Where have the women gone?

Women murdered by their partners or former partners are all too often disappeared from the story as it is covered by the media. Neighbours are asked what they think and, inevitably, we hear that the man was a great guy, that he always put out the elderly widow’s compost bin, that he shovelled the neighbour’s driveway while the family was away on vacation, that he treated his dog well.

I will never forget the media attention, in 2010, to the important fact that Russell Williams, convicted late that year of two counts of first degree murder (of women), numerous sexual assaults, forcible confinement and break and enter, ensured that he removed all the frogs from his lawn before he cut the grass.

More recently, media coverage of the December 2016 murder of Dr. Elana Fric, a family physician in Scarborough, (allegedly) by her husband, also a doctor, focused on him rather than on her. In the early days after the murder, we learned a lot about his academic background and the impact his arrest would have on his work and his patients. We did not read or see similar articles about the gap left behind by her death. )

Just a few weeks after Elana Fric’s murder, Lionel Desmond killed his wife Shanna, their daughter Aaliyah and his mother Brenda, before killing himself. Desmond was a veteran of the Afghanistan war and, by all accounts, suffered from severe PTSD for which he was unable to get proper attention. There can be little doubt that he was a deeply anguished man who deserved far better treatment from the government that sent him off to war.

However, as Elizabeth Renzetti wrote in the Globe and Mail on January 6, 2017:

“A narrative has sprung up that almost entirely erases the three victims of his crime. . . . to place the blame for his crime solely at the feet of PTSD does a disservice both to the veterans who suffer mental anguish without resorting to violence and to the victims of domestic violence who are harmed or killed at the hands of partners.”

She goes on to comment about domestic homicide more generally that “in death, these women killed by their spouses lose their identities. They are reduced to mere casualties in someone else’s violent narrative, doubly victimized for all time.”

It is time for this to stop. As we work to end violence against women, so one day there will be no more Elanas, Shannas, Aaliyahs and Brendas, let us also all on the media to acknowledge its role in how these stories become told and understood. A good place to start would be to sign the petition set up after Elana Fric’s murder.


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