The System is Broken

The SYSTEM is broken.

It is as broken as her wrist, her arm, her collarbone

Her Heart

Her Spirit.

Every 6 days in this country a woman is murdered by her abuser.

Tonight, more than 3400 women and over 2700 children will sleep in shelters

Because it is not safe at home.

300 more women will be turned away

Forced to roam the streets or worse

Go home.

The numbers do not lie. They tell us what we don’t want to see

With our eyes but know in our heart

How many more women must die?

The SYSTEM is chained

to a cinder block called tradition, formed by the philosophy

that comes from a history of misogyny that says,

All women are liars.

It is sinking in a pit of Patriarchy

Where every woman is scrutinized and scorned

Because she “asked for it”, she stayed, and she stayed silent.

The SYSTEM is ineffective in being protective

Of the women and children

Lost in the wasteland we call Family Law.

Ignoring the cries of the women who are only believed

To be crying wolf, we turn a blind eye while

Women are dying.

The SYSTEM knows no justice

Police don’t believe victims but blame them for their assault

Lawyers are cynical, judges are oblivious

About the realities of Domestic Violence;

In their cinderblock world Violence Against Women

Doesn’t exist.

The SYSTEM is obtuse

believing that if it is “so bad” she will leave.

But where can she go?

Shelters are few and far between,

Faced with poverty or violence

She will lie with the devil she knows even though

She owes him her life and any day now

He will collect.

The SYSTEM is bankrupt

Victim services and crisis workers make miracles happen every day

On a shoestring budget, they do more with less

While the number of deaths continues to rise

How many more women will die because

The man who loves her KILLS HER?

The SYSTEM is Capitalist

Seeing women only as consumable commodities

Valued only for the size of their tits

And their child bearing hips

Women and girls are not equal,

not seen as people

And so are not worthy of protection.

The SYSTEM is failing

When she stays she is blamed,

When she leaves she is shamed,

If she dares to take a risk

She is 6 times more likely to be killed by her abuser

Danger doesn’t end with a change of address.

The SYSTEM is sick

It’s time to burn it down to the ground

Fuel the fire with this oath:

Enough bruises and broken bones

Enough tears and trauma

Enough children left motherless.

From the ash we will rebuild with this promise:

I SEE you, I HEAR you

I BELIEVE you

The SYSTEM is broken

It is as broken as her wrist her arm her collarbone

Her heart

Her spirit

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Why We Need Slut Walk

Three years ago I founded Slut Walk Lanark County. I created a Facebook page and started getting the word out. I formed a committee to help organize our first event and recruit supporters. Many people I spoke with in the field of  advocating for women supported me and were excited to finally have a Slut Walk in our County. In September 2014 was launched at a Take Back The Night event in Carleton Place. The local newspaper wrote about it, and there was a small buzz created. But when it came time to organize the inaugural march, the community was not supportive. Businesses refused to sponsor the March or put posters up, schools would not allow me to come speak to students and some of the organizations that supported SWLC were threatened with funding being pulled if they associated themselves with SWLC. Though the need for Slut Walk was glaringly apparent in Lanark County, it was not supported and so, the inaugural march was postponed. Public education was going to be the focus of the local chapter with a view to organizing a march in the future.

The progress of creating public awareness about what Slut walk is about and why we need it in our County has been  slow and uphill. At other events meant to educate people about rape culture, domestic violence and gender based violence, I would be there, talking about Slut Walk and handing out pamphlets and posters. People were not receptive and even refused my posters because the word “Slut” was on them. This word is so offensive to people that they cannot even touch a paper with the word printed on it. This made me frustrated, no, angry, because women and girls are called Sluts every day and we have to just live with it, accept it as normal, as okay. But, it’s not!

There have been many movements addressing rape culture and violence against women: #YesAllWomen, #TheGhomeshiEffect, #IBelieveVictims, Slut Walk, HollaBack, Take Back the Night, to name a few. These movements are necessary, unfortunately, but not overly effective, obviously. Women are still being assaulted and raped, women still feel unsafe walking alone at night (or in the daytime, in public, really), women and girls are sexualized and objectified, we are slut shamed and blamed, cat called and groped etc. We are told that “boys will be boys” and we shouldn’t take it so personally. We are told to dress in a way to not draw attention to ourselves, to our breasts or buttocks, our legs or tummies.  We are taught how to protect ourselves if we are attacked, to carry our keys between our fingers, to check under and inside our cars  before getting in them. We are accused of lying when we report assault or rape. Women are not valued, not protected, not believed. We are not equal; in 2017 women are not viewed as anything more than sex objects and body parts. This makes me furious.

A friend wrote on her Facebook timeline about her thirteen year old daughter and friend being cat called and verbally assaulted while walking home from the store. The girls were so shocked by what was being shouted across the road at them they could not react. When the men became more aggressive in their language, calling them sluts and whores, the girls became frightened and ran the rest of the way home. My friend had to console and reassure these frightened and confused girls, which was difficult. But, even more difficult, she had to speak to them about how to protect themselves next time this happens, because it will happen again. And again. And again. Reading her post, tears filled my eyes as I felt so sorry for these girls having to experience this. My tears burned my eyes and then anger, no rage, burned my heart, my gut. This should not be happening! Not just in our community, but anywhere. Girls should not be subjected to the whims of men who think they own girls’ bodies and have a right to leer at them and call out obscenities.

