What is not in Oppal’s Report

Dec 17, 2012

In spite of the many witnesses, documents, and days of hearings, the 1,500 pages of the final report of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry will not advance women’s equality.

Shutting out women’s equality groups – the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) and the provincial Women’s Equality and Security Coalition (WESC) – from the Missing Women Inquiry eliminated the feminist analysis of violence against women including prostitution, government's responsibility for women’s poverty and therefore to their vulnerability to violent men, and the criminal justice system’s failures to protect all women from all forms of male violence.

As a consequence it is predictable that Oppal’s conclusions in the report will be short-sighted and will not address the root causes of prostitution:

99% of the world’s wealth is in the hands of men. This unchallengeable fact exhibits women’s inequality in general and women’s economic inferiority in particular. The economic power that men as a class have over women as a class is mirrored in the relationship between the individual man and the individual woman.

Most men have more money than their wives. Most women can’t earn enough on their own to provide for the basic needs of their kids. Many abusive men withhold financial support of their children as an effective way to punish their wives when they dare to leave. Although a woman who leaves an abusive partner is entitled to income assistance, her allowance is not enough for the basic necessities such as housing and food (let alone adequate housing and nutritious food).  Too often, she will have to return to her abusive husband, or will be forced to stay with him to begin with, because what she gets from the Provincial system is far from being sufficient for herself and her children.

Dictionaries define welfare as “well-being”, “happiness” and “safety” of a person or a group. Wikipedia defines welfare as “the provision of a minimal level of well-being and social support for all citizens.” Promising definitions by all mean. Alas, in British Columbia, under the leadership of the neo-liberal government, the current welfare system has nothing to do with the well-being of its recipients. On the contrary, it is a tyrannical system that manages and controls the poor while refusing to provide for their most basic needs.

Women are driven to prostitution and stay entrapped in prostitution because violence and poverty. The man, the ‘john,’ has money—money that she doesn’t have but needs for her survival. Her ‘consent’ to the sexual act is coerced because she is desperate for money. Coerced consent is a key principle for understanding and defining rape. Prostitution is a paid rape.  It is not coincidental that so many johns commit other acts of violence against prostituted women. Paying for the use of her body dehumanizes her, reduces her to a commodity, to an object that he can use in whatever way he wishes to. By refusing to alleviate women’s poverty, Canada and British Columbia are directly responsible for women’s vulnerability to prostitution and other forms of male violence.

Although the heart of the Missing Women’s Inquiry was police indifference to the lives of the prostituted women from the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, there was no reference to the fact that police fail to respond to all cases of male violence against women, including wife battering and rape. Many women that are prostituted are incested, raped and beaten before they are prostituted. We examined calls to Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter’s crisis line in one month. Out of 115 women, 17 called the police, yet only in one case was the man charged and convicted. A roundtable conversation among front-line anti-violence workers held at the Montreal Massacre Memorial on December 1, 2012 concluded that, sadly, there is little to no justice for women who are victims of male violence in the Provincial Criminal Justice System. More often than not police will not arrest battering men, will falsely inform women that it’s up to her and not to the police if the case will go forward. When police respond to reports of wife battery they conclude that it was a mutual fight and in extreme examples, they even arrest the woman for her attempt to defend herself. In most rape cases, the police do not conduct a thorough investigation yet are quick to decide that there is not enough evidence to bring the case forward. In all cases of violence against women Crown will, more often than not, stay proceeding or drop the charges without revealing how prosecutorial discretion factored into their decision. In relation to prostitution, the police have refused to uphold prostitution laws by arresting johns and pimps for the offenses of communicating, being found in a bawdy house, or living off the avails of prostitution. They do nothing to prevent men from sexually exploiting and profiting from women’s bodies.  At the end of the day most violent men will never go before a judge and will never be held accountable by the criminal justice system.

Violence against women is an expression and reinforcement of women’s inequality. Individual men are committing this violence but it is the government’s responsibility to prevent women’s vulnerability to men’s violence and to stop violent men from attacking women.  

The Missing Women Inquiry – in its process and its outcome  made the crucial mistake of excluding equality-seeking women’s groups. In doing so, the Inquiry undermines and interferes with the feminist fight for the security, equality and liberty of all women.  

Hilla Kerner

For the collective of Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter

French: Ce qu’on ne lira pas dans le rapport Oppal