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It takes the strength of an entire community to end violence against women

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Image: Mohammad Hassan/Pixabay

I'm passionate about purple. In fact, I have enough scarves, skirts, blouses, sweaters, socks and pants that I can wear purple every day in November. And I will, in order to shine a light on violence against women and girls.

November is Woman Abuse Prevention month. Since 2013, the Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses (OAITH) has sold purple scarves and ties through local women's shelters in order to raise awareness about femicide -- the murder of women and girls simply because they are women and girls.

Some important statistics to help frame the crisis that we are living with:

  • A woman is assaulted an average of 35 times before she calls the police the first time
  • According to Statistics Canada, 70 per cent of spousal violence is never reported to police
  • On average, a woman leaves an abusive relationship seven times before she is successful
  • Her chances of being murdered increase nine-fold once she leaves her abuser
  • Every six days a Canadian woman is murdered by her current or former partner
  • Nationwide, a woman or girl is killed every 2.5 days

These numbers increase exponentially if the woman is a woman of colour or Indigenous.

In 1990 OAITH began collecting the names of women murdered by their current or former male partner. Since 1995 OAITH has published an annual femicide list of names reported by the media in Ontario to remember and bring attention to the issue of violence against women and girls. An updated list is available online at the end of each November.

In partnership with Mavis Morton at University of Guelph, a critical examination of media reports of femicide is compiled, juxtaposing five positive and five negative frames to evaluate and analyze media reporting. OAITH's media analysis is released each December 10 on the United Nations Human Rights Day.

I decided to focus on OAITH's media analysis of the 47 femicides in Ontario in 2017/2018, as reported by 131 news sources. Positive media frames represent femicide as a gendered social problem while humanizing femicide victims. Contrarily, negative media blames the victim and represents femicide as an individual, random event with no context of gendered violence. The media analysis found that:

  • 39 per cent of news sources humanized the victim, compared to 7 per cent who blamed the victim
  • 46 per cent created a picture of the victim that was either positive or neutral while 51 per cent portrayed the femicide as an isolated or seemingly random event
  • Eight per cent portrayed the femicide as a gendered social or political problem rooted in gender inequality, versus 60 per cent which relied on traditional voices of authority like law enforcement or government officials, who were cited over family, friends or experts on violence against women
  • Seven per cent were labelled femicide or violence against women. 79 per cent failed to address any history of power and control, abuse or violence by the perpetrator. This is particularly significant, since research suggests a history of violence is the most significant risk-factor for femicide

These statistics are a vast improvement over previous years.

The Ontario Domestic Violence Death Review Committee (DVDRC) was established 14 years ago "to assist the Office of the Chief Coroner in the investigation and review of deaths of persons that occur as a result of domestic violence, and to make recommendations to help prevent such deaths in similar circumstances."

During that time, the DVDRC concluded that intimate partner femicides are predictable and preventable.

The DVDRC created a list of 39 risk factors involved in cases of lethality. Here is a list of the top 10 factors:

  • A history of violence (72 per cent)
  • Pending or current separation (69 per cent)
  • The perpetrator is depressed (54 per cent)
  • Obsessive behaviour by the perpetrator (53 per cent)
  • An escalation of violence (49 per cent)
  • Prior threats or attempts by the perpetrator to commit suicide (44 per cent)
  • Prior threats to kill the victim (44 per cent)
  • Prior attempts to isolate the victim (42 per cent)
  • The perpetrator is unemployed (41 per cent)
  • Victim has an intuitive sense of fear toward the perpetrator (38 per cent)

When several of these factors occur simultaneously, it's a clear indication of impending lethality.

In almost every case, at least one person outside the intimate relationship was aware that something was terribly wrong.

Think of the women and girls that you come into contact with daily. Chances are you know someone who is at risk of abuse from an intimate partner or family member.

Although we may not know what to do, the first step can be as simple as suggesting she speak with someone at the local women's shelter. Allies are invaluable, but only the woman or girl knows when the time is safe enough for her to seek help. Putting the idea out there gives her time to think and to realize that she is not be alone and doesn't have to make this difficult journey by herself.

The courage it takes for one woman or girl to leave her abuser is immense, but unfortunately it is not enough. It takes the strength of an entire community to end violence against women. So, this November, wear your purple scarf or tie and when someone asks why you're wearing purple, tell them you're wrapped in courage and shining a light on violence against women and girls.

For a complete list of shelters offering infinity scarves, winter scarves and ties for sale, click here.

Doreen Nicoll is a freelance writer, teacher, social activist and member of several community organizations working diligently to end poverty, hunger and gendered violence.

Image: Mohammad Hassan/Pixabay

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