Sexual Assault and Violence in Canada

“Rules are like women, made to be violated” Quote from Quebec Judge Denys Dionne (1989).

In 2010 sexual assault still happens, and to some it is still not an important issue. As the quote above illustrates, some people feel women do not have a right over their own bodies.

Bill Patrick, Ph.D., Gender Justice Collaborator, spoke at the University of New Brunswick on February 10. His talk was called “It’s in His Jeans, not in His genes. How ‘Evolutionary’ Arguments About Rape Undermine Our Attempts to End Sexual Assault.”
Patrick spoke about popular culture and how it excuses men’s sexual irresponsibility and aggression towards women. He explained that Statistics Canada found that 98% of attackers are male. However, Patrick made it clear that men and children are also victims of sexual assault and rape.

Patrick brought up evolutionary arguments for rape. He explained that some evolutionary theorists believe that rape is natural because it is a breeding behaviour, or it is a breeding behaviour gone wrong.

He says that these theories bring about a lot of generalizations, one of them being “That all men want to procreate in a heterosexual way that would lead to having babies. All men want to have babies, and all men want to have sex with people that can procreate,” said Patrick.

He brought up arguments against these theories, one being that evolution does not mean competition to breed. Many of the targeted groups are not capable of breeding, or are strong breeding partners. Children, older women, disabled women, daughters/ incest, men/boys, and women in war are all groups that are incapable of breeding, or are not strong to breed with.

“Most sexually assaultive behavior does not involve actions that lead to successful contraception,” says Patrick. If most sexually assaultive behavior does not result in pregnancy then the evolutionary argument is faulty.

Most of us do not see rape as a part of human nature. Sexual assault is not something that is pleasant, happy, or gratifying. It is a crime of violence, leaving victims to feel like they have lost a part of themselves.

Patrick spoke on the idea that some theorists look at the traits of certain animals and compare that to human behaviour. Some theorists argue that ducks rape, and that must be why humans rape. Patrick explains that if they are going to look at animals in relation to rape, they need to look at animals that have close genetics to humans, like chimps and the Bonobo monkey and neither of these primates rape.

Evolutionary theorists have stood by the argument that women don’t want to get raped because their husband might not want them anymore, and because it might affect their ability to have babies.

“That becomes a distant argument to say the reason women or anyone doesn’t want to experience sexual assault is because it might affect their ability to have babies. It’s so far removed from the horror of being sexually assaulted,” said Patrick.

Some believe that rape is inevitable in all cultures, however Patrick brought up Peggy Reeves Sanday who has concluded in her research that sexual assault rates vary from different cultures. She found that the prevalence of rape is directly linked to status of women within that society. A Canadian woman is raped every 17 minutes; this demonstrates the problem Canada has with how our culture views women.

The idea that women are mindless objects can be viewed when you turn on the television, look in magazines, books, music, porn, and movies. Women are always used to sell items; sometimes you can look at an advertisement and not even know what they are selling because it is just a half-naked girl.

The picture below demonstrates how advertising usually revolves around sex.  One man is dominating the woman by holding her down, and the others are watching. This picture can be viewed to some as simulating group rape and dominance.

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Magazine Advertisment for Dolce and Gabbana Photo Courtesy of

In 2002, a study was done by the Untied Nations on the number of rapes in each country. Canada and the United States of America had the highest rape counts in 2002 according to the study. Canada had 24, 350, and the US had 95,136 recorded rapes. That says something about North American views and actions towards women.

Canada was at 31,372,600 in population at 2002 and the United States of America was at 287,803,914. To compare to another big country, Italy only had 2,543 reported rapes in 2002, and their population was 57,449, 000. The country of Italy had more people in 2002 than Canada did, and they had 21,807 fewer reported rapes than Canada.

People also have to take into account the rapes that aren’t reported. It is sad to know that rape is so high in North America. It is easier to see why rape is not taken seriously when evolution is being used as an excuse for rape.

Patrick explained the pros of fighting evolutionary theories for rape. The unspoken message of this theory is that rape is inevitable. He feels the overt message of this theory is that women are responsible for not getting themselves raped.

The pro of fighting this argument is providing factual correction, to prove these theories wrong. The problem is that these types of theories don’t go away, so they need to be argued, explained Patrick.

