Failures of the justice system

Why Daphné Boudreault is just one of many women let down by our system

Photo: University of the Fraser Valley

Her face haunts me every time I close my eyes. Impossibly beautiful and untouched by time; the way only a very young person full of years as of yet unlived can ever be. Looking up and smiling coyly in her selfies, fully aware of her beauty, yet still young enough not to realize how little she needs those forgiving Instagram filters. What flaws does a teenage face need to filter out after all?

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Her name was Daphné Boudreault, and she was only 18 years old when she was murdered by her ex-boyfriend near Montreal this past week.

I’m supposed to write “allegedly murdered,” even though the police practically caught him in the act and handcuffed him in front of her stabbed body. I’m supposed to write “allegedly” as if I hadn’t just read the step-by-step red flags that led to her death. As if incidents like this happen rarely. As if I don’t already know that a woman is killed by her partner every six days in Canada. “Allegedly” because the formality of proving what we all know, and what happens all too often around us, hasn’t taken place yet.

Eighteen years old. All the time in the world and none of it left for Daphné. She had just returned from volunteering abroad and had plans to attend university. Now her memorial will be held on April 1, like a cruel April Fool’s joke on her parents and friends, having to bury a woman barely out of high school.

Preventable deaths

What has haunted me most about Boudreault’s death is how preventable it was, how it so easily could have played out another way. When she tried to break off her two-year relationship with her ex-boyfriend and he started showing the tell-tale signs of abuse (stalking, threats to commit suicide, anger, accessing her personal information, etc.), she did what society tells women to do. She called the police, who are there to “serve and protect.” She did the right thing. They showed up at her place of work, saw her ex there, saw her shaking and sobbing, afraid for her safety.

They didn’t separate him from her, which is proper protocol and what trained social workers and domestic abuse counsellors would have done immediately. Instead, they interrogated both of them in front of each other and concluded that she was not in any danger. They said they couldn’t arrest him — and they didn’t. They sent him home.

She tried to get help, but instead she got a fine.

Now this is where it gets tricky, because, according to a few reports, not only did Boudreault go to their home to collect her things with the protection of only one police officer (when the norm is two), she was somehow allowed to enter the premises first. Some reports say the accompanying police officer got lost following her car, and some say Boudreault simply entered first, but we all know the outcome. By the time the police officer entered the home a few minutes later, she was on the floor, dying of stab wounds.

Was this breach of protocol due to inadequate training, indifference, incompetence, or sheer human error? A combination of the above? Whatever the reasons and whatever the conclusions of the Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes, a young woman is dead. She did everything right and she’s dead.

Meanwhile in England, Shana Grice’s murderer is on trial. Grice, a 19-year-old, was found with her throat slashed mere months after she was fined for wasting police time for reporting her ex-boyfriend for stalking her. She was charged with “having caused wasteful employment of police by making a false report” because she failed to disclose that he was her on again, off again boyfriend. She tried to get help, but instead she got a fine.

Anne-Marie Birch was strangled to death by her estranged husband in England in 2013 after warning the police nine times that her husband was stalking her. Despite violating repeated restraining orders, he was never jailed. That only happened after he killed her.

Failing justice

The trope of the hysterical, hyperbolic, vengeful and scorned woman makes its way often into popular culture. How many people claimed Jian Ghomeshi’s accusers were seeking revenge, when they wanted neither financial compensation nor notoriety?

Accuse too loudly and you’re self-serving. Don’t keep those knees together and you didn’t do enough to prevent your own rape. Don’t scream loudly enough and you won’t be believed in court. Have friends and a university degree and you’re not “vulnerable” enough to be a victim, even though you were forced to drink bleach and hit with a cricket bat.

The justice system is failing women. A recent 20-month-long investigation by the Globe and Mail exposed deep flaws in how Canadian police handle sexual assault allegations.

After all, that’s what allows rape culture to survive.

There are countless cases where rape and domestic abuse victims are belittled, doubted, dismissed, and way too often left to fend for themselves. It is, after all, the main reason why women so rarely come forward with real allegations — let alone the small percent of fake ones that so many people are always so disproportionately worried about.

There are efforts being made to address these issues. The Status of Women committee has recommended mandatory training on gender-based violence and sexual assault for judges and RCMP officers.

"We are in the process of improving our training," Quebec Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux told CBC News regarding the Boudreault case, when asked how police handle violence against women.

How rape culture survives

One hopes that young Boudreault’s tragic death won’t have been in vain and improvements will be made to police training and how women are perceived when coming forward with allegations of harassment, sexual assault, and domestic abuse.

While writing this, I glance over to an article in the Journal de Montréal about the gang rape of a 15-year-old making the news this week. The headline screams: “Presumed gang rape victim had a lot to drink.” The editor didn’t choose a headline that reports on the fact that three men allegedly raped a teen, but instead chose to focus on what she may have consumed. It's a particularly egregious example of victim blaming.

The dismissing, the brushing aside, the doubting, the belittling, the minimizing continues. After all, that’s what allows rape culture to survive. It’s how abusers get the idea that they can get away with abuse, how victims grow to suspect that they won’t be believed and so they stay silent, and how good, kind, law-abiding readers are subconsciously manipulated into shrugging and silently whispering, “She had it coming, didn’t she?”

This minimizing is also what often allows too many cops to shake their heads at a woman’s terror and dismiss it as “just another domestic.”

Until, unfortunately, it becomes another homicide.

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