by Heather Bowden
Most violent crimes happen between people who are known to each other. This is true of all forms of assault, including sexual assault and rape. British Columbia has the highest reported incidences of intimate violence in all of Canada. It is estimated that only 1-10% of all sexual assaults are reported to the police. There are three levels of sexual assault according to the Canadian Criminal Code.
Over 80 percent of all violent crimes in BC are non-sexual assault. Sex offences make up over 7% of violent crimes in BC.
The three-tiered system of sexual offences is based on the seriousness of harm and violence.
Level 1 sexual assault occurs when any form of sexual activity without bodily harm is forced upon another person.
Level 2 sexual assault occurs when a person is sexually assaulted by someone who uses or threatens to use bodily harm or a weapon
Level 3 sexual assault occurs when a person wounds, maims, disfigures, beats or endangers the life of a person during a sexual assault.
The results from a survey conducted by Police Services Division of sexual assaults reported to police during 1993 and 1994 revealed the following characteristics of a “typical” reported sexual assault in B.C. The findings of this survey are available in full from Police Services Division’s Survey of Sexual Assaults Reported to Police in British Columbia, 1993-1994.
The victim will be female under the age of 19 (if under the age of 19 then the victim will likely be between the ages of six and 12). The accused person will be male, over the age of 17, and will either be a family member or a friend of the victim. If the accused is a male relative of the victim, then he will most likely be her father or stepfather. The offence will occur once or during a period of less than one month, and take place at the victim’s home, the accused’s home or a home shared by both.
The intent of the law reforms was threefold: first, to reflect the violent rather than the sexual nature of the offences; second, to expand the opportunities for courts to receive children’s testimony in cases of child sexual abuse; and, finally, to broaden the scope of sexual offences by presenting the offences as gender neutral as opposed to offences against females only.
What is sexual assault/rape?
Sexual assault is a crime of aggression committed with the intent to dominate, degrade and force physical intimacy on an unwilling person.
- Rape is an offence whose statistical incidence is especially prone to moderating influences such as social factors and law enforcement policies.
- It is a crime long known to be seriously under-numerated because of the unwillingness of many victims to report the event to police or other authorities.
- All forms of sexual violence are crimes under the Canadian Criminal Code.
- The term “sexual offence” encompasses a wide range of criminal acts from unwanted touching to sexual violence involving a weapon.
- The term “sexual assault” refers to three levels of assault, which are also sexual offences.
As previously noted, revisions to federal assault legislation established three levels of non-sexual assault offences similar to those provided for sexual assaults.
Level 1 non-sexual assault, the least serious of these offences, does not involve a weapon or serious physical injury;
level 2 involves a weapon or results in bodily harm; and
Level 3 is aggravated assault or assault that is life-threatening. The ability of the police to make arrests and recommend charges in all types of assaults was enhanced by the legislation.
The reporting of spousal assault offences in British Columbia is supported by the provincial government’s Violence Against Women in Relationships (VAWIR) policy. The VAWIR policy directs officials in the justice system (including police, Crown counsel, probation officers, victim assistance workers, and others) to emphasize the criminality of violence and to take the necessary measures to ensure the protection of women and children who may be at risk. The policy states that when attending an incident involving violence between spouses, and where there are grounds to believe an offence has occurred, police officers should always make an arrest when it is in the public interest. The policy shifts the responsibility to lay charges from the victim to the criminal justice system. The policy defines a spouse as a marital partner, a common-law partner or a partner in a dating or intimate relationship. Spousal assaults also include assaults between partners in same-sex relationships.
Spousal assault offences fall into three categories: incidents where the offender is male, incidents where the offender is female and incidents where both spouses are involved. In 2002, 78% of spousal assault incidents involved a male offender, 15% involved a female offender and 7% involved both spouses assaulting each other. These proportions have remained relatively constant since 1993.
Spousal assaults are primarily a subset of non-sexual assault offences. In 2002, Criminal Code assault offences associated with spousal assault incidents accounted for 26% of all assaults.
Although the majority of spousal assaults in 2002 involved the offence of nonsexual assault, there were almost 400 Criminal Code offences such as homicide, robbery, theft, and break and enter which also occurred in the context of a spousal assault. Almost 50% of all spousal assault incidents were alcohol-related. 81% of the cases were charged in incidents where the offender was male.
In 2002, the percentage of offences cleared by charge was considerably higher for spousal assault incidents (78% cleared by charge) compared to non-spousal assault incidents (41% cleared by charge). This trend has also been apparent during the past ten years. Overall, these data indicate that the police are recommending charges in cases involving violence in relationships.
overall increase in the number of persons charged in connection with spousal assault incidents during the past ten years. Between 1993 and 2002, total persons charged rose from 6,091 to 8,386, an increase of 38%.
