Cult Of The Domestic-Violence Industry by Dave Brown

© 2001 The Ottawa Citizen

Reproduced under the Fair Use exception of 17 USC § 107 for noncommercial, nonprofit, and educational use.


 

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The following five remarkable articles were published between December 4th and 8th of 2001 by Dave Brown, senior editor and columnist for the Canadian newspaper The Ottawa Citizen.

The articles are reproduced here with the permission of the author.


 

Index

Men challenge 'bible' of violence against women: A Toronto inquest will question the validity of a standard reference book, Tuesday, December 4, 2001.

Burying the ghosts of a violent past: Husband in wheelchair became focus of wife's rage, Wednesday, December 5, 2001.

'I learned it's a system that doesn't listen': Wife still terrified by threats from family violence specialists, Thursday, December 6, 2001.

Turning domestic violence into a religion: Inquest an epic social debate, Friday, December 7, 2001.

Cult of the domestic-violence industry: Where are the great numbers of victims we hear about?, Saturday, December 8, 2001.


 

Men challenge 'bible' of violence against women: A Toronto inquest will question the validity of a standard reference book

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Tuesday, December 04, 2001 — The job in front of a coroner's inquest in Toronto puts the five-member jury in a position similar to that faced by jurors in the historic 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial, which many still call the trial of the (20th) century.

The famous U.S. case challenged the Bible and the right of its believers to ban the teaching of Darwin's theory of evolution in schools. It was modernism against fundamentalism and the winner was Darwin. His supporters were represented by Clarence Darrow, one of the most famous lawyers in the U.S.

The Toronto inquest also has a bible on trial. Among the first pieces of evidence submitted was the 1992 Final Report of the Canadian Panel on Violence Against Women.

Not quite as long as the Bible, it is the standard reference book for a growing industry that claims violence against women is a hidden epidemic seen only by selected front-line workers, many of whom have connections to women's shelters, rape crisis centres and hundreds of other women's organizations whose government funding relies on persuading society that domestic violence is not an isolated phenomenon, but a widespread pathology.

The inquest concerns the June 20, 2000 deaths of Gillian and Ralph Hadley. They were separated and he ignored a restraining order, drove to their home in Pickering and killed Gillian. Then he killed himself.

It is not the role of inquests to fix blame or guilt, but they can, and often do, result in new laws and social policies. Lawyers at inquests don't carry as much weight as they do at trials, but in this one two lawyers have been granted standing by deputy coroner Bonita Porter because they represent the two extremes in the domestic-violence issue.

Geri Sanson represents the Ontario Association of Interval and Transitional Housing and believes the 1992 report, called CanPan by insiders, is biblical in its truths. Walter Fox represents Fathers Are Capable Too (FACT), which challenges almost everything in CanPan and the laws to which it has given birth. The men's group, which includes a number of women and grandparents, says violence statistics are wildly exaggerated and when domestic violence does occur, men are just as likely to be the victims. FACT has a paid membership of 170.

Annual deaths in Canada connected to couples violence ranges from 70 to 80, with women by far the majority of victims. Male deaths are about 10 per cent.

Because he's challenging fundamental beliefs, Mr. Fox could seem to be playing Mr. Darrow's defense role. That puts Ms. Sanson in the position of playing the role of Scopes prosecutor William Jennings Bryan. (John Scopes was the teacher accused of breaking Tennessee law by teaching Darwinian theory.)

At stake in the inquest are the recommendations that will be issued at its close, expected in January. A similar inquest in the same courtroom in 1998 into another murder-suicide studied the 1996 killing of Arlene May by her former boyfriend, Randy Iles. That inquest came out with 213 recommendations and led eventually to the creation and passing last year of Ontario's Domestic Violence Protection Act (Bill 117).

That law has been challenged by, among others, the criminal law section of the Canadian Bar Association, which argues the proposed legislation intrudes on the exclusive federal jurisdiction over criminal matters.

Although the new law hasn't yet been used, it's part of the weaponry in the war against violence against women. Using it could transfer all of an accused's assets to the accuser in cases of violence against women. It could be done through an ex parte hearing while the accused is in jail, meaning he wouldn't be represented.

