Violence against women, in all forms, is terror

April 23, 2018 was an otherwise beautiful day.

As Torontonians broke their routines and strode outside to bask in the sun and fresh air, one man carried out an act of terror on Yonge St., taking the lives of 10 people and injuring another 16.

With a rental van as his choice of weapon, the attacker went on to unsuccessfully goad a police officer into shooting him.

While online speculation of motive was widespread, Canadian media were commendably measured and careful in their coverage until details about the attacker were made public.

Alek Minassian has since been charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder, and 15 counts of attempted murder.

Toronto caringly came together in mourning and support of the families and communities forever changed, united under the hashtag #TorontoStrong.

In the days that followed, potential motivation came to light. Before closing his account, Facebook confirmed the legitimacy of a post made by the alleged attacker immediately before his act, citing allegiance to an “Incel Rebellion” and praising a mass killer who similarly drove his car into pedestrians after a stabbing and shooting rampage in 2014.

Incel, short for “involuntarily celibate,” is a term popularized within male online subculture referring to men who aren’t sexually active and believe they are owed sex from women.

By way of the attack, the Canadian public was made more widely aware of a sphere of intertwined misogynistic online communities — some the size of large cities — serving as international forums where ideologies are shared to rationalize, encourage, and equip young men to commit acts of violence, especially against women.

Debates soon erupted over whether this attack fits neatly within evolving definitions of terrorism. It seems when an individual is radicalized to enact violence on citizens citing hatred for women, we have difficulty squaring it with preconceived notions of what terrorism should be.

Violence against women, in all forms, is terror.

Definitions aside, I reject the notion that there is nothing we can do. I believe we have the power to collectively shape the world around us, and we can start by supporting those on the front lines who are combating this toxic culture.

Activists have been ringing the alarm for some time now. Women are being targeted.

When we look at it on a national scale, it is clear that gender-based violence is disproportionately impacting Indigenous women and women of colour.

Today we live in a time when we barely believe women. We live in a day when it takes multiple women with the exact same account before we will believe their truth.

We wait for justice systems that are stacked and designed to make it difficult to bring justice for women. Because of this, we barely know the full extent of the problem — many of the women who are experiencing gender-based violence tell no one, or decide not to report.

I’ve decided that my contributions will be focused on supporting efforts that touch front line workers and researchers combating these issues.

This includes those conducting and publishing research on gender-based violence and the impacts of online radicalization, victim services organizations struggling to find sustainable funding sources to meet local community demands, and those working to provide free legal services to survivors and families.

While Torontonians make their way outside this weekend and reclaim our streets from this violent act, it is also important to remember the women and men who remain in hospital and the families who are faced with multi-faceted challenges as they adjust to their new realities following this past week’s events.

Among the victims is Amaresh Tesfamariam, a vibrant nurse who is the oldest of the survivors injured in the attack. She dedicated much of her life to caring for others, and today the life she worked so hard to create for herself hangs in the balance.

This week Canada lost 10 beautiful souls — and we’ll never know the true number of lives taken across the country by this kind of targeted violence.

This was a wake-up call too loud to ignore.

One thing is for certain, whether or not your definition of “terrorism” includes the events of April 23: We need to address gender-based violence as the international crisis that it is.

Tiffany Gooch is a Liberal strategist at public affairs firms Enterprise and Ensight and an advocate for increased cultural and gender diversity in Canadian politics.

(Published in The Toronto Star on Sunday, April 29)