Intimate violence is a pattern of behavior used to establish power and control over another person through fear and intimidation, often including the threat or use of violence. Battering happens when one person believes they are entitled to control another. Assault, battering and domestic violence are crimes.
Definitions: Abuse of family members can take many forms. Battering may include emotional abuse, economic abuse, sexual abuse, using children, threats, using male privilege, intimidation, isolation, and a variety of other behaviors used to maintain fear, intimidation and power. In all cultures, the perpetrators are most commonly the men of the family. Women are most commonly the victims of violence. Elder and child abuse are also prevalent. Acts of domestic violence generally fall into one or more of the following categories:
- Physical Battering — The abuser’s physical attacks or aggressive behaviour can range from bruising to murder. It often begins with what is excused as trivial contacts, which escalate into more frequent and serious attacks.
- Sexual Abuse — Physical attack by the abuser is often accompanied by, or culminates in, sexual violence wherein the woman is forced to have sexual intercourse with her abuser or take part in unwanted sexual activity.
- Psychological Battering — The abuser’s psychological or mental violence can include constant verbal abuse, harassment, excessive possessiveness, isolating the woman from friends and family, deprivation of physical and economic resources, and destruction of personal property.
Battering escalates. It often begins with behaviors like threats, name calling, violence in her presence (such as punching a fist through a wall), and/or damage to objects or pets. It may escalate to restraining, pushing, slapping, and/or pinching. The battering may include punching, kicking, biting, sexual assault, tripping, throwing. Finally, it may become life threatening with serious behaviors such as choking, breaking bones, or the use of weapons.
Why Do Men Batter Women?
Many theories have been developed to explain why some men use violence against their partners. These theories include: family dysfunction, inadequate communication skills, provocation by women, stress, chemical dependency, lack of spirituality and economic hardship. These issues may be associated with battering of women, but they are not the causes. Removing these associated factors will not end men’s violence against women. The batterer begins and continues his behavior because violence is an effective method for gaining and keeping control over another person and he usually does not suffer adverse consequences as a result of his behavior.
Historically, violence against women has not been treated as a “real” crime. This is evident in the lack of severe consequences, such as incarceration or economic penalties, for men guilty of battering their partners. Rarely are batterers ostracized in their communities, even if they are known to have physically assaulted their partners. Batterers come from all groups and backgrounds, and from all personality profiles. However, some characteristics fit a general profile of a batterer:
- A batterer objectifies women. He does not see women as people. He does not respect women as a group. Overall, he sees women as property or sexual objects.
- A batterer has low self-esteem and feels powerless and ineffective in the world. He may appear successful, but inside he feels inadequate.
- A batterer externalizes the causes of his behaviour. He blames his violence on circumstances such as stress, his partner’s behaviour, a “bad day,” alcohol or other factors.
- A batterer may be pleasant and charming between periods of violence, and is often seen as a “nice guy” to outsiders.
- Some behavioural warning signs of a potential batterer include extreme jealousy, possessiveness, a bad temper, unpredictability, cruelty to animals and verbal abusiveness.
Why Do Women Stay?
All too often the question “Why do women stay in violent relationships?” is answered with a victim-blaming attitude. Women victims of abuse often hear that they must like or need such treatment, or they would leave. Others may be told that they are one of the many “women who love too much” or who have “low self-esteem.” The truth is that no one enjoys being beaten, no matter what their emotional state or self-image.
A woman’s reasons for staying are more complex than a statement about her strength of character. In many cases it is dangerous for a woman to leave her abuser. If the abuser has all of the economic and social status, leaving can cause additional problems for the woman. Leaving could mean living in fear and losing child custody, losing financial support, and experiencing harassment at work.
Although there is no profile of the women who will be battered, there is a well-documented syndrome of what happens once the battering starts. Battered women experience shame, embarrassment and isolation. A woman may not leave battering immediately because
- She realistically fears that the batterer will become more violent and maybe even fatal if she attempts to leave;
- Her friends and family may not support her leaving;
- She knows the difficulties of single parenting in reduced financial circumstances;
- There is a mix of good times, love and hope along with the manipulation, intimidation and fear;
- She may not know about or have access to safety and support.
Barriers to Leaving A Violent Relationship
Reasons why women stay generally fall into three major categories:
Lack of Resources:
- Most women have at least one dependent child.
- Many women are not employed outside of the home.
- Many women have no property that is solely theirs.
- Some women lack access to cash or bank accounts.
- Women who leave fear being charged with desertion, and losing children and joint assets.
- A woman may face a decline in living standards for herself and her children.
- Clergy and secular counsellors are often trained to see only the goal of “saving” the marriage at all costs, rather than the goal of stopping the violence.