Men's groups were not represented at the May/Iles inquest. The Hadley inquest marks the first time a lawyer representing the interests of a predominantly men's group has been granted standing. If things fall together as expected, the CanPan could be given its first test of public accountability.

There are many, including Trent University professor John Fekete, who say CanPan is a work of fiction. In Moral Panic, Mr. Fekete argues the report is a series of doctored statistics and fabricated survival stories.

A newspaper editor would likely not accept any of the CanPan report because it doesn't name sources and is packed with unattributed quotes. Yet countless newspaper stories have been written quoting people making claims, using the CanPan as reference material.

Example: "He hasn't put one dollar in my hands even though I get family allowance and disability cheques. He takes it all. When my husband goes shopping, he buys gifts for another woman and I am the one who has to take them to her."

Dozens of similar unattributed quotes are scattered through the report, all intended to make men look hateful, but also make women look stupid. Did somebody consider it within limits to stretch the truth to prevent anything as abhorrent as violence against women?

Another famous American involved in the Monkey Trial was columnist H.L. Mencken, who covered it. Among his profound beliefs was: "I believe that no trumpeting of falsehood, however virtuous in intent, can be anything but vicious."

Over the next several days, this column will document some of the damage being done to men and women as a result of social policies based on CanPan. In all accounts, names will be used. These stories will be documented in such a way that they'll be open to investigation by anyone who wants to talk to the sources. The CanPan, in contrast, is written is such a way that checking facts is impossible.

First up is Ottawa police case No. 99-180060, involving Douglas G. Rowe, an angry taxpayer.

On Oct. 24, 1999, Mr. Rowe, now 56, called police and asked them to be in his home while he removed some belongings. He wanted out of his marriage and didn't want to risk conflict and/or accusations in a situation that could be hostile. Two officers stood by as he made his move. He spent the night with relatives.

The next morning, he was hauled out of bed, arrested and handcuffed. His wife had complained she was assaulted. He spent 18 hours in jail finding out what it felt like to be a criminal. At the time, he told the arresting officer and the investigating detective to check with the officers who came to his home the night before.

Instead, he was formally charged. Tell it to the judge. He hired lawyer William J. Carroll, who was able to have the charge withdrawn Jan. 6, 2000. Mr. Rowe never appeared in court. His legal bill was $5,350.

Adding to his feeling of victimization is that two weeks after the arrest, his wife approached him. He locked the doors of his vehicle and used his cell phone to call police. When they arrived, it was Rowe who was stretched over the hood and searched. He says the assumption of male guilt is discrimination.

That he had such costs added to his problems and that there was no attempt to have his wife called to account was, in Mr. Rowe's opinion, not just. He filed a formal complaint (00-0065) against Ottawa police Const. Anthony Persaud, who arrested him, and Det. Lyse Fournier, who charged him. His claim was that he had been poorly served by these officers because they didn't check with the officers from the night before.

The reply to that complaint was a drop-dead letter dated Aug. 2, 2000, written by Ottawa police lawyer Vince Westwick. The problem, Mr. Westwick said, was that the officers who attended the night of the move had not filed reports. They were "counselled" for the oversight.

The officers ended up filing reports that could have cleared Mr. Rowe, but only two days after the incident. There is no attempt in the Westwick letter to explain why it took so long for the news to travel down the hall at the police station. Mr. Westwick suggests missing details can be blamed on the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

The police lawyer says Det. Fournier had no choice but to charge "under police policy on partner assault which goes hand in hand with the Solicitor General's Wife Assault Policy."

These policies translate to zero tolerance and are responsible for channelling 120 men a month into Ottawa's Domestic Violence Court. Men on this DV court ride can't go home, even if the woman recants, until they plead guilty. Domestic squabbles are now classified as violence against women and the guilty pleas are making the statistics skyrocket.

Mr. Rowe has a circle of friends and a large extended family, all losing faith in a system and trust in police. They believe police should not follow a policy based on an overly zealous reaction to any complaint from a woman. Police take the view they are just following orders.

