While I home for the holidays I watched the 6 O’clock news with my mom. The local station highlighted the Indian protests against violence against women in response to the woman who was gang raped and beaten. A young protester was interviewed and stated the rates of sexual assault in India. I cannot remember the statistic, but it would have been alarming to the average viewer and was framed in sensationalized terms. My goal with this blog post is not to diminish how alarmingly the incident in India is. I think we should all be outraged and taking to the street. My goal is to show that we in Canada are not that different, that violence against women is a global crisis and we need to be outraged about the violence happening in our own communities too.
According to a CNN article a woman is raped every 22 minutes in India. The article went on to describe what is “wrong” with Indian society, and how sexual violence in India is a national crisis. In case you were unaware, violence against women is an international crisis and oppression, sexism and rape culture are alive and well in North America too.
People should be outraged and driven to action by what happened in India. However, I am angry at how this story has been taken up by North American press. Descriptions of the gang rape have been sexualized, sensationalised and framed as “Other.” Violence against women has been rationalized through a racist and colonial lens, where India is less civilized and less equitable.
Generally speaking Canadians do not recognize the violence we all perpetuate. I often wonder why we are we not rising up in support of our own women and children. Why we don’t even seem to acknowledge how widespread violence against women and children is in Canada. For instance, Bridget Takyi was stabbed and burned to death in the streets of Toronto this week and the public response (especially that outside the Ghanaian community) has been minimal. The invisibility of Bridget’s death is inseparable from classism and racism. If a woman was stabbed and burned in a middle-class white neighbourhood there would have been more public accountability.
Violence against women is not the result of the “Other.” It is not perpetrated by strangers. It is not an uncommon phenomenon. It is not the result of the mentally ill. It is not only endemic in non-western countries. According to Statistics Canada:
• Every minute a woman in Canada is sexually assaulted.
• Every 17 minutes a woman in Canada is raped.
• Every 6 days a woman in Canada is murdered by an intimate partner.
Our statistics of rape are not that different from India’s. In response to what CNN described as being “wrong” with India, Canadian society and its institutions also blames the victim and we lack full gender equity (with gender equity measures being eroded as we speak). We also do not have adequate social and institutional responses to sexual assault and the majority of assaults go unreported. When sexual assault is reported the perpetrator is rarely held accountable.
Through my anti-violence work I am aware of sexual assault trials that failed to result in a conviction despite clear evidence - where a child was accused of provoking their stepfather, where a woman severely beaten and raped was accused of participating in BDSM and where a video-taped alcohol-facilitated gang rape was dismissed because “boys will be boys.” These anecdotes are not anomalies.
Research has demonstrated that gender equity, the institutionalization feminist-informed policies and the long-gun registry are strong predictors of preventing violence against women (Johnson & Dawson, 2011). Unfortunately, our government has been doing away with gender-equity and our long-gun registry has been dismantled. While we look south and critique America’s lack of gun control, we should be mindful that our long-gun registry was quietly scrapped with little recognition or consultation from anti-violence advocates.
I encourage you to challenge depictions of violence that frames the issue as one that is a problem of other countries and/or cultures. We should question how Canadian society perpetuates, creates and maintains violence against women as the individual and structural level. Let us be outraged and organize about violence against women everywhere. Let us acknowledge gendered violence and hold perpetrators accountable.