Response to a murderer’s letter: Challenging journalism on violence against women

flower handed by a child to a woman

Letter by Luke’s Place Legal Director, Pamela Cross, to the Ottawa Citizen:

There are a number of important questions that arise from the recent article in the Ottawa Citizen entitled “Triple-murder accused Borutski likens himself to Samson in letter from jail.”

Perhaps the most obvious and troubling question is why the Ottawa Citizen would solicit such a letter. And solicit it did: according to the article, the letter “came in response to a written request from the Citizen asking Borutski for his side of the story and for an explanation of his anger.” Apparently, the letter was a response to direct questions asked by the Citizen, although we are not told what those questions were.

What was the Citizen hoping for? A detailed confession? A self-reflective essay? Some sensationalistic revelation by an accused killer that would have sold newspapers?

And, having received Borutski’s response, why did the Citizen publish it as though it were an objective piece of news? Surely the Citizen should have provided an appropriate framework, an objective context, within which Borutski’s comments could have been placed.

Even worse, Borutski’s comments are bolstered by the reporter’s own telling of the story of Samson, failing to accurately note that this is a religious fable with no objective truth or verifiability.

The Samson tale creates an image of women as betrayers of men, and thus deserving of men’s wrath. Women-blaming myths are rampant in our society’s approach to violence against women, whether it is the sexually assaulted woman who is blamed for leading a man on or for dressing provocatively or being in the wrong place or the beaten or murdered woman who is blamed for not leaving her partner sooner or for abandoning him or for telling someone about the abuse.

These myths need to be challenged with the truth rather than fanned by this kind of so-called journalism. The truth is that women are not responsible for the violence we experience at the hands of men. Women do not “ask for it,” nor do we make it up. Tens of thousands of women in Canada experience abuse on a regular basis in their intimate relationships, abuse that often escalates when they leave the abuser. Tens of thousands more experience sexual violence. And, approximately 60 women a year in this country are killed by men who claim to love them. Too often, women are not believed when they tell what has happened to them, are not supported when they leave or try to leave and do not find justice or safety when they turn to the legal systems for support.

If the Citizen felt it needed to ask Borutski for “his side of the story” at all – which is very questionable – at a minimum, the questions posed to Borutski should have been included in the article and his response should have appeared as he wrote it: in one piece rather than chopped up throughout the article as it was. A commentary by an expert on violence against women should have appeared as part of the article to provide some accurate information.

But why invite his side of the story at all? Mr. Borustki will have his chance to tell his version of what happened on September 23 when his trial takes place. Anastasia Kuzyk, Nathalie Wamerdam and Carol Culleton will never have such an opportunity.

Pamela Cross
Legal Director
Luke’s Place, Oshawa, Ontario

This letter was written in response to an article on the Ottawa Citizen website which features Mr. Borustki’s writing. Pamela’s letter ran in the October 17th print edition of the paper.