Such policies could become tougher if Ms. Sanson sways the Hadley jury.


 

Burying the ghosts of a violent past: Husband in wheelchair became focus of wife's rage

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Wednesday, December 05, 2001 — When her anger turned to a rage she could neither understand nor control, Linda Kinsella became physically violent and had an easy target in her husband, Kevin, whom she could control by tipping over his wheelchair.

She says she's embarrassed by her past behaviour, which locked Kevin into her private hell for four years, but can no longer stand back and watch society shape itself into a belief system in which only men abuse their partners.

"If women are able to do all the good things that men can do in professions like medicine and law and in all other fields, then why is it that we, as a society, deny that women can do the bad too? It is my fondest hope that someday there will be true equality in our society and that domestic violence will be seen not as a gender issue but as a societal one that will end when we work together to stop it."

We're in their home in the Hunt Club area. It's sparsely furnished to allow Kevin easy mobility. He has cerebral palsy. Linda, tall and lithe, often paces as she talks. She frequently pauses in her speech and her pacing to collect her thoughts. Almost always she does this while standing behind Kevin, and unthinkingly puts her hands over his chest under his bright red suspenders. She works the suspenders as if exercising her wrists. Sometimes, as she struggles to find the right words, he places his hands over hers.

This isn't easy for Linda. She's making amends. She's telling her story to bury her ghosts, and to try to help other couples.

"I love this guy," she says, gently slapping his chest. "I think back over those four years and I wonder why he's still here. Well, I know why. He couldn't get away. Tipping his wheelchair was like taking a hammer to another man's knees."

She doesn't miss much. I was guessing at Kevin's obvious upper body strength and wondering if she would have the power to control him. "I lost weight," she says, as if reading my mind. "I used to weigh 200 pounds."

She believes the current war against violence against women is distorted and dangerous.

"I remember thinking when I was in a rage that I had full control. In the back of my mind there was always the thought of the telephone. All I had to do was dial those three digits (911) and claim I was the one abused, and I would win. If it was in my mind, I'm sure it's in others' too."

One night I did it. I had hurt Kevin physically and he had had enough and he wanted out. When he tried to get to the door I tipped his chair. Then I made the call. It was pure anger. I'll show you who's in charge. While I waited I calmed down and realized what I had done. I didn't want to lose him. I want this marriage to work. That's why we got married the way we did." (On Nov. 29, nine years ago, they were married before the start of a Senators' game at centre ice with a full house roaring its approval.)

When police arrived they told Kevin he was under arrest. I told them to look at the evidence. I was the one who committed assault. They said they were sorry, but it was policy. The man goes to jail. By pointing out how difficult that was going to be for a man in a wheelchair, they decided to leave him at home. But it stuck with me. An officer told him he was under arrest because of a policy and it had nothing to do with evidence. That's just plain wrong."

The 1994 Ontario Solicitor General's Policing Standards Manual spells it out on page 10, item (h).

"When there are reasonable grounds, police will lay charges in all incidents of wife assault. In determining reasonable grounds, officers should consider all relevant factors which include, but are not limited to: verbal statements from the victim, physical injuries or other physical evidence of an offence. The absence of a statement may not preclude the laying of a charge."

Problems: It doesn't say anything about husband assault, and "reasonable grounds" is a minefield. Shouting and finger wagging are now listed as abusive behaviour.

That night of the 911 call was the turning point.

"Every time it happened, that I lost control, I swore that would be the last time. I knew it wasn't Kevin I was angry at, but he took the brunt of it. The abuse was verbal and physical. I said terrible things, ugly things. But after that night I knew I needed outside help and I went looking for it."

She couldn't find any. Now she had a whole belief system to be angry at.

"I went to a therapist who listened to my confession about my physical abuse of my husband, and she responded with an observation: she said he must be doing things to deserve that kind of treatment. I went looking for women's groups that might offer some kind of self-help for anger problems. If there are any I still can't find them."

Eventually she found help through a therapist who ignored Kevin and helped her find the source of the anger.

