Which white ribbon campaign is which? Both aim to eliminate violence against women but one will not take a stand against pornography. Why?
Lots of causes sport ribbons these days: red ribbons for fighting AIDS, pink ribbons for fighting breast cancer, and white ribbons for…for what? There are two white ribbon campaigns in Canada and people are confused.
If you wear a white ribbon the last week of October you are supporting the fight against pornography. If you wear a white ribbon the last Saturday in November to the first Saturday in December you are supporting the fight against violence against women.
The White Ribbon Against Pornography Campaign or WRAP began in 1989 and is sponsored by Canadians for Decency or CFD. CFD was founded in 1974, and is the oldest and largest anti-pornography group in Canada. CFD networks with about a hundred other anti-porn groups across the country which have been given permission to use WRAP’s trade-marked logo and participate in the WRAP campaign.
The White Ribbon Campaign or WRC is subtitled: Men Against Violence Against Women and is sponsored by a men’s organization of the same name. It was founded in 1991 as a men’s group trying to reach other men. WRC networks with other men’s groups and other anti-violence groups.
David Rutherford at WRC’s national office said, “Men too are concerned about violence against women and by wearing a white ribbon publicly signifies that men will not commit, condone nor remain silent on violence against women.”
All monies raised from the sale of the WRC white ribbons go to a local women’s shelter, rape crisis centre or women’s advocacy group chosen by each community.
Now obviously these are both worthy causes. And many will want to support both. But there are some wrinkles. WRAP trade-marked their white ribbon chevron in 1994 and was using it as early as 1989, two years before WRC was founded. And while WRAP sees addiction to porn and a contributing factor to violence against women, WRC takes no stand on pornography.
“Different individuals in our organization hold different views on pornography,” said Rutherford. “We oppose violent activity against women.”
Furthermore, although WRC has no policy on abortion, do some of the women’s advocacy groups which receive funding from WRC advocate violence against the “little women” of the womb?
“For several years we worked to get the white ribbon chevron trade-marked and did, July 20th, 1994,” said Dolina Smith, president of Canadians for Decency. “I sent a letter to Michael Kaufman [of WRC] Oct. 24th, 1994. I actually sent it twice and since I did not receive a response I presume it was received and ignored.”
Her letter in part reads, “We request that as you use the white ribbon, be mindful that is trade-marked symbol against pornography. Speak out against pornography and its related harms. Using the symbol for commercial gain would be inappropriate without our consent.”
Most violence resulting in death is still perpetrated against men. “Throughout this centure more than two-thirds of murder victims have been males.” Jeffrey Asher writes in “The Deadly Hazards of Being Male” in Policy Options Politique Dec. 1995. Since 1989 in Canada “68% of homicide victims are male.”
However, “rape is the fastest growing criminal offence and the most under-reported” claims Smith. She cites a recent Canadian House of Commons Report which states that every 17 minutes a Canadian woman is sexually assaulted. Ninety per cent of sexual assault victims are female. WRC’s literature states “98% of sexual assaults and 90% of spousal assaults are committed by men.”
With so much domestic violence, women are seeking shelter outside their homes. The Globe and Mail reported Dec. 12 that, “More than 85, 000 women and children across Canada spent time in shelters and other housing for victims of family violence in the 12 months preceding this past May, Statistics Canada reported [Dec. 11th/94].
“On a given day (Statscan took May 31, 1995) there were 2,300 women accompanied by 2,200 children in battered-women’s shelters or homes across the country…The agency also found that the centres are receiving 3,000 requests a day from non-residents seeking services.”
WRC uses the donations from its white ribbons to support women’s shelters and rape crisis centres. Well and good. But what about addressing one of the root causes of this violence- addiction to pornography?
“When women have been asked in transition houses about their experience of pornography, and the abuse that they suffer, in a pilot project in Toronto, about one-third of the abuse women suffered was connected with pornography” stated Pat Freeman Marshall of the Canadian National Panel on Violence Against Women.
“Shelters are extremely necessary but what is driving people there?” asks Audrey Krushel, President of Group Against Pornography or GAP. Gap, based in Winnipeg, participates in WRAP. “It’s easier to wear the white ribbon against violence than the white ribbon against pornography. Opposing violence in as easy topic to come on side with. It’s much more difficult to wear the white ribbon against pornography.
