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This Woman Abuse Prevention Month, familiarize yourself with many forms of abuse

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Image: Flickr/Zorah Olivia

November is Woman Abuse Prevention month in Ontario. An opportunity to make everyone aware that:

  • One in three women will experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime.
  • Half of all women in Canada have experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence since the age of 16.
  • 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 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, an immigrant, Aboriginal, or having disAbilities. 

Life circumstances that make it impossible for women to leave include no room at the women's shelter, no job or reliable income, a lack of affordable housing and child care, and death threats.

I know this to be true because, I'm a chef, teacher, writer, mother of two sons and three daughters, and the survivor of an abusive marriage. At the time I had no idea that I was an abused woman. The ultimate goal of my abuser was exactly the same as every other abusive man -- to maintain power and control over their partner. When I tried to leave the abuse escalated and the types used increased exponentially. I was forced to accept I was a victim of domestic violence also known as intimate partner relationship violence (IPRV).

Women living with, leaving, or healing from IPRV experience multiple forms of abuse, often on a daily basis. Some abuses are easily identifiable while others are covert in nature. This Woman Abuse Prevention Month take a moment to familiarize yourself the variety of abuses that controlling men can choose from.

Financial abuse includes preventing a woman from working; purposely causing her to lose her job due to stalking, harassment, or a physical beating before a presentation or performance review; taking her pay cheque; preventing her from having access to bank accounts or money; excluding her from financial decisions; cancelling credit cards and closing out joint bank accounts; hiding assets; forcing her to work in a family business without pay; refusing to pay court ordered child support; or drawing out divorce/custody/other court proceedings to bankrupt her.

Psychological or emotional abuse includes threats; constant criticism; public shaming; the silent treatment; teasing; put downs disguised as jokes; unflattering nicknames; withholding affection and emotional support; making a partner feel worthless; treating her like a child; treating her like property; "gas lighting" or slowly convincing her over time that she is going crazy; telling her she is not a fit mother; and threatening to take away her children.

Physical abuse is one of the easier forms to prove because often there are very visible signs. This form of abuse includes preventing a woman from eating or sleeping; refusing to help when she is sick, injured, or pregnant; withholding medications or medical treatment; spitting on her; using or threatening to use a weapon against her; locking her out of the house; forcing her car off the road; abandoning her in dangerous places; pushing; pinching; biting; slapping; beating; kicking; choking; backing her into a corner; pinning her down; throwing objects; pulling her hair; hitting her with a baseball bat; or holding her captive.

Sexual abuse within the context of marriage, common law relationships and dating relationships includes unwanted touching; demanding sex; forcing sex; name-calling with sexual labels; demanding sex after a violent incident; forcing a partner to engage in prostitution or pornography; forcing her to have sex with others besides her partner; insisting on anything sexual that frightens or hurts a partner; refusing to use safe sex practices; preventing her from using birth control; controlling her decisions about pregnancy and/or abortion; withholding sex as a form of control; videotaping or photographing sexual acts and posting it without her permission.

Verbal abuse, the most common form of relationship abuse, often overlaps emotional abuse.  Name calling; put downs; yelling, swearing, screaming; threatening; blaming; dismissing feelings; and controlling a partners actions. An example of the latter could be telling her that she really doesn't want a divorce. Verbal abuse often leaves a woman feeling like she is "walking on eggshells" because the slightest thing can trigger an attack.

Cyberbullying is really a form of violence that involves the use of communication technologies like the Internet, social networking sites, websites, email, text messaging and instant messaging to repeatedly intimidate or harass a victim. Abusers may send threatening emails or text/instant messages; post embarrassing photos online; create a website to embarrass a partner; pretend to be their partner by using their name; send personal or embarrassing information to others.

Stalking occurs when an abuser intends to scare or harass their partner with repeated, unwanted contact, communication, or by following or watching them with the intent to threaten their partner. These behaviours constitute "criminal harassment" in section 264 of the Criminal Code of Canada.

Social isolation tends to happen gradually and without anyone really noticing that women living with abusive partners eventually lose contact with friends and family; stop going out with co-workers; resign from committees and volunteer groups; aren't even allowed to do the grocery shopping. These women are forbidden, or prevented, from socializing. If they do go out with family or friends, their partner will monitor and even demand proof of where they are and who they're with. Abusers also work hard to make friends and family feel unwelcome or unable to visit in their home. Women in abusive relationships often pay a price for socializing.

Spiritual abuse is the use of church doctrine to control a partner. Another form of spiritual abuse is when an abuser forces his partner to abandon her religion, or spiritual beliefs, in order to adopt his. It can also take the form of an abuser preventing his partner from practicing any religious or spiritual beliefs.

Environmental abuse includes harming, or killing, pets or farm animals; punching walls; starting renovations with no intention of finishing; creating unsafe living conditions; driving too fast; or taking the key out of the ignition while driving; purposely damaging her belongings.

Abusers may use social status or wealth to belittle a partner or make her behave, or manipulate the court system to diminish her financial resources and resolve.

Manipulating children includes having children report on their mother's activities; sending messages from the abuser to the mother through the children; threatening to cut off the mother's contact with her children; threatening to, or actually, harming children; or outright killing the children to punish the mother.

These abuses occur 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. Abuse has nothing to do with love and everything to do with power and control.

Consider all of the wonderful women and girls in your life. Now, think about the fact that half of all women in Canada have experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence since the age of 16. Chances are you know a woman who is living with, or trying to leave, an abusive relationship. It may be a co-worker, sister, aunt, niece, your neighbour, or the clerk who helped you at the library.

Thanks to the work of the Domestic Violence Death Review Committee (DVDRC), we know intimate partner femicides are predictable and can be prevented. In response to DVDRC recommendations the Neighbours, Friends, and Families Campaign was designed to raise awareness and inform professionals and the general public by providing practical guidelines for helping abused women; speaking with abusive men; safety planning; recognizing warning signs and risk factors; as well as information for assessing the situation for risk of lethality.

Canadians need to admit that gendered violence has reached epidemic proportions. Every one of us has a responsibility to play a role in changing the collective consciousness to one where women and girls are respected and treated as equals in every facet of life. 

I successfully left my abusive marriage. I won't pretend it was easy -- far from it. I finally separated in 2004, however, 20 months passed before my 19 day divorce trial was heard. It was another eight weeks before a 66 page judgement was issued giving me sole custody of my five children. During those 22 months I was homeless and lived with friends and relatives. I continued to see my children daily and had them every other weekend.

My ex-husband appealed the 2006 decision. Not one item in the original judgement was changed when the appeal was heard in 2008. We returned to court in 2010 and again in 2012. I suspect I'll be going back in 2017. But, my life is so much better as are the lives of my children.  

I would never tell a woman that she must leave, only she knows when she's ready. But, 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

To find services in the greater Hamilton area use: 1infour.ca

"The NeedHelpNow website is designed to provide youth (13 to 17 years old) with practical steps to regain control over the situation. This includes information about contacting websites/online services to request a picture/video be removed, dealing with peers who may have seen or be sharing the content, the importance of emotional support and information on certain criminal offences. The site also provides resources for parents and safe adults who are assisting youth involved in these types of instances." - needhelpnow.ca

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

On Friday, November 25, show your support for Woman Abuse Prevention Month by wearing purple. If you don't have any purple clothing, you can purchase a purple scarf from your local shelter in support of the Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses campaign Wrapped in Courage.

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Image: Flickr/Zorah Olivia

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