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Loretta Saunders

Loretta Saunders

Note: the following is a (rather belated and slightly edited) archival post of my piece lost month at Autostraddle.

Communities across Canada gather every year on October 4th for “Sisters in Spirit” vigil, an event to commemorate the lives of missing and murdered Aboriginal women of Canada and to demand justice in the face of stubborn indifference from both government and police. This indifference appears despite a very clear pattern of racist-misogynist violence under which Indigenous women in Canada are five to seven times more vulnerable than non-Indigenous women according to the government’s own statistics; however, Amnesty International speculates that even this may be understating the problem as a result of deficiencies in state reporting.

Loretta Saunders, a 26-year old Inuk woman who was studying Criminology at St. Mary’s University, turned in her 28-page thesis proposal in late January of this year in which she intended to detail the cruel violence faced by Canada’s Indigenous women. Yesterday, her body was found in a wooded median along a New Brunswick highway. She was pregnant before her murder.

Her roommates, 25-year old Blake Leggette and 28-year old Victoria Henneberry, had already been arrested by police on charges related to her Feb. 13 disappearance. On Feb. 18 the pair were arrested on charges of fraud and possession of stolen goods — Loretta’s car.

Police have stated that they have identified suspects in the homicide case and that they are not presently seeking any further suspects.

Her thesis advisor Darryl Leroux had given her glowing remarks in response to her thesis proposal (detailed in his own words here), which sadly she will never be able to complete.

At a press conference held within hours of the discovery of Loretta’s body, Cheryl Maloney, President of the Nova Scotia Women’s Association, stated

“I’m never going to let Stephen Harper or Canadians forget about Loretta and all the other missing or murdered aboriginal people.”

and further,

“She wasn’t what society expected for a missing aboriginal girl. Canadian society, and especially our prime minister, has been able to ignore the reality of the statistics that are against aboriginal girls… This is not what everyone expects, but she is at risk. Every aboriginal girl in this country is vulnerable. For Canada to be ignoring it for so long, it’s disheartening. How many more families does this have to happen to before they take seriously the problem?”

Loretta joins a staggering number of other Indigenous women whose families are left grieving and wondering if they’ll ever see change or accountability. We can only hope that her tragic death will serve as a wake-up call to the Canadian government and police forces to take the issue seriously and to empower local communities to prevent violence against vulnerable women in Canada.

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In a victory for women across the U.S., today Congress decided to stop playing games and finally passed the overdue Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).  Importantly, in the end Congress passed the far superior Senate version of the bill that included support and resources for trans women, queer women, undocumented women and all women living on native lands.

VAWA was allowed to expire during last year’s election cycle as a result of GOP foot dragging, although many expected that would end in the aftermath of the election (especially one in which Republicans performed particularly poorly with women voters).  However, the foot dragging continued, even after the Senate recently passed a fully inclusive version of VAWA.  For a moment, it looked like the GOP might attempt to pass a much more narrow version of the bill, which would have almost certainly lead to difficulties in passing the bill at all.  Luckily, women’s groups across the country stood their ground, the Senate stood with them, and finally today the GOP accepted reality: all women deserve support and the resources to combat pervasive misogynistic violence throughout the country.

See here to learn more about and sign a petition in support of an ongoing campaign by women anti-violence activists at the University of North Carolina.

Earlier this week the Onion rather notoriously tweeted a reference to a nine-year old girl as the c-word.  While they did at least delete the tweet and apologize, I do think that cultural mindset of devaluing women’s bodies reflects on two of the big stories of the last couple of days, in which such devaluation translated into actual victim-blaming and dismissing rape charges against women.

Yesterday it was revealed that a unit of the Met (UK Metropolitan Police Service of the Greater London area) set up specifically to investigate rape and sexual assault cases had actively discouraged women from reporting rape.  They did so by haranguing women in the preliminary  stages of investigation, tending to disbelieve their stories and attempting to convince victims to retract their claims of rape and sexual assault.  Hence numerous rape allegations were dismissed under circumstances that an independent commission referred to as “clearly inappropriate.”  It turns out that a primary motivation for such dismissal of serious criminal claims was to improve that police unit’s statistics for investigations leading to prosecution in order to claim (quite superficially) greater success to the public.