"Mainly things lingering from my childhood. Once I understood that, I found ways to channel and control. I found it helpful to talk about my problem, and met other women who admitted they too were using the telephone threat to win quarrels that had turned into fights.

Men have no place to turn when a situation like ours happens. We have no resources to help men in these situations. Kevin had no place to go, either to live or to get help."

Life isn't perfect and she still has flare-ups. Recently she lost her temper in a public place and wants witnesses to know she's aware she was behaving badly. What they saw was a woman fighting for control of her own emotions while aiming anger at the person she loves most. "It only lasted a couple of minutes."

Kevin has new reasons to fear those outbursts. They are no longer physical. "I guess my biggest fear now is that I don't want to lose her, or her to lose me."

The Kinsellas are in their mid 30's and both on disability pensions. She has fibromyalgia. They are active members of the New Democratic Party and telephone calls to their home are greeted with the news that you have reached the Coalition for Social Action. She hopes to be a writer and he's a fan of politics. His dream job would be working for pay for the political left.

Linda hopes to hear from women who are experiencing what she has been through. "I don't want to start a club, but I think I can help."


 

'I learned it's a system that doesn't listen': Wife still terrified by threats from family violence specialists

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Thursday, December 06, 2001 — The woman sitting across the table often breaks into tears and fits of trembling. She lives in fear. She says she has been threatened and emotionally battered by those who call themselves "front-line workers" in the war against violence against women.

Her husband is sitting at the table to my right. He says little. He too has been scarred by the intervention attempts of those who operate in the certain belief that women are weak and can't be trusted to make their own decisions or protect themselves.

Since the violence-against-women specialists invaded their lives a year ago, husband and wife say they have developed ulcers. They have been financially battered and say they survived many attempts to break up their marriage.

Now they're angry.

Stephanie Robertson says they had a pretty good fight going that night, Oct. 5, 2000. Neither she nor her husband, Dale Robertson, can remember exactly how it got rolling, but they agree it was probably about money. They are health-care workers. She's a licensed practical nurse and he's an orderly. They have a three-year-old son and their one great aim is to give him full-time parenting. They can arrange their shifts so that one of them can always be with their child.

In the middle of the fight, Dale walked away, locking himself in one end of their Sandy Hill apartment. Stephanie says: "That frightened me. He wouldn't unlock the door, and the baby was on his side of the door. I didn't know what to do. I called police to ask what to do. I wanted to know what were the proper steps to take. I was upset and wanted advice."

She knew the dangers of dialling 911. That is reporting life at risk. So she called the general police number.

A short time later, Dale was on his way out the door with his hands cuffed behind his back. It was Thanksgiving weekend. He spent the next four days and nights in jail. Stephanie says what happened to her husband was an injustice, and telling her story is part of trying to address that issue. The system had kicked in the moment police heard a woman in distress complaining about a problem with a husband.

"When they were handcuffing him I told them he wouldn't hurt anybody. He's not like that. Nobody would listen. Over the next four months, I learned it's a system that doesn't listen."

From the start, she says, the advice from support workers connected to Domestic Violence Court was that she should break up her marriage. She should not risk living with a violent man. Her attempts to defend her husband were met with we-understand-and-we-know-better attitudes: she was afraid of him and was trying to protect him so he wouldn't be angry. When it became clear she had no intention of separating from her husband, the threats from domestic violence specialists connected to the court moved to a new level that still terrifies her.

"They seemed to be threatening to take my child. They said if I wasn't going to protect my child from his father, then the system would have to."

Meanwhile, with the loss of their household routine, costs skyrocketed. Dale continued to slip money for the rent to his wife, so he couldn't afford to pay rent for himself. For most of those four months, his bed was a mat on the floor at a hostel.

Because there was a restraining order in place, he couldn't go near his home or family, so couldn't parent his son. Baby sitting and day care were needed, adding up to $400 a week to their problems.

Then the system shut him out of his job. He was served with a court order telling him to report to the Royal Ottawa Hospital for an assessment. He was working at that psychiatric facility; the court order was an instant job-killer.

