Another disappearing woman

Like thousands of Canadians, I followed the story in mid-September of Louka Fredette, the missing six-year-old boy who was believed to be in the company of his father, Ugo Fredette. An Amber Alert was issued, first in Quebec and then nationally, as authorities searched for him.

Louka was found, apparently physically safe, 24 hours later, his father was taken into custody and, a few days later after he came out of a coma brought on by an apparent suicide attempt, charged.

Some hours after the first news stories broke on September 14th, we heard that “a woman” had been found dead in a house in Ste Eustache, Quebec, in what police believed was an event related to the kidnapping of Louka. After the child was found in eastern Ontario on September 15th and his father taken into custody, we learned that the woman’s name was Veronique Barbe, that she was Louka’s mother and that she and Fredette had been in a relationship.

Fredette is now charged with second-degree murder in relation to Barbe’s killing. He is also suspected in the death of 71-year-old Yvan Lacasse, whose car Fredette was driving when he was arrested, although he has yet to be charged with that.

The missing mother

I have struggled for several days about whether or not to write this piece, because I don’t want my comments to be misunderstood as not caring about Louka Fredette for the 24 hours he was missing. Please be assured that is not the case.

However, like a number of my colleagues in the violence against women world, I was struck by how, yet again, the coverage of a story about violence against women managed to disappear the woman from the plot, at least for a period of time.

Because, make no mistake about it, despite the initial focus on the missing child, this is a story about violence against women.

That story began to emerge in news coverage after Louka was found: apparently Fredette had moved out of the home he had shared with Barbe some months ago, but he still came to the house frequently.

There were reports from the neighbours that they often saw “the couple fighting.”

Barbe’s brother told a reporter that his sister’s doctor had advised her to leave the relationship based on what she had shared about Fredette.

Take away the family violence element and there would likely have been no kidnapping. Men who want to see their children, no matter how desperately, do not kill the mother of those children and kidnap the children unless there is a background of abuse and violence perpetrated by them.

This is not a critique of the media for focussing on the missing child aspect of the story: that was critically important in assisting the police to find him, fortunately before his father could harm him anymore than he already had by (allegedly) killing his mother and then embarking on what must have been, to a child, a terrifyingly confusing 24-hour journey.

Rather, I want to urge the media to make sure that violence against women appears in these stories from the beginning so those who follow them learn more about just how deadly the need for some men for coercive control over their partners can be.

For me, the way society looks at violence against women in the family is summed up in the rather unfortunate comments by the Surete du Quebec spokesperson when Louka was found:

“Happily, we had the ending that everyone hoped for.”

Really? This is the ending we all hoped for? Certainly, we were happy that Louka was found, apparently with no physical harm done to him, but how can this be a happy ending when his mother is dead and his father is in jail charged with killing her?

How can any ending that includes a dead woman, apparently at the hands of her partner, be the one any of us was hoping for?

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