Barbara Kay: Manitoba’s domestic violence blip no cause to panic
Monday March 26th, 2012
Headline in the Winnipeg Free Press: “Domestic killings in spotlight.” That’s a grabber. Are Manitoba women at more risk of violence than they have been in the past?
According to this story, four Manitoba women have been killed so far this year by their intimate partners. The piece is scanty on statistics, but tells us that between 2000 and 2009, Manitoba’s death rate was 10 spousal homicides per million people (roughly Manitoba’s whole population). Of the provinces, only Saskatchewan’s rate was higher. So at this time of year Manitoba would normally have seen two or three, rather than four, spousal homicides. Hardly evidence of an alarming upward trend, or fodder for such an alarmist headline.
Homicide is viewed as a social barometer and a clue to the general health of a nation. Statistically speaking, Canada is in comparatively fine fettle with about 550 homicides annually. Homicide rates are higher in the west than in the east. But rates of all kinds of homicide are falling across Canada: The 2010 homicide rate — against both males and females — of 1.62 per 100,000 was at its lowest since 1966. Manitoba had 12 fewer homicides in 2010 than in 2009.
In terms of intimate partner homicide, which includes not only spousal, but all intimate-relationship killing, there has also been a general downward trend for the past three decades — a full 32% decline from 1980-2010. In 2010 in all of Canada, there were 89 victims of intimate partner homicide, two thirds women.
Interestingly, a good deal of the decline in intimate-partner homicide is accounted for by diminishing numbers of legal spouses as victims.
The number of homicides by current and former legal spouses decreased 52% from 1980-2010, while homicides within common-law and dating relationships actually went up (none of the Manitoba victims cited in the Free Press story were married). The rate of homicide in common-law relationships was almost eight times higher than in marital unions.
The bottom line for a woman’s risk of death by an intimate partner’s hand is generally what common sense would suggest: Very high if she is a prostitute, high if she is living common-law, especially with someone who is substance-addicted, mentally ill or with a violent history; and very low if she is married to a man with no history of violence or substance abuse issues.
There is a tendency in the media to seize upon any statistic that may encourage national hand-wringing over the scourge of domestic violence. Very few Canadians are aware that the problem is diminishing in general, and that is good news. The old cliché is that in journalism, “if it bleeds, it leads.” But there is no “bleed” in a tiny fluctuation in a generally declining rate of intimate-partner killings in Manitoba.