In modern-day Canada, men and women are equal under the law. Everyone holds access to the same rights, opportunities and resources, regardless of their gender identity. However, during the twentieth century, people’s mindsets, perspectives and traditional beliefs towards men and women were contrasted. Men were seen as superior to women, which led to the mistreatment of women. Some of the severe mistreatments against women in the twentieth century were domestic violence and sexual harassment. In this extremely sexist period, women were more likely found victims of sexual violence, and this has continued to be prevalent in our current generation. Regardless, we must consider the circumstances they were situated in at that period of time, to understand how it affected women. The aftermath of domestic violence and sexual harassment against women in the twentieth century included the negative effects on women’s mental and emotional health, changes in the Criminal Code, and the degradation of women by the Human Rights system.
Many women who experienced domestic violence and harassment in the twentieth century were left devastatingly traumatized, and with restricted access to healthcare and support due to their gender, they suffered intense psychological health problems. Women victimized by their spouses were often found with multiple mental health issues, which most commonly were depression and anxiety (Hutchins and Sinha para. 9). The historical perspectives and attitudes towards mental health during this century also played a role in women's health. People associated mental illness with diseases that were a threat to public safety. Those who were diagnosed with a mental disorder at that time were treated in a mental asylum, which tarnished their reputation, especially women who would no longer be found suitable for marriage (Sinha para. 5).
In addition to the several mental illnesses, female victims of domestic violence often displayed signs of confusion, anger, frustration, and fear, and were three times more prone to depression or anxiety than men (Hutchins and Sinha para. 11). With the fear of their unstable mental health revealed to the public, the majority of women opted for other unhealthy means of support, like alcohol and unprescribed antidepressant medications to cope with the aftermath of their traumatic experiences (Hutchins and Sinha para.16).
Despite the numerous conflicts women battled, they eventually brought the attention of the court. Violence against women had risen in the 1970s and 1980s. However, in 1982, much needed changes were made to the Criminal Code (Stoddart para. 16). Originally, only the offence of rape existed in the Criminal Code. In order for it be considered an offence of rape, the court needed proof that a man had sexual intercourse with a woman without her consent. This was a punishment up to life imprisonment (Somerville para. 2). Eventually, the parliament replaced the offence of rape with the offence of sexual assault and violence in 1982 (Somerville para. 3). The purpose of abolition was to show that the offence was a “crime of violence.” The offence of sexual assault was broken down into 3 categories: basic sexual assault involving sexual touching or intercourse without consent, sexual assault involving a weapon or threatened harm, and “aggravated” sexual assault that has left the victim wounded or injured (Somerville para. 3).
Nonetheless, a flaw with the legal system existed. Failure to report a crime within a day was not taken by Crown’s case as deadly, due to the possibility of tampered or lack of evidence (Somerville para. 3). Before changes to the Criminal Code were implemented, only the victim, who was usually a woman, was questioned about her sexuality. In addition, the victim’s defence attorney was endorsed to argue that the victim consented to sexual intercourse (Stoddart para. 16). Many women did not receive the justice they deserved. Fortunately, the Criminal Code eventually was improved.
Although the Criminal Code was adjusted, the legal system still degraded women. Many cases involving violence were not reported, since women depended on their husbands for income; and were afraid for their families’ security, health, and wellbeing with their husbands absent (Stoddart para. 17). Furthermore, the court did not convict their husbands of assaulting or abusing their wives without witness, which also explains why women did not report, for they feared they would be ignored, lack in evidence, and not be taken seriously (Stoddart para. 17). Police officers also did not want to get involved with domestic violence cases, which weakened the amount of evidence for the court. Women who especially had a poor education would contact the police, in hopes of receiving protection from the court.
Women during the twentieth century had experienced many injustices, from being degraded by society, to being victims of sexual harassment and violence in Canada. Although women have fought to achieve their equal human rights unlike men, the past has reminded us of the sins and mistakes we need to learn and fix in our present. Women who have been victims of violence have suffered mentally and emotionally as they try to recover from their experiences. The Criminal Code has been adjusted to include all forms of sexual violence, however the legal system still degrades women. This reminds Canada of the mistreatment of women and how we can further improve gender equality in our country.
Hutchins, Hope, and Maire Sinha. “Impact of Violence against Women.” Statistics Canada, 30
Accessed 21 Feb 2019.
Sinha, Maire. “Responses to Violence against Women.” Statistics Canada, 30 Nov. 2015,
Accessed 20 Feb 2019.
Somerville, Margaret A. and Gerald L. Gall. "Sexual Assault.” Canadian Encyclopedia, 10 Mar.
2016, https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/sexual-assault. Accessed 21
Stoddart, Jennifer. "Women and the Law.” Canadian Encyclopedia, 21 July 2017,
https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/women-and-the-law. Accessed 20