- Police officers often do not provide support to women. They treat violence as a domestic “dispute,” instead of a crime where one person is physically attacking another person.
- Police may try to dissuade women from filing charges.
- Prosecutors are often reluctant to prosecute cases, and judges rarely levy the maximum sentence upon convicted abusers. Probation or a fine is much more common.
- Despite the issuing of a restraining order, there is little to prevent a released abuser from returning and repeating the assault.
- Despite greater public awareness and the increased availability of housing for women fleeing violent partners, there are not enough shelters to keep women safe.
- Many women do not believe divorce is a viable alternative.
- Many women believe that a single parent family is unacceptable, and that even a violent father is better than no father at all.
- Many women are socialized to believe that they are responsible for making their marriage work. Failure to maintain the marriage equals failure as a woman.
- Many women become isolated from friends and families, either by the jealous and possessive abuser, or to hide signs of the abuse from the outside world. The isolation contributes to a sense that there is nowhere to turn.
- Many women rationalize their abuser’s behaviour by blaming stress, alcohol, problems at work, unemployment or other factors.
- Many women are taught that their identity and worth are contingent upon getting and keeping a man.
- The abuser rarely beats the woman all the time. During the non-violent phases, he may fulfill the woman’s dream of romantic love. She believes that he is basically a “good man.” If she believes that she should hold onto a “good man,” this reinforces her decision to stay. She may also rationalize that her abuser is basically good until something bad happens to him and he has to “let off steam.”
Predictors Of Domestic Violence
The following signs often occur before actual abuse and may serve as clues to potential abuse:
- Did he grow up in a violent family? People who grow up in families where they have been abused as children, or where one parent beats the other, have grown up learning that violence is normal behaviour.
- Does he tend to use force or violence to “solve” his problems? A young man who has a criminal record for violence, who gets into fights, or who likes to act tough is likely to act the same way with his wife and children. Does he have a quick temper? Does he over-react to little problems and frustration? Is he cruel to animals? Does he punch walls or throw things when he’s upset? Any of these behaviours may be a sign of a person who will work out bad feelings with violence.
- Does he abuse alcohol or other drugs? There is a strong link between violence and problems with drugs and alcohol. Be alert to his possible drinking/drug problems, particularly if he refuses to admit that he has a problem, or refuses to get help. Do not think that you can change him.
- Does he have strong traditional ideas about what a man should be and what a woman should be? Does he think a woman should stay at home, take care of her husband, and follow his wishes and orders?
- Is he jealous of your other relationships—not just with other men that you may know—but also with your women friends and your family? Does he keep tabs on you? Does he want to know where you are at all times? Does he want you with him all of the time?
- Does he have access to guns, knives, or other lethal instruments? Does he talk of using them against people, or threaten to use them to get even?
- Does he expect you to follow his orders or advice? Does he become angry if you do not fulfill his wishes or if you cannot anticipate what he wants?
- Does he go through extreme highs and lows, almost as though he is two different people? Is he extremely kind one time, and extremely cruel at another time?
- When he gets angry, do you fear him? Do you find that not making him angry has become a major part of your life? Do you do what he wants you to do, rather than what you want to do?
- Does he treat you roughly? Does he physically force you to do what you do not want to do?
Look over the following questions. Think about how you are being treated and how you treat your partner. Remember, when one person scares, hurts or continually puts down the other person, it’s abuse.
Does your partner
____ Embarrass or make fun of you in front of your friends or family?
____ Put down your accomplishments or goals?
____ Make you feel like you are unable to make decisions?
____ Use intimidation or threats to gain compliance?
____ Tell you that you are nothing without them?
____ Treat you roughly – grab, push, pinch, shove or hit you?
____ Call you several times a night or show up to make sure you are where you said you would be?
____ Use drugs or alcohol as an excuse for saying hurtful things or abusing you?
____ Blame you for how they feel or act?
____ Pressure you sexually for things you aren’t ready for?
____ Make you feel like there “is no way out” of the relationship?
____ Prevent you from doing things you want – like spending time with your friends or family?
____ Try to keep you from leaving after a fight or leave you somewhere after a fight to “teach you a lesson”?
____ Sometimes feel scared of how your partner will act?
____ Constantly make excuses to other people for your partner’s behavior?
____ Believe that you can help your partner change if only you changed something about yourself?
____ Try not to do anything that would cause conflict or make your partner angry?
____ Feel like no matter what you do, your partner is never happy with you?
____ Always do what your partner wants you to do instead of what you want?
____ Stay with your partner because you are afraid of what your partner would do if you broke up?
If any of these are happening in your relationship, talk to someone. Without some help, the abuse will continue.
Adapted from Reaching and Teaching Teens to Stop Violence, Nebraska Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Coalition, Lincoln, NE.