"We were meeting secretly," said Stephanie. "We would meet for coffee or a drink. It was scary. We were always looking over our shoulders. We were told Dale could come home if he pleaded guilty, but we agreed that would be wrong because he wasn't guilty of anything. We couldn't be together at Christmas. It was awful."

Gradually, Dale lost his determination to hold out for justice. Always dangling was the offer that if he would plead guilty he could get out of the packed, smelly hostel room and go home. Eventually, he was persuaded to sign a peace bond, and allowed to go home.

He knows now that his signature on the bond is tantamount to a guilty plea. He has gone into the records as another violent male. These records now show another woman rescued. What they don't show is a young family scrambling to financially recover from outside interference. Aside from the job loss and baby sitting costs, there was a $2,000-legal bill.

Stephanie says she needs to vent. That's why she decided to tell her story. She also wants to warn other women about the consequences of reaching for the telephone while under stress.

She expected others to accept that she was smart enough to get out of the house and run for help if there was potential for harm.

That a woman would make a phone call and then wait for police means she's not at great risk and knows it.

Help, says Stephanie, would be a volunteer babysitter. Help would be a little financial support. Help would be somebody dropping in for tea and helping with the baby while mother catches up on the housework. Help would be getting husband and wife back together again as soon as possible. There's none of this kind of help in the domestic violence system.

"You know what was the worst part? It was when Dale did come back, he wouldn't fight. No matter what I said or did he just said 'Yes dear.' It was like living in a glass house with eggshell floors. We were tip-toeing around each other. That's not normal. Not for us. When I have an issue, I want the air cleared."

There was a pause as they made sappy grins at each other, remembering something. The question had to be asked. How did they get rid of the eggshells?

Dale looked at his wife, grinned, and said: "Bitch. Get me a beer!" She leapt up and reached for him. Before he could get off his chair she was on him, laughing and hugging. He also started to laugh. When they had composed themselves, he explained: "We're kinda nuts." It was 11 a.m. He didn't really want a beer. Their relationship includes a playfulness the violence-against-women camp wouldn't understand.

In September this year, things were back to normal in their home, and that meant an argument. It was a hot evening and their balcony door was open. They were being noisy and the sound was angry.

There was a knock at the door. In a flash, Dale was in handcuffs again. For reasons not explained, police took the cuffs off and told them to quiet down.

Stephanie thinks the display of discretion on the part of police was due to her impression of a woman who just couldn't take any more. It was real.

"We're being watched. You'd have ulcers, too."


 

Turning domestic violence into a religion: Inquest an epic social debate

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Friday, December 07, 2001 — It could be one of the most important inquests of our age. At the coroner's office on Toronto's Grosvenor Street, a jury is being asked to decide the causes of the deaths of Ralph and Gillian Hadley and to make recommendations that will prevent similar tragedies from occurring in the future.

It's a tall order.

Ralph and Gillian Hadley were married. She was his childhood crush, but she married — and then was divorced from — another man. Gillian had two children by her first husband and then another with Ralph. Last year, Ralph shot Gillian, then killed himself.

The first witness at the opening of the inquest on Oct. 23 was psychologist Peter Jaffe, of London, Ontario, who told the five jurors the presentation they were about to see was not made for them.

Mr. Jaffe's presentation was originally prepared to educate judges about violence against women, and he said he had just completed an extensive tour of the United States, giving his demonstration in many major centres. Mr. Jaffe's position, expressed in a slick slide show, is that domestic violence is more widespread than we know. He calls it "the best kept secret in Canada."

If this is true, then I wonder whether we are in the midst of a serious problem. But I also wonder whether domestic violence — or "DV" to the growing army of people who make their living out of fighting this blight — hasn't been turned into a religion.

To question Mr. Jaffe would be like interrupting a Billy Graham crusade by asking the evangelist to prove the contents of the Bible. Violence against women, as a concept, has taken on that kind of belief structure. You either believe Mr. Jaffe's social science conclusions or you risk being a heretic.

