White ribbon campaign misses the mark

"What the aim of this campaign is has always eluded me."

The time of year has arrived when we start seeing a lot of red as stores eagerly hang Christmas decorations in pursuit of customers and solvency.

Women’s groups meanwhile wave the bloody shirt in commemoration of the Dec. 6, 1989 massacre in which a young man with a gun and a homicidal resentment of women murdered 14 female students at the University of Montreal’s engineering school.

What the aim of this campaign is has always eluded me.

In Trail, the Family and individual Resource Centre Society leads the white ribbon campaign encouraging people not to commit, condone or tolerate violence against women and girls. A laudable goal, but what about the other half of the population, which is just as likely to be victims of violence as women?

If people want to march around wearing white ribbons for two weeks every year, that is up to them.

The concern is that it plays into the fear agenda of the Harper Conservatives, who are merrily increasing prison sentences and building more prisons at a time of declining crime rates and against all informed advice. Neither campaign is likely to have much of an impact.

A study by Statistics Canada published in 2010 indicates that, overall, women and men in this country are equally likely to be victims of violence reported to the police. These crimes include assault, sexual assault, robbery, criminal harassment, extortion, uttering threats, forceable confinement, and homicide.

While the rates of victimization vary among the categories, the perpetrators of violence against both sexes are overwhelmingly men.  In cases where the sex of the assailant is known, men commit the offences in 90 per cent of the violent crimes.

In terms of victims, women aged 18 to 45 are more likely to be the recipients of violence while in the older age brackets men are more likely to be victims.

Victimization rates vary widely depending on the type of crime. Women were more likely to suffer from common assaults, while men predominate as victims of assault with a weapon and aggravated assault.

Women are overwhelmingly the victims when it comes to sexual assault, while the reverse is largely true of homicide, the crime category that gave rise to the white ribbon campaign to protect women.

Among female assault victims, half were assaulted by a current or former spouse or someone they had dated, while men were most likely to be assaulted by a stranger (32 per cent) or someone outside the family such as a friend, acquaintance or business partner (29 per cent).

Homicides accounted for only one per cent of the violent crimes during the five-year period considered by Statistics Canada. Seventy-two per cent of the victims of homicide were male, which matches the experience locally. Four out of the five homicide victims that I recall since arriving in Greater Trail in 1980 were male.

None of the above says that we should not be concerned about violence, which can exact a horrible toll on the victims and their families.

And violence against women requires special attention given the familial nature of so much of it.

FAIR and its precursor, the Women in Need Society, have done pioneering work in this community on the issue, fighting to establish the first transition house to assist women victims when the authorities were largely oblivious to the issue of domestic violence.

But wearing white ribbons leading up to Dec. 6 to fight violence against women is as limiting as wearing pink ribbons the rest of the year to highlight breast cancer. (Well, perhaps not quite as lame: breast cancer accounts for only about seven per cent of deaths and 12 per cent of new cancer cases in this country but gets almost all of the attention.)

Male violence in all its forms and against both sexes should be the concern.

I am not sure that if we all wore black and blue ribbons to signify our commitment to combat violence, which is largely perpetrated by men, would have any greater impact than the current campaign.

But at least it would make more sense.

Raymond Masleck is a retired Trail Times reporter.