I successfully left my abusive marriage more than a decade ago. It wasn’t easy – far from it.
I finally left in 2004, but 20 months passed before my 19-day divorce trial was heard. And it would be another eight weeks before a 66-page judgment was released giving me sole custody of my five children.
I was homeless and lived with friends and relatives during those 22 months. I continued to see my children daily and every other weekend.
During that time, I made use of the services available through my local women’s shelter and shelters in towns my friends lived in.
The courage it takes for a woman to leave her abuser is immense, but unfortunately it is not enough. It takes an entire community.
According to Statistics Canada, 70 per cent of all spousal violence is not even reported to police. A woman is assaulted an average of 35 times before she calls the police. It takes an average of seven attempts before a woman leaves her abuser for good. But once she leaves, her chances of being murdered increase nine-fold. A woman is murdered by her current or former partner every six days in Canada. All of these numbers increase significantly for Indigenous women, women of colour, immigrants and women with disabilities.
The ultimate goal of my abuser was exactly the same as every other abuser – to maintain control. When I tried to leave, the abuse, also referred to as intimate partner violence (IPV), escalated exponentially.
The World Health Organization defines IPV as “any behaviour within an intimate relationship that causes physical, psychological or sexual harm.”
Some forms of abuse are easily identifiable, but others are more subtle. The abuse is not always physical. It can be financial, and can include cyberbullying, stalking and the manipulating of children. That abuse can escalate over time. It has nothing to do with love. It’s all about power.
Chances are you know a woman who is living in an abusive relationship because the reality is that half of all women in Canada have experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence.
The Ontario Domestic Violence Death Review Committee was established 14 years ago “to assist the Office of the Chief Coroner in the investigation and review of deaths of persons that occur as a result of domestic violence.”
The committee has identified a list of 39 risk factors involved in such cases. Those factors include a history of violence, a pending separation, obsessive or depressive behaviour by the abuser and attempts or threats by the abuser to commit suicide.
The committee concluded that intimate partner femicides are predictable and preventable. In almost every case reviewed by the committee, at least one person outside the relationship was aware that something was wrong.
Although many of us may not know what to do, the first step can be as simple as suggesting the woman speak with someone at a local women’s shelter. But while allies are invaluable, only the woman in an abusive situation knows when the time is safe to ask for help. The truth is, she cannot do it alone.