Spousal abuse is a two-way street
Monday, August 30, 2004
Irwin Cotler, the Justice Minister, has announced that the federal
government will soon unveil new legislation aimed at reducing spousal
abuse. It is welcome news. But in implementing the initiative, we hope
Mr. Cotler takes a broader view of the problem than his pronouncements
thus far would indicate.
It is a "top priority for his department," the Justice Minister
to "protect [against] violence against women." He also calls
violence a violation of women's human rights.
But, stereotypes notwithstanding, domestic violence is not just about
men attacking their wives and partners. Though Justice bureaucrats,
the administrators of shelters and others in the abuse industry may
argue otherwise, abuse can go both ways.
This is not to say women attacking men represents a problem on the
same magnitude as men attacking women. Men are generally larger,
stronger and more aggressive than women -- and so are far more likely
to hurt their victim when they perpetrate domestic violence. Indeed,
studies show male abusers are responsible for two to five times as
many injuries requiring medical treatment or time off work (though it
is also true that men may, in many situations, be less likely to
report battery by a female). But these same studies show that up to
the point of injury, men and women are equally likely to initiate
abuse. Assault is assault, whether it results in injury or not.
Regrettably, violence begets violence. So even if an episode begins
with female-on-male aggression, the man may be the one who ends it
with a strong blow to his wife or girlfriend. Any legislation that
does not recognize this dynamic by targeting aggressive male and
female behaviour equally will fail to get at the root of the problem.
Unfortunately, it has become a mantra of progressive liberal culture
that, where domestic violence is concerned, women are always the
victims, men the villains. The Justice Department is well steeped in
this mantra, as reflected by Mr. Cotler's claim that spousal abuse is
a human rights violation against women -- rather than what it truly
is: a criminal act perpetrated by individuals.
This blind spot is hardly isolated. Over a wide swath of family law
matters, the Justice Department's legal and policy draftsmen have
demonstrated a strong bias against men. They have succeeded, for
instance, in enforcing feminist sensitivity training for all federal
judges and in transferring tax liability for child support from the
mothers who receive it to the fathers who have to pay it.
In addition, bureaucrats in Mr. Cotler's department refused to
consider codifying shared parenting in custody law, and routinely view
the failure of fathers to pay child support as a greater offence than
the refusal of mothers to permit fathers visits with estranged children.
Mr. Cotler has not yet announced the details of his anti-spousal abuse
package -- and he may yet surprise us. With this in mind, we would
urge him to reconsider Justice Department dogma in this area. Spousal
abuse is a serious social problem. The government must craft a
strategy that helps all its victims, not just those who happen to be