What is not in dispute is that on June 20, 2000, Ralph Hadley ignored a restraining order and went to their Pickering home where he murdered Gillian with a handgun, then used the gun to kill himself.

Was this act deviant? Or does it reinforce the belief that domestic violence is a male-perpetrated pathology?

I don't know the answer to these questions, but I'd like to think the best way to approach them is with an open mind.

At the Hadley inquest, and for the first time at any comparable judicial or quasi-judicial proceeding, a men's group has been granted standing. Dr. Bonita Porter, who is presiding over the inquest, made the landmark decision that a men's group just might have something to contribute.

Representing this group, called FACT (Fathers Are Capable Too) is a lawyer named Walter Fox. He hopes to show that the Hadley tragedy is not as simple as it may appear.

Does the system discriminate against men? Did the system provoke Ralph Hadley rather than help him to find a way out of his rage? Those are among the questions that Mr. Fox wants to examine.

The inquest is expected to run into the New Year, as deputy coroner Porter intends to put every detail in the lead-up to the disaster under a microscope.

The violence-against-women camp hopes the Hadley jury will make recommendations that will result in tougher legislation and more resources to protect women. The side that sees domestic violence as a human problem and not a gender issue hopes this could be the case that shows men, too, can have a breaking point.

Courts have accepted the battered wife syndrome as a defense for killing a husband. Did Gillian Hadley contribute to her own death by pushing Ralph too far? Did authorities miss the signs that Ralph was slipping over a line?

In their high school years, they were neighbours living across the street from each other. Their parents were friends. Blond and beautiful Gillian was popular and Ralph had a mile-wide crush on her. But Ralph was a bit dorky in her view and they never dated. She married young and the marriage failed, leaving her with two children, one a badly damaged three-year-old, paralysed, deaf and blind.

Finding a man willing to commit to those responsibilities would not be easy. She phoned Ralph and his dreams came true. They married in 1997.

Three years later, Ralph was back living with his parents. He and Gillian now had a son, but Ralph was under investigation by the Children's Aid Society for unexplained bruises found on Gillian's paralysed child. In eight months, CAS had not cleared the case, and while under investigation, Ralph couldn't be alone with his own son. The infant lived with Gillian in the Pickering home Ralph bought, but couldn't really afford.

Ralph was stuck in a dead-end job in a postal terminal and could see little hope. If Gillian bailed from the marriage, his court-ordered support payments would leave him barely enough for his own survival. There would be no hope of establishing a new life.

While he was adjusting to these realities, Gillian's sister visited him at his Toronto job and urged him to accompany her to Pickering. She took him to a home he was unfamiliar with. It was 10 a.m. and the front door was unlocked. Ralph followed noise to the master bedroom and walked in on his wife having sex with another man.

Ralph struck his wife. That resulted in a phone call to police, a night in jail, and a restraining order that banned him from crossing the city limits into Pickering. Friends and relatives have testified that Ralph went from being agitated to, all of a sudden, seeming surprisingly calm. What they didn't know was that he had made up his mind to end the ordeal.

There is no doubt that Ralph Hadley was over the edge. In the satchel he took with him on the morning of the murder-suicide, he had a knife, duct tape, lighter fluid, tools, surgical gloves, 13 pairs of women's underwear, a pornographic magazine and a dog collar. Attached to the collar was a wedding band engraved with the couple's wedding date. There was also a tape recording of his thoughts, which the inquest jury has now heard. His calm voice kept the courtroom in thrall. There was also the long letter he hoped would explain his actions.

In essence, Ralph wanted his son to someday believe his father had no choice but to kill his mother; that father was protecting son from an evil woman.

Ralph Hadley slipped into the house while Gillian was showering. She escaped naked, clutching the baby. Neighbours and passersby intervened and got the baby, but were forced to back away from Ralph's gun. He dragged her into the house and fired two shots.

