Toronto Star

June 22, 2000

Paper shield no defence against rage and a gun

By Jim Coyle
Toronto Star Durham Region Bureau Chief

IT HARDLY seems possible they could grow more ghastly, these slaughters of women by former mates. But they do.

A woman runs naked into a Pickering street, a babe in arms, screaming for help. She passes the child to safety, but becomes the object of a tug-of-war between would-be rescuers and her estranged husband.

The drawing of a gun (as it usually will) decides the struggle. The woman is pulled inside, and moments later two are dead.

The murder Tuesday of Gillian Hadley is a horror made all the more obscene by the terror and degradation of her final moments, and by the fact it seems to have been less a crime of passion than an execution.

Her murder is all the more agonizing for the near-miss of its prevention, and by the fact she seems to have done all she could to protect herself in the face of repeated threats - and was failed by the system.

Hours after her murder, a representative from Interval House, a shelter for abused women, was interviewed on television, and there was something striking in her demeanour. Perhaps it was shock. But there seemed a sense more of resignation than of rage about her; an admission, perhaps, that under current social and legal circumstances, such things are inevitable.

When asked what could help prevent such killings, the woman's answers were prompt and succinct. Incarceration, she said, for those threatening violence. And education, she said, for all young boys.

But it was as if she had said the words many times before, as if she held out little hope they would have any more impact this time than previously.

As I listened, I wondered why it is we take some threats more seriously than others.

Try saying ``hijack'' out loud in an airport and see how quickly you are dealt with. Yet a man, evidently, can make repeated threats to an estranged wife and have nothing thrown at him but paper.

As to the need for education, it does seem that for all the social change of recent decades, the glorification of violence and objectification of women are as prevalent as ever.

In his new book The Beast Within: Why Men are Violent, Simon Fraser University criminologist Neil Boyd says:

``It is small wonder that male violence remains a major social problem when millions of dollars are spent annually implicitly endorsing violent behaviour. It is bad enough that sex differences, testosterone, size, speed and strength, our genes and our evolutionary history have already combined to make men more likely to inflict pain on other human beings. Now, this violence is endorsed on our playing fields, in our stadiums, and on television and movie screens every day of the week.''

The best strategy, Boyd said, is ``to speak out against male violence in the home, in the community, and in the classroom.

``Education remains the most legitimate and hopeful strategy for responding to this complex problem.''

To be sure, there's increasing awareness that what masquerades as ardent love is sometimes a wish for power and control. Jealousy, possessiveness, a wish to isolate, accusations, interrogations, over-reactions are often the warning signs. To be sure, there's far less expectation now than in the past that women remain in violent relationships.

They're told to call police, to contact domestic violence agencies, to find safe places to go. They're urged to apply for restraining orders.

Tellingly, however, the advice in books and pamphlets often ends there. It doesn't say what to do when the restraining orders don't work. It doesn't because there is a horrible reality.

When somebody is willing to spend their life to end yours, and when that somebody can get their hands on a gun, there may be nothing anyone can do to stop them.

Jim Coyle's column usually appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

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