observations and opinion
Domestic violence is the terror our politicians should be talking about
When you have a problem, that goes on and on, that happens over and over, you can do two things about it: something, or nothing.
Nothing is so much easier to do.
So it is with male violence against women. Every day in our peaceful country, a woman is slapped, pushed, punched, cut or shot. And even if they aren’t bruised – even when they make it through the day randomly untouched – there is the fear.
A few days ago in Wilno, a small town outside Canada’s capital, the police found a woman dead of a gunshot. Then they found another. Then they found another. And not so far away, a fourth woman – who knew in her guts that her brutal ex-husband had slaughtered the three – quaked in terror. Because he was coming for her next.
He didn’t get to her. The police found him hiding in the woods, which is the only good thing that happened out there that day.
The alleged killer has a long history of violence – three separate criminal trials for attacking his then-wife, spaced out over three decades. He posted signs listing the names of those he hated, including the real estate agent whose own sign he used as a flag of menace. Even a casual review of his violent, crazy resume tells you what you need to know about this man: he was a terrorist.
Yes, he is innocent until proven guilty of these murders. But he is already guilty of his past. The word “terrorist” is precisely the thing to call him, because over a period of many years he terrorized women (and a few men) who crossed his path. And despite the heap of evidence against him, he went free time and again, unchained by lawyers, courts and police who didn’t have enough to lock him up.
It should be hard to lock somebody up. When the state wields its power against an accused, the authorities should be forced to justify their actions, every step of the way. And no one should be found guilty of a crime unless the evidence really does tell us, beyond a reasonable doubt, that he did it and meant to do it.
Yes, it should be hard to lock somebody up. But it shouldn’t be this hard, not in the case of a man who has painted a black and blue path on the bodies of women in his world, for years and years and years. Some say our authorities need the power to inflict “preventive arrest” upon suspected terrorists, but has anyone seriously considered applying it in one of the few situations where we know it’s necessary – domestic violence?
The domestic terrorist isn’t subtle about his ideology or methods: he hates the women around him, for whatever reason, and he brutalizes them body and soul. For every girl and woman whose arm is broken at home, there are ten – maybe a hundred – who shudder inside when the door opens at night. What will he be like tonight? Will it be alright? Or will it be…bad?
We are at present in this country engaged in a sour-minded debate about the niqab. Even the most liberal-minded among us dislike the symbolism of a woman forced behind a screen, a sheet of cloth that says “this female belongs to someone else. Don’t look at her!” It makes many of us sick to see women trapped in these robes, especially the women who have “chosen” to hide in there. We don’t want the women among us to hide.
Many more women are hiding in shelters, than behind the veil. The pounding violence of men against the women they know is a far more pervasive and ugly social problem than the bruised sensibilities of people who don’t like the niqab. Okay, you can dislike the niqab. Okay, think about how to help the women you believe are being intimidated into wearing it. But how about the women who are staying home, or wearing sun glasses, or long sleeve shirts, or scarves around their necks, not out of modesty, but out of fear and shame? To hide the evidence.
We can begin by talking about this. And the politicians should too. They have been opportunistic enough to milk the huddled masses of refugees, to point at the dead body of a boy on a beach, to make their cheap political points. Can somebody please be opportunistic enough to say “Enough!” Can somebody please see that the criminal law, as currently conjured, requires the police and courts to ignore the truth about what men are doing to women? Please?
When a man raises a fist to a woman, there is an almost mathematical certainty that he will put that fist into her face, eventually. You know how many women are murdered by a man they know, who were first hit or terrorized by that same man? Let’s hazard a guess: every single one of them.
For men who don’t go there, the whole thing is a mystery. But we fool ourselves into thinking we aren’t part of it, that the violence against women is some kind of low-class thuggery, removed from the sheltered precincts of our cozy, safe, middle-class world. The men we know don’t do this. The women we know don’t weep about it. So we think, if we think about it at all.
But remember that men are, actually, bigger and stronger and generally fiercer than women. As a rule, men more often suppress their inner selves until they explode. Men express themselves in ways that are a total mystery to women, and it is at times a scary mystery. It is not a nice thought to contemplate, gentlemen, but we are sometimes frightening. We have a capacity to burn and to blaze that many women do not. We are more likely to be violent. Much more likely.
There are hundreds of things we can do to stop a man’s fist from hammering down on the woman in his life. Very modest investments in social infrastructure – another cop, another social worker, a public health nurse, a teacher – can make a world of difference. Sometimes all a woman needs is someone with eyes to see what she is living through, to help her see a way out.
But if a woman finds the courage to break loose, and can come up with some way to feed the kids and keep it all together, there is still the man. The man left behind. The raging fury now aimed not at his wife, but at his ex. She can change the locks every night, but that won’t keep him from waiting in the dark when she comes home with the groceries. We need better laws, laws that see him for who he is, laws that won’t let him walk free while a woman huddles frightened. Or worse.
It isn’t hopeless. An angry boy can be cured; a violent man, sometimes can learn to be decent. We can try to make those men better people. And if they can’t become better people, well, that’s what the prisons are for. Better that a violent man rot in a cell his whole life, than another woman tremble in fear inside her own home. Better that he hang by his thumbs on a stone wall, than his wife gets thrown into a grave.
Politicians: where are you? You are invited to speak. You are invited to give a damn. You are invited to stop prattling on about each other, and to stand together and say, “Enough!” You rightly say we should spend more money on women’s health. While we’re at it, let’s protect them from terrorists. Not just the ones on TV, but the terrorists in the living room.