From: R.J.Whiston <email@example.com>
To: a Ivor Catt <Ivorcatt@electromagnetism.demon.co.uk>
Subject: Fw: POST: D.LAFRAMBOISE: "Domestic violence isn't a gender issue"
Date: 18 July 2001 13:14
From: Nick Kovats <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: ffk <email@example.com>
Cc: ffk <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 18 July 2001 12:50
Subject: FFK: POST: D.LAFRAMBOISE: "Domestic violence isn't a gender issue"
July 18, 2001
"Domestic violence isn't a gender issue"
By Donna Laframboise
Last summer, central Canada spent several weeks wringing its hands over domestic violence after a man from Pickering, Ont., murdered his estranged spouse before committing suicide, and a man from Kitchener, Ont., killed his four children, his wife, and then himself.
This year, the domestic crime wave looks somewhat different. In late June, Andrea Yates of Houston confessed to systematically drowning her five children, aged six months to seven years, in the bathtub.
And now, in Toronto, police have charged a woman in connection with an alleged double murder and attempted suicide involving a three-year-old boy, a five-year-old girl, and their mother.
Yet even though these children are all alleged to have died at the hands of a parent, no one is using the term "domestic violence" to talk about their demise.
Radio station phone lines aren't lighting up with people condemning anti-domestic-violence programs as inadequate. Governments, police and the courts aren't being accused of doing too little to protect the vulnerable. No one is asking how many more innocent children have to die before these offences receive proper attention. The term "child abuse" is also noticeably absent from the discussion. We aren't being inundated with statistics telling us how many children are killed by their parents -- particularly mothers -- each year.
Why? Here's my theory. Because violence against women has received truckloads of exposure in recent decades, whenever we hear about a murder committed by a man against someone he's related to, we reflexively slot the incident into the violence-against-women framework. In this way, the latest news becomes familiar, recognizable and, to some extent, explainable.
The downside is that our habit of categorizing news events in this way can blind us to actual facts. Last year's Kitchener case is a good example. While early media reports mentioned the man's history of mental illness, it was the domestic violence aspect of the story that received the bulk of the attention.
When a coroner's jury reported on the tragedy in January, however, it declared mental illness the issue. After hearing the murderer had stopped taking his medication and may well have lost contact with reality by the time he killed his family, the jury recommended increased public education campaigns regarding mental illness and more funding for organizations that attempt to help people cope with these disabilities.
Where mothers are said to have murdered their kids, most of us haven't heard about them 100 or 200 times already. Since police departments, universities and public libraries don't distribute pamphlets about child abuse with the same single-mindedness that they disseminate literature on violence against women, this social problem hasn't permeated our brains as deeply.
We also seem prone to a kind of collective amnesia. We've apparently all but forgotten about Susan Smith, the South Carolina woman who drowned her two sons in a lake in 1994. We've forgotten about Marybeth Tinning, the New York state woman whose eight offspring died early deaths one after another, until people stopped blaming Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and convicted her of murder.
We've forgotten about Diane Yano, the Calgary woman who was found not criminally responsible by reason of a mental disorder in 1999, after she drowned her five-year-old daughter and three-year-old son in the bathtub of a timeshare condo.
Until we recognize that mothers who pose a danger to their children are part of a pattern of their own -- and are not nearly as rare as we'd like to believe -- other innocent youngsters will continue to be destroyed.
Most women cherish their children and strive to be good mothers. But some are mentally unstable, some suffer from addictions, some are intellectually deficient and others are cruelly unfeeling. Being a mother is, among other things, about wielding enormous power over other human beings.
When our society starts to carry on forthright conversations about the power aspect of motherhood, we will have taken one giant step forward. We will have laid aside the angelic, sentimental, old-fashioned view of mothers and recognized that they are no less -- and no more -- than fully human.
Copyright © 2001 National Post Online
National Post Online is a Hollinger / CanWest Publication.