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Quashing protest sends wrong message to kids

It has been 23 years to the day since 14 women were murdered on the campus of a Montreal engineering school. It was then, and still is, the worst single act of violence against women to occur in Canada. The perpetrator, a man with a gun, separated the women from the men and shot the women. He said he was killing them because he hated feminists and feminism.
There have been other atrocities. Robert Pickton killed at least 26 women on his farm outside Vancouver. Possibly as many as 50. Not all at once, like in Montreal. He spread the carnage over several years from about 1997 to 2001.
There are thousands of other women who suffer violent, and often fatal, injuries. Many of them live right here in Guelph. There is one significant difference between them and those who died in Montreal or on Pickton’s pig farm. They thought they were in love with the men who beat them. Statistics show that most violence against women is inflicted by a spouse or boyfriend.
In May of this year, Statistics Canada released a report on domestic violence. It analyzes data from 2010. The good news is that shining a light on the problem seems to be helping. The rate of family homicide in 2010 was 41 per cent lower than in 1980. The bad news is that intimate partner violence is still a serious problem. Based on police information, Statscan reported that in 2010 “there were over 102,500 victims of intimate partner violence, including spousal and dating violence.”
Clearly, there is still a lot to be done. The volume of fatalities, serious physical injuries, and emotional and psychological trauma indicates there is still a war against women raging in our country. It is up to men to put an end to it.
I was reading through the Statistics Canada report on the same day as I read a news report about a spontaneous protest organized by students at Paisley Road school. Unhappy about losing their pizza days, about 300 primary school children made some signs and spent a lunch break marching around the school yard. They wanted their voice to be heard in the ongoing dispute between the provincial government, the school board and the elementary school teachers’ union. When they tried to extend the protest into a second day, they were threatened with suspension.
The StatsCan report contains this disturbing fact: “Findings from the 2009 General Social Survey (GSS) indicate that spousal victims were more likely than other victims to be first victimized as a child. This was true for spousal victims of physical and sexual assault.”
I am not for a moment suggesting that the Paisley Road protesters are being abused at home, although the laws of probability say that some of them are. What they heard from those in authority was that their behaviour was inappropriate for their age and status. If they don’t stop, they were told, they will be punished. Isn’t this the same message an abused wife receives from her husband, or a cowering child from a bullying parent?
If we are ever going to end the cycle of violence, we must teach our children how to stand up for themselves, and how to say no. Teachers and parents should provide children with effective assertiveness training. Show them how and when to question authority. The lessons learned will give them the tools they need to protect themselves as they move through their teenage and adult lives.
You don’t teach a child to stand up for herself if your first reaction is to push her down.

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