Farquhar: OPP's gender-neutral policy sets back reporting on violence against women

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Last year, 150 women were murdered by their partners in Canada and of those, 65 were murdered in Ontario.

We know this because police forces in Canada release this information to the public.

Over the years, anyone who has worked in the field of men’s violence against women recognizes that secrecy kills and maims women.

So, why has the Ontario Provincial Police decided to not release the gender of victims and criminals? The OPP thinks this new policy will bring them into this modern era of no gender, but it’s the wrong move.

(OPP spokeswoman Sgt. Carolle Dionne said last month that during a recent review of legislation, the force found the Police Services Act does not require that information to be made public. The force then proactively decided to stop releasing gender information out of caution and in an effort to “be progressive in the change of times,” she said. Dionne noted drivers’ licences and other identification documents are no longer required to list gender and “officers should not be making assumptions based on a person’s appearance.”

However, gender is the story when it comes to women being beaten and/or murdered by their male partners; gender plays a role in these cases so why pretend otherwise?

What this policy will do is hamper research into male violence against women. As Myrna Dawson, director of the Femicide Observatory and the Domestic Homicide Prevention Initiative says, “the move is very concerning. Especially from a research point of view and particularly in relation to cases involving violence.

“The bottom line is if they go this route, there is no way to track men’s violence against women and there’s no way to track transphobic violence.”

 

In Alberta, some police departments refused to release names of women who had been killed by their partners in murder-suicides, citing family privacy concerns. Anti-violence advocates argued that more info was needed about every violent death in order to educate the community. Edmonton has recently reversed their stance.

I have long argued in this column that we need to shine the light on men’s violence against women, be it sexual assault by a stranger, assault by a family member or partner violence.

The more we talk about it, the less power abusers have over members of their own families or others. This move by the OPP is wrong-headed and will set us back years.

Despite what some men’s groups may say, statistically, women are battered and murdered by their partners at a much higher rate than men battered by women.

Here are some more statistics for you to consider:

  • women were victims of partner violence at a rate of four times greater than men;
  • the majority of victims of spousal abuse are females, accounting for 83 per cent of victims;
  • on average, a woman is killed by her intimate partner in Canada every six days; and
  • across Canada more than 3,000 women, along with 2,900 dependent children; are living in emergency shelters to escape abuse.

Here are some figures about the the cost of violence against women in Canada:

Criminal justice system — $684 million.

Police — $187 million.

Counselling — $294 million.

So, in one year it is costing $1 billion to try and deal with the issue of domestic violence in Canada.

The OPP has made the decision to become gender-neutral, but the problem is intimate partner violence is not. Women need to hear that this is happening in their communities.

If we don’t see it in the papers or hear about in the evening news, we will assume that we are alone, that it is only happening to us, instead of the one-in-five women in this country that it is happening to every day.

I would hope officials with the Ontario Provincial Police rethink this policy decision. Just because you are erasing women off the arrest reports doesn’t mean men’s violence against women is going away.

 

Ruth Farquhar is a freelance writer based on Manitoulin Island.

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