Abuse against women deserves more attention from community

First published: March 13, 2009

The saga of celebrity singer Rihanna’s domestic abuse shines a light on a dark corner of society, one that deserves attention from all levels of government in Northumberland County.

National hotlines in the United States report about a 20 per cent spike in calls since the beginning of the recession this past fall. Between Boxing Day and Jan. 25, 2009, the Scottish Domestic Abuse Helpline saw a 7.5 per cent jump in calls for help.

But, the high profile case of Rihanna, the 21-year old Barbadian pop star, draws attention to the plight of many women far less famous. Her case involves an alleged attack by singer/boyfriend Chris Brown about three weeks ago. The horrific pictures of Rihanna’s face first appeared on the celebrity website TMZ.com and were circulated widely, showing her swollen face and bruises.

Yet, like so many other women, we find out late last week she has returned to her alleged abuser.

While this is the fodder of tabloids, the message is clear: domestic violence is a dark secret magnified by the current recession. As financial pressures on families across the county and the country mount, the stresses can lead to an increase in the levels of abuse as the statistics show. Northumberland Services for Women turned away 90 women recently during a six-month period.

In its presentation to the federal government in January, YMCA Canada called on the federal government to invest money in program to help women. It wants changes to the Employment Insurance program to increase payments and investments in training and education for women. It is seeking investments in affordable housing for women and assistance for shelters to provide assistance for those fleeing violence.

The recent expansion of the Northumberland Services for Women can just in time. It is able to provide housing for approximately 16 people. While this may appear to be good news, it is not the end of the story. Counselling for abused women, permanent housing, financial programs, child care, education and training are all necessary, as the YMCA report points out. The expansion of the shelter is only the first step.

The $1 million grant from the provincial government is a solid investment. However, more is needed. MP Rick Norlock must take up this cause at the federal level. Investing in jobs is crucial, but social spending is equally important. Building affordable housing is a sound investment in communities. It creates jobs, stimulates an important sector of the economy and it provides crucial social benefits, as well.

Municipalities must also take steps. Official plans are being reviewed in Cobourg and elsewhere in the county. Lands must be set aside and developers must be pushed into allotting a percentage of developments to affordable housing. If they do not, then they should pay a levy, similar to the one for parkland, that could go into a reserve account for future development. Legislating this is critical since we have seen how little attention this issue gets when it is left to free markets.

The sickening sight of a smashed up celebrity face may make great fodder for gossip magazines and websites, along with the questionable reunion. But strip away the hype and we are left with the bare bones reality women across Northumberland and Canada face daily. As a community, we must continue to act, now more than ever.

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