Rape and violence against women are important issues for New Brunswick, Canada, and the world. There are ways to reduce the circle of violence, and violence against women.

It is hard to deal with rape, and what has happened to you, or people in your life. Whether it’s a friend, mother, sister, or brother, rape effects a lot of people. It is very hurtful when some men make fun of rape. Pop-culture has termed “being Chris Browned” as a new “funny” term for abuse. Patrick explained there are many reasons for why some men make fun of rape and female concerns.

1.      Ignorance: They think it’s funny because they don’t know better.  (Like people who tell racist jokes.)

2.      They think it’s about sex and they think joking about sex is funny.

3.      Their own trauma: Sometimes people who have been hurt (or who have friends who have been hurt) will try hard to make light of something in order to avoid the pain.

4.      They are perpetrators themselves and don’t want others to take rape seriously.

5.      They want to keep women in their place (this can be either conscious or subconscious).  I think it is an excellent way to tell women that they don’t matter… just joke about rape and about women’s concerns.

6.      They don’t want to have to examine — and change –their own behaviours (looking at abusive porn or playing violent video games that depict women in terrible ways).  A lot of men simply don’t want to think about rape in any serious way — and about whether we need to change our ways.

7.      It may be kind of like “play therapy.”  Kids will create games about things that are difficult to understand/master, and will act them out in less threatening ways.  Maybe some men do this because they are trying to understand and/or deal with the issue.

8.      Defensiveness.  A lot of men feel immediately defensive when the subject comes up.  (My thought is that if you are not a rapist, you don’t have to feel defensive, but a lot of men feel attacked when the topic comes up.)

Patrick spoke at UNB for wellness month, and in regards to the Silent Witness Project that was displayed at UNB in Memorial Hall.

The Silent Witness project started in the United States of America to honour women that were killed by their partners in acts of domestic violence. The project can be traced back to 1990 in Minnesota where a group of female artists and writers came up with the idea to create silhouettes with their story.

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The Wooden Silhouettes at The Silent Witness Project. (Photo by Alaina Nugent)

In the gallery at UNB in Memorial Hall there were nineteen silhouettes of women from New Brunswick. A group of us walked around the gallery, reading one plaque at a time. Tears ran down faces as the stories continued, and the voice of each woman was spoken through the wooden silhouettes.

One story read: “ Colette Boudreau-Savoie, 34, from Bathurst, N.B., was killed in her home by her husband on December 17, 1997. Her four-year-old daughter was sleeping in the next room. After stabbing her twice in the back, Colette hung on to life for a few hours while he went out drinking. The next day he put Colette’s body in a toy box and drove to Papineau Falls Road and set it on fire. He was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole for 15 years. Colette had lived with his violence for years.”

Unfortunately, most women don’t come forward about violence and rape. The public only hears their story years later or when it is too late, as in the case of Colette Boudreau.

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Silent Witness Pamphlet (Photo by Alaina Nugent)

According to Statistics Canada between 1991-2001, 738 women were killed by current or ex-spouses. It was also concluded that younger women are more at risk of being killed by ex-partners. Women that are disabled, aboriginal, and in common-law relationships were also at a higher risk of experiencing family violence.

A young woman, now 30, who wants to remain anonymous for safety reasons, agreed to talk about her experience with an emotionally, and at times physically abusive boyfriend.

The woman was in the relationship for a year and a half, she was 21 at the time. The relationship became volatile when she tried to break off with him.

“He would always try to get me to come back to him by saying he was going to kill himself. He used to leave messages on my phone saying that he was in an accident just so I’d phone him.”

The young woman knew something wasn’t right with her boyfriend when he yelled at his mother. “He just lost it, and I knew something wasn’t right.”

She dealt with six years of threatening phone calls, harassment, stalking, manipulation, public confrontations, and fear. If she changed her number he found her new one. She even moved to California, and he found her there.

“It was non-stop harassment. He would phone me at my work yelling at me. Calling me all these bad names, he said he was going to come down to my work.”

The young woman went to the police about her ex-boyfriend’s behaviour. “I was really upset because they basically told me they couldn’t really do anything until he kicked the crap out of me, which is ridiculous. They opened a file on him, but that’s it. The harassment didn’t stop.”

