International Women's Day speaker says the justice system is failing women

Julie Young, keynote speaker at the 2019 International Women's Day breakfast in London, says survivors of intimate partner violence still face difficulty seeking justice because they're cast as "vindictive or crazy" for speaking out.

Julie Young says women are often cast as "vindictive or crazy" when they speak out about their abusers

Julie Young teaches at Brescia University College and spoke at the 19th annual International Women's Day breakfast hosted by the London Abused Women's Centre. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

A university lecturer and survivor of intimate partner violence in London says the justice system is failing women, who are too often cast as "vindictive or crazy" when they speak out against their former partners.

In her keynote speech at Friday's International Women's Day breakfast, put on by the London Abused Women's Centre, Julie Young told the packed room that intimate partner violence persists beyond the moment that women leave their abusers.

"Victims are not free once they leave," said Young, who said many women are stalked and harassed long after they split with their partners.

Young spoke about what she called "digital abuse"—manifesting as a barrage of unsolicited texts and emails—and "paper abuse"—frivolous lawsuits, false reports of child abuse, and other ways she said abusers manipulate the court system to force contact with their former partner.

Young said abusers are often motivated to drag out the court process as a way to maintain power.

"Remember, these men crave control, not resolution," she said.

"There's no reasoning with unreasonable."

Seeking justice

Young said the difficulties women face in seeking resolution are made extra challenging if their partners work in the justice system.

She gave an example of a woman—who she called Jane—who reported to police that an ex-partner, a fellow officer, was stalking her. 

"[The police sergeant] said, 'I gotta tell you, I always found him to be a really nice guy,'" Young said. 

"When police treat victims like this, when our courts give too many abusers meaningless plea deals, just sleepwalk through some counselling and make this go away... We have a problem."

In the face of an increased cultural dialogue around assault and gender inequality, Young said women are often still not believed when they talk about what they've gone through.

An idea persists, she said, that women make up stories about their former partners to be vindictive, which can restrict their ability to find justice.

Young said change is possible, and listed a range of solutions, including:

  • Extensive training about intimate partner violence for police, court officials and judges.
  • Independent investigation of police officers and other public officials accused of domestic violence.
  • Training and education for victims who are trying to restart their lives. 
  • Court reform to integrate the family and criminal court systems.

"In order for change to be possible we have to believe that change is possible," she said. 

"We've got to inject a little bit of hope and accountability, not just for perpetrators, but for systems that are failing women and their children."