Victims of domestic abuse deserve community's attention

First published: July 19, 2000

The headlines have been jarring.  There was a story in the weekend newspapers about charges against the husband of a pregnant Pickering woman who was found dead on her bathroom floor on Mother’s Day.

It came on the heels of another story in the national media about the funeral of the Kitchener family who were killed during a brutal slaying. Bill Luft likely stabbed his wife while she clung to the couples’ 10-week-old baby. He then went into his other three children’s bedrooms and killed them. His final act was to kill himself.

There were two other incidents in the past two months where abused women have been murdered by their spouses.

These tragic occurrences rippled through our community. The Northumberland Services for Women saw a dramatic increase in the number of women who sought safety at its shelter after these cases were made public through the media.

Executive director Greta Bennett says these recent homicides have made women more fearful. The 14 beds at its shelter are full. There are other women seeking help through the various crisis lines, walk-in services and other tools available to them. Over the past year, 89 women were given shelter in Northumberland. About 90 children and two teenagers were helped through the children’s program. More than 400 women got help through the outreach program.

It is hard to imagine these women constantly living in fear. The fear is very real. A spouse is five times more likely to be murdered at the hands of their partner than any other reason. The women can become so afraid; they will jump when a person comes up behind them.

Abuse happens on many levels, not just the punching, hitting and kicking often associated with physical abuse. There is also sexual abuse, social abuse (putting someone down in front of others), environmental abuse (locking in the house, destroying personal items), emotional/verbal/psychological abuse (insults, verbal threats), economic abuse (withholding money).

There is plenty being done to help. There is a co-ordinated response project where key community agencies are developing protocols to assist women and children fleeing abuse. There was also a risk assessment workshop to help identify women and children in danger. Local police, the children’s aid society, the Family Violence Treatment Coalition, and the hospital are among many public institutions participating. These best practices are expected to be in place by December.

But more needs to be done.  It is rare in our community to openly discuss domestic violence. It is even more infrequent to see people taking direct action. Each of us has a stake in this.

We can make sure our shelters and safe homes are able to financially sustain themselves. We can help by creating more affordable housing. We can further support drop-in centres and support groups. Volunteering to provide transportation, donating goods and services are all important things that can involve us directly.

When we know of cases of abuse, take action. The neighbours of those women who died recently told the press about what was taking place. We saw them on television bemoaning what happened. But none of these people say they called the authorities.

Know the facts. Call the police. Do not give advice or judge these people. Help them find safety. These are only a few of the things that can be done. Find out what more that you can do from places like the Northumberland Services for Women.

But we must also talk openly and regularly. There are many community organizations that can discuss the issue of domestic violence. Everyone from the local books clubs to Rotary should have this on their agenda annually. It is too easy to leave this issue in a corner to collect dust.

There is a stigma attached to talking about abuse. It seems the dominance of neo-conservative thinking these days make it passe to talk about such things for fear one would be branded a feminist or a socialist or some other boogieman. That is not the case.

A fitting analogy for these women and children living in this kind of terror might be soldiers in battle.

Every November 11, our community honours the courage and heroism of veterans of war.  School children, adults, friends and family take a few moments to remember those who survived incredible circumstances. Imagine the constant fear of living in a trench as soldiers did in World War I. Think about those who stormed the beaches of Normandy while under constant fire as comrades fell dead all around. Suppose you were one of those who patrolled the treacherous rice fields of Korea or Vietnam. Every moment those people lived on the brink of terror.

Domestic violence strikes at the heart of our compassion. To ignore abuse is to ignore people in our community who live in fear daily. We do not forget those who suffered from the terror of war. Let us not forget these women and children.

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