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This article was published 1/2/2019 (596 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
They were killed in their homes, mostly, in the very places they should have felt the most safe. They were killed by blows from fists, or sharp objects — blows in most cases dealt by men they knew, men they once or even still loved.
These are our lost sisters, and daughters, and mothers. Some died in the suburbs of Winnipeg; others where they lived in remote First Nations. They ranged in age from 15 to 57. More than half of these women taken were Indigenous.
Yet in the commonalities among these deaths, the sum total of their suffering, a tragic picture emerges. Thirteen women were confirmed as homicide victims in Manitoba in 2018, a rate of 1.94 per 100,000 women and girls in the province.
This, according to a new national report, is the second-highest femicide rate of all Canadian provinces. Only New Brunswick, and the territories of Nunavut and Yukon, had higher rates. Next door in Saskatchewan — a closer comparable to our province than many other regions — the femicide rate is slightly more than half that of Manitoba’s.
The big picture is missing information. In the report, released this week by the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability (CFOJA), six of Manitoba’s 2018 female homicide victims are listed only as "name not released."
This fact should be noted, for the record. Of the 148 women and girls lost to violence in Canada in 2018, only 16 did not have their names released; Manitoba is highly overrepresented in its number of publicly unnamed victims. Why?
That’s nearly half the women killed last year in Manitoba, their stories slipped out of the broad public record. News coverage of their deaths is sparse, limited mostly to rehashes of the scant details from the official RCMP releases.
Without knowing their names, or their stories, they are known to us only as numbers, as data points to be gathered. Anonymous, unmentioned, they are soon forgotten by the broader public — though never by those who loved them.
Maybe it’s easier to look away, to forget, to not ask too many questions. Maybe it’s easier to shake off a headline when it doesn’t have a life story attached. Maybe it helps us believe the violence isn’t as bad in Manitoba as it is.
And this forgetting is telling, considering how transfixed our culture can be by women’s violent deaths.
This week, one of the top Netflix hits is The Ted Bundy Tapes, a lurid documentary series about the serial killer who confessed to murdering at least 30 women in the 1970s. Based partly on recorded interviews he gave to a journalist in 1980, the four-hour series has nothing particularly new to say about Bundy or his crimes.
Bundy was put to death in the electric chair in 1989, and some call that justice. But maybe the most justice society could have dealt was for his name to be forgotten, for the victims’ memories to endure without him, for their faces to no longer be broadcast next to the leering smirk of the man who slayed them.
This is never how it goes, though. Serial killers tend to get the infamy they so often crave; the very enormity of their violence feeds a thriving true-crime cottage industry. This won’t be the last time Bundy’s name resurfaces in our pop culture, dredging the names of his victims up with him, teaching a whole new generation of his crimes.
This is how we learn to order the threats of world, to be afraid of strangers, to fear what lurks in the dark.
Yet the very popularity of these stories often subverts and conceals the truth: that it is rarely the monster in the night that steals women’s lives. It is rarely the Bundy, the Ripper, the Golden State Killer; only one in four Canadian women who died to violence in 2018 were killed by a stranger, and those were not serial.
It’s less often the shadow creeping through the window that kills us. More often the one with a key to the front door.
That is echoed in the findings of the newly released CFOJA report, and there are more to come: the organization is currently collecting data on femicide in Canada from 2017 and ‘16. Chances are, when those years’ findings are out later this year, the overall trends will look much the same.
Underneath this data is incredible pain and sadness. But maybe, in gathering these facts and understanding what they are telling us, there is a grim sort of purpose. Not a hope, exactly — "hope" would be the wrong word, in this context — but at least a direction, a map of what must be understood.
After all, it’s hard to prevent serial killers entirely. Sometimes — as seen in cases like Robert Pickton — police errors and social bias conspire to prevent them from being caught quickly, once they’ve started. But preventing a cold and intentional killer from starting, well, that is a tricky thing indeed.
Yet what reports like this consistently show is that the factors behind the majority of murders of women and girls are more mundane, more everyday, more obvious. Domestic violence is the largest such issue, often long-standing and requiring police intervention, before it eventually explodes to become fatal.
Access to firearms plays a role in how women and girls are murdered. So do poverty and social marginalization, which leave women with few options to seek safety. So do addiction and social trauma, which can create environments where women are vulnerable to abuse and predation.
These are all difficult problems, but they are not unfixable. We can build better supports to help women escape intimate-partner violence safely, before it escalates to murder. We can address underpinning social strife that pushes too many women to the fringes. We can give women ways to build safety.
It’s long past time to get started. Last year, the report’s authors noted, one woman or girl was killed in Canada roughly every 2.5 days. That rate, they added, has been consistent for the past four decades — a problem that has remained seemingly intractable, even while so much else in this country changed around it.
We can do better. The history of violence against women and girls in this country need not also be its future. For the women of this year and next, and for the generations of girls growing up and those yet to come, we must look at the facts in the harsh light of day, and from there, learn what is next to be done.
Melissa Martin reports and opines for the Winnipeg Free Press.
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