Open Letter to the Media about the Death of Dr. Elana Fric and Violence Against Women

In the past week the Canadian medical community has been mourning the cruel murder of a respected colleague, Dr. Elana Fric, taken from her three young children and the rest of her family allegedly by her husband. She was a family physician in Scarborough and assistant professor at the University of Toronto, a colleague, mentor, tutor, health care advocate and friend to those of us fortunate enough to have known and worked with her.

In reading the news coverage of her untimely and tragic death we are shocked and offended at how it is being written about, although unfortunately this is nothing new in terms of how violence against women is often portrayed. In one article her work and achievements are absent while her husband is presented as a "Yale-educated medical star" and his TV work and place of employment are all noted. In many others we are confronted with headlines like “Toronto neurosurgeon charged with the death of his wife,” reducing this accomplished woman to simply a victim in a story where her husband is the protagonist. Why not instead: “Respected family doctor and health care advocate found dead, husband charged with her murder”?

Humanizing the (usually) male predators and murderers of women while the achievements and life stories of their victims are ignored only contributes to the epidemic of violence against women. It is in fact another act of misogynistic violence to reduce women in this way. We should not be reading interviews with this accused murderer's co-workers and patients that paint an image of a dedicated, hard-working, talented surgeon. Lamenting the loss of his surgical skills and the gap he leaves behind glamorizes him and feeds into the idea that the only men who abuse are unsuccessful degenerates. His work should be a footnote in these stories, if it is even mentioned at all. Where are the stories about Dr. Fric's patients? About the gap left behind by losing HER?

On a broader scale, the simple fact is that prominent men can be abusers too. A culture wherein we display surprise and disbelief when we learn that someone successful and accomplished has also been violent and degrading towards women simply perpetuates the problem of gender-based violence. It makes it difficult for women to speak out about abuse at the hands of a prominent man if the default cultural view is that these types of men never abuse. And when we prioritize men's stories over women's in how we report on these events, reducing women to bodies, to mere objects, we further jeopardize the women who remain in dangerous situations with an intimate male partner.

We demand the media acknowledge that there is a journalistic responsibility to society at large in how these cases are reported on. Media outlets need to own up to their role in perpetuating a culture of violence against women and stop humanizing and glamourizing male abusers simply to sensationalize a tragic story. Switch the focus to all the achievements and successes in the life of Dr. Fric, who will be greatly missed by all, and think carefully in the future about how other such stories will be presented to the public.

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Michelle Cohen, MD, CCFP started this petition with a single signature, and now has 13,425 supporters. Start a petition today to change something you care about.