When the agressor becomes the victim

The man threw the woman down and kicked her in the ribs, knocking the wind out of her. Then he reached down and started choking her. Pinned on the ground, struggling to breathe, the woman managed to grab a rock and hit her assailant on the head.

The man threw the woman down and kicked her in the ribs, knocking the wind out of her.

Then he reached down and started choking her.

Pinned on the ground, struggling to breathe, the woman managed to grab a rock and hit her assailant on the head.

He immediately called the RCMP because his head was bleeding.

The woman, still gasping for air, got up.

She had no visible wounds.

By the time she could breathe again, she was angry.

She’d been trying to manage the oppression and assault for years, and couldn’t stand it anymore.

The police responded and found the woman was aggressive – because she was furious.

The RCMP saw the man holding his head – he’d calmed down, and got things together.

The police didn’t know the woman had been beaten many times.

And they didn’t look closely at her neck, where little purple marks were forming – subtle reminders of the choking.

The woman was charged with assault.

The man was sent to victim services.
“We’ve seen more and more of these cases in the past eight months,” said Kaushee’s Place executive director Barbara McInerney, whose organization houses battered, abused women and their children.
“Women who have been abused several times in the past are suddenly being charged for assault.”

It’s been especially bad this summer, she said.
“And I’ve talked to other government departments – they’re seeing it too.”

Sometimes RCMP will arrive on the scene and both parties will have wounds and both will say they’ve been victimized, said McInerney.
“And it’s really important to offer a lot of training to the RCMP and the Crown so they’re able to define who the primary aggressor is.”

Alberta’s Justice Department has created a Domestic Violence Handbook, for police and Crown prosecutors in the province.

The handbook “outlines the complexities and important issues for police … in domestic violence cases,” says its introduction.
“And police should engage in joint training and education programs that seek to improve the level of understanding of what is needed to successfully prosecute a domestic violence case.”

But that does not seem to be happening in the Yukon, said McInerney.

Police, responding to reports of domestic violence, should look at “who has the defence wounds, who has calculated wounds, whether there have ever been other reports of domestic violence, and who has most of the power in the situation, financially, emotionally, and maybe property-wise,” she said.
“You have to be able to look closely and have to be able to assess that.
“But that training is lacking here.”

At first, police spokesman Don Rogers was not sure if Yukon RCMP had any domestic violence training.
“I got my training in Alberta,” he said on Friday.

Rogers remembers the three-day workshop well.

There was a woman brought in to talk with police about the death of her child. Her husband had killed the infant after he was given custody.
“There wasn’t a dry eye in the place,” said Rogers.

He was also familiar with cases where the woman, after being kicked and choked, is irate, while the man, bleeding from the head, is calmly claiming he was abused.
“I’ve been to exactly that scenario,” said Rogers.
“What you see isn’t always reality.
“You have to look for the primary aggressor.”

Rogers’ Alberta training is valuable.
“In the Yukon it seems like we’re not as well trained, maybe because we have a lot of new recruits,” said McInerney.
“I’m not an expert with frontline police work, but from what I’m seeing with the inappropriate charging, I could come to that assumption.”

On Tuesday, after looking into it, Rogers confirmed that Yukon RCMP do have a policy similar to Alberta’s.
“All members are required to complete the Yukon Territorial Family Violence Prevention Act/Domestic Violence Treatment Option Court training,” he said in an e-mail.
“Part of that training deals specifically with identifying who the primary aggressor is and who is the victim.
“Members are instructed to be cognizant of an argument of mutual aggression and to fully investigate to determine what happened, who is most vulnerable and who, if anyone, should be arrested.”

Investigators also “consider all the circumstances, including allegations of mutual aggression, history, and pattern of abuse in a relationship,” he wrote.

The training is an ongoing continuous process, wrote Rogers. “It is covered in both classroom and scenario-based training.
“When the member gets to their posting in whatever province, then they complete the required training, which can consist of many different components, from interactive DVDs, classroom learning, workshops, policy reviews and, most importantly, through the cadet field coaching program.
“Members such as myself who transfer in from different jurisdictions bring their learned knowledge with them and then update themselves with the local policies and procedures.” 

But the policy is not public.
“For the actual full policy you would be required to make an (access to information) request,” said Rogers.

Alberta’s policy is available online.

The Yukon is the only jurisdiction in Canada without a victims of crime act, added McInerney.

The territorial government is in the process of drafting one.

But it may not help all victims, said McInerney, who’s part of the advisory group for the victims of crime strategy.

The first draft of the new act includes a section stating that victims will be given information about the offender’s whereabouts.

On paper, that sounds good, said McInerney. It makes sense to let the victim know where their aggressor is.
“But when you start working with it on the ground and looking at how people respond to violence and how things are manipulated, it just doesn’t work.”

If you apply it to the recent cases where the victims are the ones getting charged, it creates a whole host of problems, she said.

Suddenly the real aggressor, deemed a victim, will know where the victim, who’s being charged as an aggressor, is at all times.
“We have no comment,” said Justice spokesperson Chris Ross, when asked about the draft victims of crime act.
“We’re getting together to talk about the situation and see what we can do about it,” said McInerney.
“The advisory group has had some really wonderful in-depth conversations, and everybody has been really courageously truthful, so I’m hoping that we will start addressing this.”

Something has to change, she said.
“Sometimes I think all I can do is push the point and keep pushing it.
“I can’t tell (police and Justice officials) how to do their job.
“But what I do know is what’s going on on the ground.
“What I do know is what’s going on in women’s lives and how it’s affecting their children.”

Contact Genesee Keevil at gkeevil@yukon-news.com