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It's time to end gendered violence to empower women and girls

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In the winter of 2005 I was 17 months into my separation and trying desperately to get a court date so I could divorce my husband and return to my children. I was living at my girlfriend's mother's home while my children stayed in the matrimonial home with their father.

A temporary order stated that I was to have the children every other weekend until the matter was settled. That order included instructions for the exchange of vehicles. Since we had a Windstar van and a Ford Focus whoever had our five children had the use of the van.

One Sunday evening at 7 p.m. I returned the children and the van to their father. It was a very cold and dark night and I distinctly remember putting the key into the ignition of the Focus and when I turned it over Sting blasted out; "Every breath you take, Every move you make, Every bond you break, Every step you take, I’ll be watching you." 

No, I had not left this CD in the player. My husband had strategically positioned this song to let me know that he was in control of my situation. At that moment I realized this was a stalker song.  A song with a catchy tune that professed obsession, power and control but not love.

I continued to persevere through the separation including the exchange of kids and cars until the summer of 2006.  After a 19-day divorce trial, Justice Kenneth Langdon awarded me sole custody of my children and exclusive possession of the matrimonial home.  At that point my ex-husband asked a neighbour to keep him informed of what I was doing, who was coming to my home, when I got rid of things from the house or garage -- in other words, my neighbour was now stalking me. I refer to this as vicarious stalking, a pasttime like-minded abusive men are more than happy to engage in. 

Somehow I naively hoped things would be different by the time my children grew up, but nine years later they're not.  Women still live in a culture of fear and inequality. Some boys and men still believe that girls and women are less than their equal to be used, abused and discarded at their whim. Should a girl or woman dare to think that she could possibly refuse to go out with a man, or even consider ending a relationship that no longer works for her, then abusive men shift into high gear. This often includes the crime of stalking or criminal harassment.  

During the summer my daughters jog together. They prefer to run after dark something I'm not all together comfortable with, but since they stay together I have a slightly better feeling about it. I ask them to change up their route every few evenings and they do. However, it seems my own street is the source of discomfort for these young women.

Over the past few summers we have had to endure the "garage guys." Four middle aged men who hang out in each other's garages on a nightly basis to drink beer, smoke, swear and otherwise be loud and obnoxious. Some of the guys have taken to decorating their man caves with Confederate flags and neon beer signs. But, it's their routine of walking to the sidewalk to stand and glare at my daughters as they begin their nightly run and again while these young women do a cool down walk that is most disturbing. 

Whether these men pose a threat to my children is not the point.  Their actions send a clear message to their own wives, daughters, sons as well as the neighbourhood at large, that men have the innate right to mistreat and intimidate women.  It doesn't matter if it's covert or overt, violence against women is simply wrong.

 

Versions of this article originally appeared in Raise the Hammer (Nov.19, 2014) and the Hamilton Spectator (Nov. 22, 2014) to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (Nov. 25).  Readers were encouraged to wear purple that day as a show of solidarity to eradicate all forms of gendered violence.

So far, this summer the garage guys have kept a low profile.

 

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