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Shelter workers offer help to those trapped in abuse during pandemic

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Person presses hands against glass. Image credit: KLEITON Santos/Pixabay

Today is a beautiful spring day. My bulbs are in full bloom so I decide to eat an early lunch outside to enjoy some rare peace and quiet. It's not often we have these quiet moments in our overcrowded suburban community -- between obnoxious gas mowers and leaf blowers, middle-aged men revving cars in garages or driveways for hours, and entitled men blasting rock and country music.

Today, some kids are playing in a backyard a few houses over. They're nice kids who love being out back, jumping on their trampoline or relaxing in a hammock. Then, the door to the deck opens on the house beside them. This fellow can be the bane of my existence. His bellowing voice travels forever across yards even when the person he's talking at is right beside him.

Today is unusual though. Everything remains quiet. He even speaks to the kids is a normal tone. But that all changes when he yells from the deck for someone to come and help him. His wife walks out from the kitchen. He tells her to go and check the water shut off at the side of the house. Next thing he's yelling at his wife at the top of his lungs, demanding to know if she is a "f*cking idiot."

The kids on the trampoline make a beeline for their back door. I stop reading the paper and listen while he continues emotionally abusing his wife for not understanding what she was supposed to do with the shut-off valve.

The woman calmly asks questions clearly trying to figure out what horrendous thing she has done to deserve this violent verbal terror that continues as he viciously answers her. In the end, it seems that the valve was broken all along and that he would have to buy another.

At that point, she retreated to the house while he commenced power washing the deck.

While I'm torn by my decision to not call out in reply when he asked his wife, "What the f*ck is wrong with you?" I didn't feel it was the right time to interfere. I would never tell a woman that she must leave, only she knows when she's ready and when it's "safe" to do that.

Spousal abuse, also known as intimate partner violence, is often misunderstood. Many people are unaware that:

  • Abuse has nothing to do with love and everything to do with power and control.
  • It includes emotional, physical, psychological, sexual, financial and spiritual abuse -- each form rarely occurs in isolation.
  • According to Statistics Canada, 70 per cent of spousal violence is not reported to the police.
  • A woman is assaulted an average of 35 times before she calls the police the first time.
  • On average, it takes seven attempts before a woman leaves for good.
  • Her chances of being murdered increase nine-fold once she does leave.
  • Children are often manipulated, harmed or murdered in order to inflict pain and control over a woman that leaves.
  • Every six days a Canadian woman is murdered by her current or former partner.

These numbers increase significantly for women experiencing multiple oppressions including identifying as being a woman of colour, Indigenous, an immigrant, a refugee or having disabilities. 

Emotional, physical and sexual abuse occurs across all cultures, races, ethnic groups, religions, ages, sexual orientations, educational backgrounds and income levels. It's well documented that abuse escalates in frequency and severity over time. This is especially true with physical violence.

Life circumstances that prevent women from leaving include no room at the women's shelter, unemployment or precarious income, a lack of affordable housing and child care, and death threats. Add to this list the fear of the pandemic.

If you are a woman living with abuse please know that there are services, agencies, and people who care and will help.

To find a shelter in Canada go to sheltersafe.ca. Shelter workers will work with you to make a safety plan for yourself, your kids and your pets; help you through difficult times; and support you when you are ready to leave. Workers are available 24/7 by phone, online or on a device -- be sure to follow steps to cover your tracks to keep yourself safe.

Family and friends can also use the sheltersafe.ca site to learn more about intimate partner violence and how to offer support. Click here.

For a better understanding of the complexities of intimate partner violence, watch the CBC documentary The War at Home.

Doreen Nicoll is a freelance writer, teacher, social activist and member of several community organizations working diligently to end poverty, hunger and gendered violence.

Image credit: KLEITON Santos/Pixabay

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