“Pornography is a difficult issue to speak out against. Full examination of pornography is stifled by the red flags of censorship, freedom of expression, and rights arguments,” says Krushel. “Our whole culture supports sexual addictions. The make the headlines and have the editorials. The people who have suffered, both addict and victim, are given no voice. And we who speak against porn are put in doubt or intimidated by cries of censorship.”
“Women ultimately never say ‘no’ in pornography. Whatever degrading act has taken place on the screen, the actress begs for more. This is a lie,” Krushnel contends. “If people really want to do something about violence then deal with porn.”
In the report of the Canadian National Panel on Violence Against Women under Personal Action Plans for men was, “As a man I will…never purchase nor use pornography.” (p. 103)
Krushel claims that 60% pf all videos on the Canadian market are Adult-Only. “Porn comes now through the system virtually unregulated. Men are the first victims of porn, then women and children.”
“But the courts do not see the harm. It is all seen as consensual sex, but to what are these women consenting? asks Krushnel. “Men who have watched adult-only videos assure their partners that they will like it in time. After all, the actresses all seem to be enjoying it. When the real women don’t, they’re told they are frigid. Porn tears relationships, including marriages, apart.”
Our Canadian conscience has been seared by two terrible nightmares involving pornography. Sic years ago, December 5, 1989, 14 young women were slain by Marc Lepine , at the Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal. Lepine was found to have violent war literature and violent pornographic materials in his possession.
Paul Bernardo’s tortures were laced with porn. The judge asked him why he and Karla Homolka had tied up Leslie Mahaffy and Kristen French. Bernardo replied, “We were making a porn video and that’s what they do.”
Our culture creates Paul Bernardos and Karlas,” says Smith. “Much of their behaviour was learned from pornography.”
Krushel wonders why the Bernardo trial has not been a catalyst against pornography. “Bernardo was a classic case. He came from a dysfunctional family. He used porn that first desensitized , then addicted him. Finally he acted out the porn fantasies and we are seeing more women, like Karla Homolka, addicted to porn. If we truly protected out children and made them a national priority, then women would be treated decently, not degradingly.”
“Control on the sale, display and availability of pornography is not censorship. It is social responsibility for the sake of women and children- really the safety of society,” says Smith. “We want action to get rid of the violence. WRAP and WRC get local bylaws in place. We got the child pornography law passed in 1993.”
Both WRAP and WRC are national bodies which touch the grassroots- offering resources to local groups and letting them keep monies raised locally in local hands.
WRAP is in almost every community. Churches have got behind it. Smith says WRAP would not have reached the magnitude it has without the support of the Catholic Women’s League. WRAP gives local groups a focus, and CFD supplies literature with Canadian facts. CFD is completely volunteer run on a shoe string operating budget of under $7,000 a year. CFD teaches member groups how to implement bylaws against adult-only video stores and keeps their membership informed on recent court cases.
One of the catalysts for the formation of WRC was the Montreal massacre but Rutherford says the founders also had their own private reasons, “circumstances that have profoundly affected them.” Although WRC began as a men’s movement, the ribbons are offered not only through the mails and to professional associations, but also on street corners. Women now wear them as well.”
“On the actual anniversary of December 6th we stand back an listen and let women speak” said Rutherford. “If the media comes to us on that date we refer them to the December 6th Committee and the YWCA’s Rose Button Campaign. We will join in with their initiatives, but not lead or initiate.”
In eazrly 1995 WRC petitioned Allan Rock, Federal Minister of Justice, on gun control legislation. “We try to give some alternative definitions of fatherhood and make role models [to the macho one.] We have an Annual Father’s Day event. This spring we are hoping to have a father and son walk,” said Rutherford.
WRC neither seeks nor receives any level of government funding for its operating costs which in 1996 are expected to be $175,000. It has two paid staff in donated office space. It solicits donation from both trade unions and corporations. It may apply for government funding for its educational projects.
WRC has developed and distributed the White Ribbon Student Action Kit and Healthy Attitudes, Healthy Relationships, both targeted at high school youth. WRC advertises to student councils, who then against male violence against women. Like WRC, Rose Button approaches Fortune 500 companies for donations.
The YWCA has a strong resolution against pornography. Interim readers, however, will be the YWCA’s stand on abortion troubling.
WRC does not want men to be silent about violence against women. Excellent. But their silence is thought by anti-pornography groups and some women’s groups to be compromising. And any WRC funding of advocacy groups which advocate abortion is funding violence against little women. WRC should speak up against pornography and not indirectly fund prenatal violence.