On December 6, 1989, fourteen female engineering students were murdered at school in Montreal. They were murdered because they were women and their murders were extreme acts of gender based violence.
Just last week, on December 1, 2016, a Toronto doctor was murdered by her physician husband. Someone posted something on facebook, commenting that this murderer must be “sick,” or “mentally ill,” and I was angry.
Violence against women, domestic violence, and gender based violence that escalates to femicide is not caused by seriously mentally ill men. That’s a myth and it’s a dangerous one which overlooks the very real structural and societal causes of violence against women. Causes such as patriarchy, rape culture, poverty, racism, sexism, homophobia and other types of oppression and inequality that impact women and gender non-conforming folks. Mentally ill and other folks with disabilities are far more likely to be the victims of violent crime than the perpetrators of it.
Tomorrow night I will be attending a vigil to remember those women and gender non-conforming folks who have lost their lives as result of gender based violence. In particular, the victims of the Montreal massacre.
So many times over the past few years, when I’ve heard news stories about domestic violence escalating to murder, I’ve thought to myself: that could be me. That could be me. What makes me different from those women? What is it that made that particular man, escalate his violence in that particular way, on that day? Statistics show that women are most at risk of being killed around the time when they are planning to leave the perpetrator, or just after leaving. I often wonder what would it take to make my ex snap? What does it take for someone to cross a line between sexual assault, and murder? How thin is that line? How safe am I really?
I could be that woman. I am that woman.
Truth be told, a lot of us could be that woman. And that’s not a reality that many of us want to face. Instead we talk about how the murderer must be seriously mentally ill, a crazy person, someone that must be fundamentally different from us, different from our neighbour, our doctor, our religious leader, our school teachers, our lawyers, our engineers and our bankers. We think of the victims as misfits, as street folks, addicts, people who are “different” or somehow to blame.
But the honest truth is that the victims of domestic violence are all around us. They are you, they are me and they didn’t do anything to provoke the violence.
The perpetrators are all around us too. They are sitting next to you in the cubicle beside you at work, they just served you at the restaurant you ate lunch at.
Gender based violence is everywhere and we all have a responsibility to look for the signs, see the signs, believe survivors, speak out, speak up, ask questions, don’t turn our backs on it and remember those who have lost their lives. Remember them tomorrow on December 6th, say the names of those who have lost their lives, and remember them every day.
I would also like to remember my friends who have not survived their battles with PTSD due to gender based sexual violence. Suicide as a direct result of PTSD that was caused by repeated and horrific sexual assault is akin to slow murder by the perpetrator. My friends were some of the bravest people I have ever known and they were survivors even though they did not survive.
On December 6th, I will remember you.
The 14 women murdered at l’École Polytechnique de Montréal were:
Barbara Klucznik Widajewicz