I’m going to tell you a story. A true story, albeit a sad story. And unhappily, this story is like hundreds of thousands (let me repeat that…hundreds of thousands) of similar stories in Canada.
It involves a girl, a young girl who is enticed into a bedroom by a male relative. He does unspeakable things to her, things that he wants her to keep secret, things that if they were exposed, he says, would cause her shame and embarrassment. There would also be consequences. If she were to say something, he says, she would be taken away from her family and friends, maybe have to live in an institution.
So she remains silent. And he continues to do unspeakable things to her.
Here’s another story. A man stumbles into his house at two o’clock in the morning after a bender, waking up his wife and children. His toddler son begins to cry. Annoyed by this, he screams at the boy, “SHUT THE FUCK UP!” The wife interferes and she receives her husband’s fists for her troubles, one to the ribs and one to the jaw. The next day, the wife goes to work and when her colleagues question the bruise on her face, she says, “We’re doing kitchen renovations and I wacked myself on the face while installing the new cupboard door; I’m so careless sometimes.” She laughs, wincing from her bruised ribs.
And one more. A young man sits in front of me at a senior’s home and tells me he doesn’t understand how the money can keep disappearing from his mom’s bank account. He doesn’t seem to care that she may have to be evicted for not paying rent. He doesn’t care that the staff have been chipping in to buy her essentials such as toothpaste, shampoo, and clothing. He doesn’t care that she isn’t sleeping or eating because of stress; after all, she doesn’t understand money things. Finally, his girlfriend comes to me with the mom’s bank card. She says that the son has been stealing his mom’s money for a long time. When I ask her why she has come forward with this evidence, she says, “I’m sick and tired of that bastard hitting me, so this is my payback.”
A 60-page report about family violence in Canada was released last week. Here are some of the staggeringly ghastly statistics:
• One woman is killed by a family member in Canada. Every. Single. Day.
• Every six days, a woman is killed by an intimate partner.
• Every single day in Canada, on average, 230 people are victims of family violence.
• In the past five years, 760,000 Canadians have experienced unhealthy spousal conflict, violence, or abuse. This is about one in ten couples.
• In family-related homicides involving children, half of them were under four years old.
• Eight seniors are subject to family violence. Every. Single. Day.
• More than 766,000 Canadians over the age of 55 have experienced neglect or abuse in the last year. That’s about one in fourteen.
• Thirty percent of Canadians have reported some kind of abuse before the age of fifteen. It’s even worse for indigenous people – 40 percent.
This is happening right now in Canada, my friends.
The statistics are gobsmacking. But that’s not the worst part.
Various estimates suggest that 70 PERCENT OF FAMILY VIOLENCE IS NOT EVEN REPORTED.
Think about that for a minute. Think about all those individuals – tens of thousands of victims – who are suffering silently from family violence. For every three young girls who are reporting that they are being sexually assaulted by a male family member, seven more are keeping their mouths shut out of fear. For every three seniors who are being financially abused or regularly pinched to obtain compliance by a family member, seven are keeping quiet about it, also out of fear.
And consider that many of our vulnerable citizens don’t even have the ability to speak up.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel helpless about this.
Take the young man in my story above who was stealing money from his mom. Neither the police nor the Protection for Persons in Care would do anything because the mom was her own decision maker and could make it stop if she wanted. Of course, the poor woman couldn’t believe that her son would steal money from her; he’s a good boy. I felt helpless. I couldn’t even ban the man from the seniors’ home until we found him stealing property and soliciting money from a resident with a brain injury. It was only when the woman agreed to have her financial decisions made by a representative of the Office of the Public Guardian was the financial abuse put to rest.
Family violence is a vastly complex issue without a one-fits-all solution. So I’m not here to say the issue can be resolved overnight.
But considering the statistics, I would hazard to guess that you know of at least one person who has been or is currently being subjected to family violence.
Maybe you are a victim of family violence yourself.
And like most of us, because of our conditioning to respect the privacy of others, because of our fear, because of the complexity of the issue itself, because we sometimes feel pity for the perpetrator, because we feel shame, because we feel we’ll be judged by others, you are probably feeling helpless.
But there is one thing you can do, and it’s this:
Report it. Encourage someone who is suffering from family violence to report it. Ask your co-worker about her bruises or limp. If you are violent yourself, get some help. Put the shame and fear aside, stand up, and tell the story.
And for goodness sake, don’t be shamed into leaving your daughter alone with your uncle; tell him your daughter can only be with men under supervision. Period.
Speaking up can contribute to two things: it can protect the victim, and it can cause the perpetrator to get help or be confined, preventing abuse of even more people.
You must believe that being apathetic about family violence serves no one, least of all yourself. Right now, someone you know, whether you are aware of it or not, is suffering from family violence. If you have even the tiniest bit of compassion within you, say something. Force it out into the open.
Remember years ago, when people used to smoke in the workplace and at the movies? Well, we knew how bad smoking was then, how it could destroy our health and the health of those around us, but not much was done about it. And then, over time, slowly like a glacier, we began to make a big deal about it. Employees began demanding a smoke-free workplace. People began to speak up. And over time, the percentage of smokers decreased by half, and then even further.
The same can happen with family violence. Let’s get it out in the open. Let’s speak up and let the country (nay, world) know that family violence is absolutely NOT OKAY!
If family violence is happening anywhere in your world, be a hero. Speak up.
You could save someone’s life. Maybe even your own.