Mr. Jaffe's four-hour lecture to the jury didn't offer psychological insights into the disaster. He treated the incident as proof of violence against women. He's a director of the London Family Court Clinic and told the jury he "trains" police, clergy, doctors, teachers and judges in matters of violence against women. His charts claimed 21 per cent of women in first world countries are physically assaulted and the figure for Canada is 29 per cent. A threat is considered an assault, and goes into his records as violence

The average woman is assaulted 35 times before she seeks help, says Mr. Jaffe. He backed up some of his claims by referring to his own published works. He has written eight books on the subject. Lawyer Walter Fox pointed out that reliable social-science conclusions have first to pass a peer-review process. Mr. Jaffe admitted much of his work has not been through that process.

Mr. Jaffe offered to the jury suggestions to prevent another death like Gillian Hadley's. What's needed, he said, are more "resources in place." The resources he advocates need more government funding. Society needs to counsel children who witness violence or they'll become bullies. Women who are victims of violence need more counselling services. Everybody seems to need more counselling.

A counterpoint to Mr. Jaffe's call for vastly expanded counselling/psychology services is a book written by psychologist Tana Dineen, of Vancouver. The title of Ms. Dineen's book is Manufacturing Victims: What the Psychology Industry is Doing to People.

Her book has been through three printings, and in the latest she quotes Sam Keen, former editor of Psychology Today, as saying it was time somebody took "a hard look at the sins of the profession." Her work is also supported by historian Ted Roszak, who is credited with inventing the term "counterculture." He called her book "an antidote for our society's spreading addiction to toxic therapy."

This is more than an inquest. It's an important debate not expected to draw conclusions until sometime early in the new year. What it is trying to resolve is: Is domestic violence an epidemic, or an isolated deviant behaviour?


 

Cult of the domestic-violence industry: Where are the great numbers of victims we hear about?

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Saturday, December 08, 2001 — There's a large poster in the guidance office at our neighborhood high school, Earl of March. "Call us if your boyfriend breaks your heart. Call us if your boyfriend breaks your jaw." There's an 800 number for the Kids Help Phone.

I have problems with that sign. It's not just making a suggestion, it's making a statement. Girlfriends get their jaws broken by their boyfriends. Everybody knows women are the victims of male violence and here's another example.

The problem with the broken jaw suggestion is it's a lie.

Bill Clarke is the guidance counsellor at Earl of March High School. The poster is about three paces from his office door. Those who claim violence against women is the best-kept secret in Canada say they get their information from "front-line workers."

Mr. Clarke is a front-line worker, but until now nobody has asked him what he's seeing and hearing. The question: In his 21 years at the Earl, a school with an annual enrolment of 1,200, how many cases does he know of in which a girl had her jaw broken by a boyfriend? Zero.

Then why the poster? "I've been waiting for reaction to it. I'll take it down if somebody asks."

I asked. He says he hears of an occasional assault between dating couples and there seems to be a gender balance among hitters. "Girls have become more aggressive."

I called the 800 number, pushed one for English, and waited six minutes and through three promises that "a counsellor will be with you shortly" before hanging up. It was 10:30 a.m. Nov. 22. A girl with a broken jaw should not have to wait that long.

A hard question in this war against violence against women is: Where are the front lines? How does responsible journalism sort facts from propaganda? The reporter's litmus test in this kind of work is to insist: Don't tell me. Show me. (Show the phone bill for that 800 line so the public can judge if it should be expanded or shut down.)

An offer to show appeared in an Oct. 12 letter to the editor from Dr. Atul Kapur. Reacting to a column in which I challenged violence orthodoxy, he showed he was a determined protector of women. In his view, I was showing "hate-filled, bilious, vile rhetoric... hyperbole, extremism and near-total ignorance... vitriolic denial" by expressing doubt.

"I will limit my response to inviting him to spend a couple of shifts with me in the emergency department of a hospital to see first-hand some of the effects of domestic violence."

His letter reminded me that, in matters of violence, hospital emergency departments are staffed by front-line workers. I put some questions to Judy Brown, media relations chief at the Ottawa Hospital.

The hospital is one of several serving a populace of about 1.4 million people. How many persons were admitted last year to the Civic campus (the only one that currently keeps such statistics) with injuries from domestic assault?

None. Not one.