The young woman explained that her ex-boyfriend confronted her while she was at a function with her friends. He grabbed her and kept telling her they needed to dance, she was crying trying to get away from him, and he wouldn’t let her go. She said people watched her crying and pushing away, but no one did anything.

According to Statistics Canada stalking behaviour was associated with 12% of all homicides committed by male ex-partners.

Her ex-boyfriend ran at her and tried to pull her out of a car that she was getting into one night. Thankfully the male friend she was with was able to get him off her.

The young woman lived her life in fear. The young man finally stopped harassing her six years later when her family members and police told him to leave her alone. They phoned him every time he phoned her.

“My advice to girls is to go with your gut instinct. I had a gut feeling about my ex-boyfriend that I ignored. I think you should always listen to it. Find someone you can talk to, if you leave it a secret it gets worse. Then it can drain you emotionally and physically.”

Lundy Bancroft, writer of “Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men”, explains in his book the reality of why men abuse.

There are many theories as to why men abuse. The number one myth discussed in the book was “he was abused as a child”. Lundy explains that the link of abusive men being abused themselves was weak.

Lundy explains in his book that the number one reality to abusive men is that they are just controlling. They love to be in control, and have the last say on everything. Everything revolves around them and their feelings, not their partners.

The second reality Lundy writes is that the man feels entitled. His views on women and children are miniscule compared to his view on men and their power. The third reality is that he twists things into their opposites. This kind of abuser will tell the woman things like she is abusing him by not listening to him etc. The abuser acquires more power by doing this because the woman feels confused. “When I challenge my clients to stop bullying their partners, they twist my words around just as they do their partners,” says Lundy in his book.

Lundy explains more reality versus myths when it comes to abusive men. His book is very insightful for all women. All women should know the signs and key behaviours of abusive men to protect themselves.

Lundy writes the warning signs of abuse are:

1.      He speaks disrespectfully about his former partners

2.      He is disrespectful toward you

3.      He does favors for you that you don’t want or put on such a show of generosity that it makes you uncomfortable.

4.      He is controlling

5.      He is Possessive

6.      Nothing is ever his fault

7.      He is self-centered

8.      He abuses drugs and alcohol

9.      He pressures you for sex

10.  He gets serious too quickly about the relationship

11.  He intimidates you when he is angry

12.  He has double standards

13.  He has negative attitudes towards women

14.  He treats you differently around other people

15.  He appears to be attracted to vulnerability

It’s hard to know what to do about violence and sexual assault towards women. It is hard to say what can be done to completely stop it.

Lorraine Whalley, Executive Director of the Fredericton Sexual Assault Crisis Center, spoke at The University of New Brunswick, February 17, on how government and citizens can help in the cause to fight sexual violence. The center is also involved in the fight against dating violence, and child abuse.

“We have been involved for the past 35 years working on the issue of sexual assault. But the Fredericton Sexual Assault Center (FSACC) really had a local or more regional mandate five years ago. We worked to expand that mandate five years ago to do more provincially.”

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FSACC Logo (Photo by Alaina Nugent)

Whalley looked at the services available for those who have been sexually assaulted. She pointed out that those who do not report the offence to the police do not have the services/counselling that those do who report to the police. She explained that people who never came forth to the police might not have the financial means to receive counselling.

“While these services exists and are across the province it is very difficult to get in quickly to access these services. One of the things we want to solve is accessing counselling services, for many people they don’t have financial means to pay out of pocket. Some people might have blue cross but the wait is long.”

The FSACC offers a variety of programs, from educational programs to counselling services. There is the dating violence program, the empowerment project, public education program, self-protection program, sexual assault counselling program, and the volunteer crisis intervention program.

Currently the FSACC is not receiving funding, if you would like to help the center you can give a donation. You can also volunteer with the center, invite them to speak to your group, or march in “Take Back the Night.”

If you have been sexually assaulted and need someone to talk to you, call the FSACC at their 24-hour crisis line, the number is 506-454-0437.

“Our philosophy is gender based, anyone will be helped, were not about excluding,” says Whalley.

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Bookmark Photo by Alaina Nugent

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