Sunday, March 8, 2015

March 8 - International Women's Day - Domestic Violence in Canada

I have shared this before, but it resonates with me, about 13 or 14 years ago, the BC Government was drastically reducing funding to women's shelters and resources. At the time we didn't have online petitions or Facebook or crowd funding - we had email - and not everyone had that. There were requests and emails being sent out to help support the programming available to women and children and those trying to leave domestic violence situations, and I shared them. I was stunned to get an email back from a family member who stated to me and I quote , as I said this resonated with me "Please do not send me any more of this. People in my social circles do not have this problem." 

Education and equitable employment
are some of the first steps for women
Of course this is not accurate. We know that domestic violence transcends all socioeconomic levels, all cultures, races and gender. We know that most people will know someone in their life time who has suffered from or escaped a domestic violence situation. At the time I worked in an income assistance office and I met with, interviewed and did home visits to people who were in crisis. Many were in crisis because they had been abused as a child or young adult, maybe turned to drugs or alcohol or the sex trade to escape. Others were in the process of leaving a partner who was abusive. I regularly had women and children in my office who were staying in shelters or trying to find out what was available to help them leave their situation.

Of course underneath all of this, I was going through the same thing. I however continued to keep it a secret, I didn't share and just tried to keep my children safe. Now, if you haven't been in a mentally or physically or financially or controlling relationship , you may say, so leave. How come you stayed? I would never have put up with that. It certainly is easy to say and even as I counselled those women I wondered that about them. I didn't completely see it in my own life. I thought I was coping, handling it and that I could deal with it. I thought I was keeping my kids safe, they weren't being hurt; I took them away when things were bad; I sheltered them. In retrospect, that was obviously impossible. The tenseness, the vibes, the walking on egg shells, is no way for children to live. 

And all the bruises we can't see, inside...
Yes, I am sure people have judged me and the choices I made or didn't make, that is their prerogative. But did you know that - Abuse doesn't start immediately - if it did, I am sure I would have walked away and not remained with that partner for almost 18 years. 

It is slow. Take a vulnerable woman, someone with low self esteem, who doesn't feel that they matter or have friends or is suffering from anxiety or depression. Slowly begin to isolate her, drive her friends  and family away, begin to be her only friend. Begin to influence how she looks, what she wears, how her make up and hair are applied. Care about where she is and with who and when and how long did it take to get there and how long it should take to return. Begin to monitor who she speaks with on the phone, via email, has lunch with at work. He isn't controlling, he cares, he loves her, he wants her safe.

After months of this, maybe something will happen, he will lose his temper, scream, yell, maybe hit her for the first time. He didn't mean to, it wasn't his fault, he is sorry, but maybe she provoked him, perhaps she should be more careful about who she talks to, what she wears and where she goes. He begs for forgiveness, she has no one else, she relents. The next time won't be right away, things will become complacent again, relax. This time it will be more violent, he will hurt her deeper , emotionally as well as physically, he will tell her she is useless, no one else would want her, she is stupid and worthless. Then he will leave, she is relieved. He doesn't come back this time, it is hours, days, a week, she rethinks things and knows it was her fault, how come she did that? How can she show him how sorry she is? 

It happens slowly. No woman asks for it. No woman wants it. Woman sometimes do think they deserve it. They think there is nothing more - but it isn't true. She has just been so worn down she can't think straight anymore. Then he comes back and he forgives her. She is so grateful and is good and moves forward and life is wonderful, a honeymoon period, but always, wondering, waiting.... Life falls into a pattern and it isn't easy to leave. Women are threatened, physically, financially, with losing custody of their children, emotionally - damaged goods and it can literally be the fight of their lives to escape. Who can they tell now? When they will get judged and people will say "I wouldn't put up with that." How can they ask for help?

In Nanaimo over about a 2 year period there were several domestic violence cases that ended in murder. How could a woman feel safe leaving when she or her children could be next? So, when someone says, "Why doesn't she just leave?" or "It doesn't happen in my social circles." I hope that these things make you think twice about judging her and her choices or lack thereof. I hope that rather than make her feel lower, you realize that just getting through one day to the next is about as much as she can handle. That leaving may put her children at risk for their lives and what mother can cope with that?

The murders in my town and area involved a fairly well off family where the mother was murdered by her estranged spouse outside a gas station with her child present. The other was a mother who was an immigrant, struggling to get by, murdered outside her home by her ex as she left for work one morning. Both were tormented, stalked and had restraining orders. Restraining orders don't help. I know that a piece of paper does not make you safe but it does allow you to get help and to press charges. When I and these other women finally made the choice to leave, we knew that our lives were in peril, that we and our children may not survive, but what choice did any of us have? Do you think knowing these women had been murdered and their children left alone, made my choice any easier?

So please, today, on International Women's Day - keep your hearts and minds open - know that we all struggle and suffer and do our best. None of us ever thought it would happen to us. None of us wanted to be a statistic, a survivor or a victim. 

Please support your local women's shelters - I am so grateful for the support I received from the Haven Society in Nanaimo and I know that Sanctuary House in Woodstock offers help to women and children here. Please stop the judgement, please support the programs and know that not all bruises are visible. Be cautious of what you say about victims of violence, you don't know what the person you are talking to may be hiding. 

I fell asleep crying last night, that hasn't happened for a long time. I thought of my sick little hurt baby who will suffer from her physical wounds for the rest of her life. I thought of the decisions I had to make that day 10 years ago and the agony we all went through. I cried for my little girls who loved their daddy, and he who loved them but who couldn't be a daddy to them anymore. I cried for the loss they suffered, for the safety I did not provide them and the ghosts they have in their lives.

 I cried for their strength and recovery and the hope that they have seen what love does look like and wish them a life time of International Women's Days. A life time of fairness, equality, safety and acceptance.