In the same time, how many people were treated in the Civic's emergency department for injuries involving domestic assault? "Twenty nine." The number wasn't broken down by gender, but studies outside of the violence-against-women camp put the number of men injured in domestic disputes at one-third of the total.

In a call to Dr. Kapur, I pointed out that with numbers like this, my calculator was telling me if I wanted to see domestic violence victims in his emergency room, my odds would be almost as good standing at Bank and Sparks streets waiting to see somebody hit by lightning. He said I had the wrong statistics and offered to provide his own. I pointed out I would accept only statistics approved by the hospital.

If it were possible to spend a couple of shifts with him, what were the odds of seeing domestic bloodshed? "You would see injured women I would have concerns about, but who might not admit the cause of injuries."

Dr. Kapur left me with the impression he was a good man with a deep concern, but with a mindset that could make every injury suspect. If he was called on to treat a truly battered and broken woman who denied her partner did it, but he was certain that was the case, would he call police? "No. That would be paternalistic."

I went looking for other hospital emergency workers who would be willing to go on record with their experiences in the domestic-violence field, and found registered nurse Sue Chenard. She spent 12 years in emergency at the Riverside Hospital. "I can think of a couple of cases I was suspicious about. Two at the most. The men hovered. I could only get the women alone and ask if they needed help, but in both cases they denied they were assaulted."

Secret places are anathema to a free and open society, and dangerous. The statistics that tell us women are being violently abused in great numbers in secret are coming from places that are closed to public overview, such as shelters, crisis centres and hotlines. My job is overview. I'm left asking questions.

How is it that where the "front-line workers" are open to approach there's not a whiff of the great numbers emanating from shelters? How is it that, with the lines of communication I have developed into the community after 35 years of writing a city column, not one of them signals a secret epidemic of violence?

The media has to accept much of the responsibility for turning unsubstantiated statistics into facts but, like everybody else, we're caught in confusing battle lines. How can high-profile corporations say no to buying a table at a fund-raiser when the promotion says it's to protect women from violence? Newspapers, including the Citizen, buy tables at these events, giving them legitimacy through financial support and the corporate name on the table.

Often, awards will be handed out to persons deemed to have contributed much to the war against violence against women. The award winners appear in news stories. The litmus test hasn't been applied. What did they do to win such honour? Don't tell us. Show us. Those honours when they appear in the news are the same as the poster in the high school. They say: Everybody knows women are being violated; there's no need to explain.

There is in every one of us a trigger that fires when we think there's even a remote chance a woman is being battered by a man. By playing to that trigger the violence-against-women movement continues to grow and takes on the characteristics of a cult. For example, women entering a shelter must sign a secrecy agreement that they will not divulge what they see and hear inside.

The Ontario government has committed additional millions over the next year to the protection cause. Leaders want the wholesale battering of women to stop and that's a noble thing to do — but first confirm the problem exists and has been properly framed.

Domestic violence courts violate the Charter rights of half the population — the male half. No presumption of innocence here. As shown earlier in this series, protocols are in place so police respond to domestic calls with orders to arrest the man. From that point, the couple can't reconcile unless he pleads guilty to the criminal charge of domestic violence. They can't even talk to each other because an automatic restraining order is part of the protocol. Plead guilty or you can't go home.

The Ontario government has committed to opening more DV courts during the next year.

There's little reaction to this spreading anti-violence net because people assume it won't fall over them. It's happening to 120 families a month in the capital.

I want to be clear. There are cases in which a man is getting what he deserves. But criminal courts, not political courts, should be dealing with him.

The Ontario government now spends $145 million a year on programs associated with preventing domestic violence and punishing its perpetrators, and the budget keeps rising. Then there's tax-funded contributions at the municipal level, and the millions of dollars raised through charities like the United Way and others.

Hey, I'm prepared to make a donation myself if it will help eradicate domestic violence. But when the lobbyists for the domestic-violence industry tell me that this social problem is not an aberration but rather an epidemic, and won't let me check it out, I'm not prepared to take it as an article of faith.

I reserve the right to ask questions.

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Last modified 10/7/16