In the most shocking case, the police unit dismissed a woman’s claim that she was raped by her husband who had made further threats of violence; that man eventually killed their two children with a knife as an act of aggression against her.  The police recorded the original rape as “consensual sex” and never even conducted an interview with the man in question.  (Source: London Evening Standard).

I Stand With Landen

Stand With Landen

Yesterday I came across another story involving dismissal of rape allegations that has recently gotten a fair amount of attention (although not nearly as much as it should have).  This one struck a bit of an internal chord with me because it occurred on the campus of my alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (I did undergrad there).

The backdrop for this shares disturbingly similar overtones with the previous story: Read the rest of this entry »

I didn’t watch the Oscars– because I don’t care– but reports making the rounds on the web seem to be largely pointing to Seth MacFarlane’s hosting as something of a dud, with the performance of the now infamous “We saw your boobs” song having set the tone for the evening.  This was particularly embarrassing as several of the movies he gleefully referenced in his schoolboy-inspired number actually featured the actress in question portraying a character who is raped.  (After watching a video of the performance, I’m left questioning in my mind whether MacFarlane actually comes out of such a movie chuckling to himself, “tee hee I saw her boobs!”?)

And while MacFarlane gets a chuckle out of them, the Oklahoma Senate is considering a move to push greater social control of women’s bodies by passing an opt-out for employers who oppose including women’s healthcare needs in company insurance plans mandated under Obamacare.  The measure, which would grant employers the option to not cover women’s access to contraceptives or birth control, was recently passed unanimously through a Senate committee and now heads for a vote in the full Senate.

The sexism inherent in these attempts to interfere in cis women’s (and some trans men’s) healthcare needs is highlighted by the utterly ridiculous comments from Dr. Dominic Pedulla, the Oklahoma City cardiologist who requested the measure in the first place:

Pedulla says he is morally against contraception and abortion. He said he had to give up his small group health plan because the only plans available in the state required coverage for contraception and sterilization. He and his family were on the plan and had to find more expensive insurance elsewhere.

“Every small group plan forces you to choose those options,” Pedulla said.

Women are worse off with contraception because it suppresses and disables who they are, Pedulla said.

“Part of their identity is the potential to be a mother,” Pedulla said. “They are being asked to suppress and radically contradict part of their own identity, and if that wasn’t bad enough, they are being asked to poison their bodies.”

Studies show that women using contraceptives consider pregnancy more unwanted than wanted, he said.

The idea that women have some inherent drive to birth children as their fundamental identity would be almost laughably stupid… if it weren’t the fact that it has actually resulted in a measure that may soon become law in Oklahoma.  In the real world of course this isn’t about a woman’s identity, it is about her ability to make her decisions about her own body and it is about her ability to control her own economic future.

The fact that Pedulla argues “women using contraceptives consider pregnancy more unwanted than wanted” (um, duh) as some claim that women have given up their ‘inherent identity’ does however make him something of an hilariously unintelligent spokesperson for the right-wing anti-woman movement.

Maybe we can get this guy to do the Oscars next year?

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As a follow-up comment, there is of course another key political backdrop to all of this, which is the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) whose reauthorization was stalled by the GOP during last year’s election cycle.  Sadly, even without the political backdrop, the GOP still seems incapable of unambiguously committing itself to standing against domestic abuse and other violence commonly experienced by vulnerable women throughout the U.S.  While the Senate has stepped up and passed an expanded version of the bill that includes protections for both trans women specifically as well as all undocumented women and women living on Native American reservations, the GOP-controlled House has put forward its own version of the bill that rips out those desperately-needed protections.  Obviously, we all need to pressure Congress to reauthorize VAWA, with a bill closely modeled on the Senate version.

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