense considering it is a feminist space carved out in a patriarchal world) but most of the mens sites are simply ridiculously masculinist. There are few places where men can go and discuss their experiences under patriarchy. I am interested in hearing more about this though.

When talking about how we perpetuate our own oppression, I often mean in just very simple ways. I was thinking the other day about this girl I know - she's probably abut 17, and she's got the whole package as far as the world is concerned: intelligent, responsible, beautiful, thin - all the things a new age woman is supposed to be. Going into neuroscience. And yet, when they are eating, she often makes her boyfriend a plate of food and serves it to him. She is showing she cares, he is feeling cared for. She does it unasked. Seems fine, but when you problemetize it, this little gesture is actually quite complex. I mean, there are countless other ways to show we care, but we automatically slip into what is natural for us.

The fact that we aren't all killing each other every day has more to do with social conditioning than with the law. Social conditioning is powerful stuff. It is terribly hard to even think outside it, which makes sense, too. As social creatures, our greatest fear is to be alone, completely unattached, rejected, outcast, and hated. Our very survival as small bands of nomadic peoples would depend on working together.

In my long-winded way, I'm trying to get at why it is so hard for women to act outside our prescribed roles, even though those roles have changed in the last 50 or 100 years. Men, too, have experienced a change in roles, but they are still there, and still fairly strict nonetheless. It can become nearly paralyzing, this trying to go against our roles. If I don't serve him his food, will he think I don't care? If I do serve his food, am I doing it because I care or because that is what feels natural based on my conditioning?

I do think the threat of violence is always there, even among women who have not experienced it, but I do not think it is the prime driver of domination and oppression.

Scott said...

Yeah, I agree...the violence is not the prime driver of domination and oppression. I think what I wrote in an earlier comment gives the impression that I was trying to say that, but causality that direct is not exactly what I was trying to's more horror at the contiguity than causality per se that I was expressing in that paragraph, or maybe at causality at the social level even if not at the individual level...the fact that even if the latent threat of violence is not directly operating in the particular choice of the particular woman in question, that horrible violence at other sites is one essential part among many of the original and continual reproduction of the overall relations of which any relatively less serious expression and reproduction of patriarchal relations is still a part. That's kind of convoluted...not sure it makes sense...

And what you say about social conditioning...yeah, very powerful. The example you give of your 17 year-old friend is a good one, and I can think of lots that would illustrate the same or similar points from people that I know.

I think a very important point in discussing the ways in which oppressively normative roles are perpetuated is raised in your next-to-last paragraph: the fact that it is not just long-past training that has sedimented into the ways we make decisions, but it is always, always, always an interaction among the self that has sedimented from past training, an element of actively reflexive and critical self in the present, and the social environment in which we are acting. I think it is important that we try to include that last explicitly in how we talk about things, even though it often makes for awkward use of language...not doing so makes it easy to lose sight of the immediate social dimension of the problem, I think. In any case, as you express in the question "will he think I don't care?", our everyday actions occur in the context of neverending dynamic feedback we get from those around us about our actions, often very subtle but always powerful, which re/creates and reinforces and shape and in a certain sense is the training to such everyday behaviours that feel like choice. I know there are times when I am conscious enough of a situation to feel myself responding to these cues in ways that are pushing my actions closer to some norm or other, and I hate that I am doing so, but it still happens.

I think that is important because it at least points the way towards ways of thinking and talking about it that don't lose a role for individual agency but that also don't make it all out to be solely an individual responsibility either. I think it leaves us with a bit more freedom to experiment while not trapping us into thinking that we can make it all just go away by force of will or individualistic, often morally-inflected gestures at changing only ourselves.

It is also pretty relevant to the ways in which the specific relationship context in which that role-questioning is happening shapes how it can happen, I would is difficult enough trying to work through some of that role stuff in a relationship context where one is reasonably able to talk about it with the other person(s) and there is at least some concepts and frameworks and politics in common to provide a place for the conversation to start (even if differences socialization and standpoint are still very complexifying). Trying to figure that out in a situation where conversation about it is a nonstarter for whatever reason must be orders of magnitude more difficult.

Anyway. What strategies have you found for working through the "nearly paralyzing" places to which such questioning can lead?

And as for how patriarchy affects men...well, I have very occasionally written about that sort of thing, and I think it is really important but so far have not managed to make it a regular focus of what I write here. The impulse to pretend invulnerability is one way it affects many of us, and I find that is related to but distinct from a significant difficulty in admitting being incomplete or unfinished or in-progress -- neither of those things make such writing easy. But I do welcome specific questions, if you have any...I often find that having a place to start is useful.