When I was promoting the inaugural march for Slut Walk Lanark County, many people, some of them friends, complained about the name. There was much debate about the name of Slut Walk and even with explanation and information, people, mostly women, expressed a strong dislike for the name. They were offended over the word “Slut” and wondered why this word had to be used; is repulsive and crude. And they are right about that, it is. And women know because we hear it thousands of times during our life as boys and men hurl it at us as an insult or threat, other girls and women use it accusingly to judge and belittle one another, police officers and lawyers and judges use it to diminish the claims of sexual assault and rape, making it the victim’s fault. Women hear the word Slut and worse so many times in our lives that we almost accept it as part of the landscape of womanhood. But, this apathy, this acceptance is dangerous. It allows men to continue to sexualize and objectify us, our daughters, our sisters, our mothers our friends… We must not tolerate this language, this behaviour any longer. We must stand in Solidarity and fight back.

Rural communities are less forward thinking than urban areas. The exposure to diversity and social justice is very limited. The moral codes and social norms are often carried over from the previous generations because things have “always been this way” and so they are accepted as correct. People don’t speak out against racism, homophobia, misogyny etc. because much of the time they don’t even recognize it for what it is. Slut shaming and victim blaming is what happens when a woman is assaulted; obviously she was asking for it. Look how she was dressed, where she was, how much she drank, her reputation, etc., etc., ad nauseam. Much of the time, girls and women don’t even realize they have been assaulted or raped, or if they do, they don’t report it because they either don’t think they have a right to protection or they don’t think they will be believed. Women live in domestic violence and don’t even realise that they do not have to live with violence because they witnessed it growing up or have been experiencing abuse most of their lives. Domestic violence is their normal. Girls are taught that their value weighs heavily on whether or not they have a boyfriend and, later on, a husband, because they are not valuable in their own right.

This is why I founded Slut walk Lanark County. This is why I sit on the Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Committee, why I sit on the board for Peggy’s House, why I volunteer at Interval House. This is why I show up and speak out. I grew up in this community and I have raised my children here. I lived within the bubble filled with rape culture and homophobia and misogyny. But I did not teach my children to accept these things; I taught them to be different, to be advocates for themselves and others, to be feminists.

Feminism needs to be taught in schools, modelled and demonstrated. Parents need to teach their children that all people are equal and have a right to be treated with dignity and respect. Generational views that are patriarchal and misogynist must not be carried on, but called what they are and abandoned. The only way we are truly going to keep girls and women safe is to accept nothing less than absolute equality. I feel sick knowing that my girls have grown up in rape culture. I am disheartened that younger girls are still growing up in it and that adults are still allowing it to happen. However, I am also infuriated by this and so the fire in my gut burns strong and I will continue to stand in Solidarity with women and girls. I will keep marching, keep talking, keep advocating until there is no need for me to do so.

My motivation is this: wouldn’t it be amazing if my granddaughter didn’t know what rape culture was? Or my great-granddaughter only learned about it in her sociology class as part of the history of Feminism? Wouldn’t it be a dream come true to live in a world that is Feminist? “You may call me a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.” (John Lennon) So, this is a call to all the other Dreamers out there; raise your voice, move your feet and let’s smash the Patriarchy and end rape culture!

Money Talks

Divorce is a nasty experience for so many, but even more so for women who are leaving an abuser. Since leaving my abuser in 2004, after an 11 year court battle, I have become and advocate for women in my community. I have joined several advisory boards and activist groups who are striving to make changes to the way society views domestic violence and make changes to laws, the legal and justice systems. Having years of lived experience in the Family Court, Criminal Court, child protection and social service systems, I have made it my personal mission to advocate for women and empower them to rebuild their lives after they have left their abuser.

But, you, know, the battle has been uphill. Systems are slow to work and the powers that be are resistant to change. Voices fall on the deaf ears of politicians who pay lip service to the deadly problem of domestic violence, but do not put their money where their mouth is when it’s time to act. They show up for the photo opportunity, but when you call to be added to a Town Council agenda or to get a meeting with a Municipal Member of Parliament, their schedules are full and not flexible; essentially, you are ignored. Now that they have the media attention and the photo of them shaking your hand after making empty promises to pass a Bill that will make a real difference in the lives of women, you are no longer of interest to them.

In rural communities, sytems are so entrenched in tradition and conservatism that even speaking about change can cause outrage and stir up the pot of misogyny and Patriarchy so much that you are left feeling as though you are under threat. People get so angry and lash out so violently when you even suggest that the way things “have always been  done” no longer is a valid justification for allowing women and children to live in violent homes, afraid for their safety and their lives. Many still believe that what happens in a home is not anyone’s business but those that live within those walls, that it is a “family matter” and they will not step up and help. Many still live under the Patriarchal misconception that the man is the “head of the household” so he should have control, he should be obeyed and he has a right use his word, his hands or whatever other means he deems appropriate to maintain control in “his” home.

I’m stepping up, daily, to say, “No, it’s not okay.” This is not the way it should be. No, I won’t be quiet, mind my own business or look away. As a Survivor, I will use my voice and speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. I will show up at Town Council meetings, Committee meetings, Marches and Rallies. I will speak up at the grocery store, in a parking lot, at a bar, on the street; if I see violence, I am going to call it out and I am going to do what I can to stop it.

I wish more people would do this. I wish that when a woman is murdered, raped, abused, goes missing, that people would take to the streets in outrage and demand that the government take notice and changes the laws that do not protect women, but should. That the judicial systems and police services would take notice and do more to protect women, that they would listen to women and believe them. I wish that women were as valuable in our society as men, as money, as power. I wish women were viewed as equal, as important, as persons.

I’m tired of wishing. I’m sick to death of being shushed and patronized. I’m frustrated that friends and peers do not think that my advocacy is anything more than a way of keeping my past wounds open, that I am still bitter and angry. I’m dismayed that government representatives and Crowns and Police don’t show up to hear what victims, survivors and advocates are saying, are experiencing.   I’m tired of advocating and talking, of making speeches and blogging “in hopes” that people will listen, will think, will act. And I’m fucking furious that when we talk, when we march, when we show up and speak out we are called Feminazis, man-haters, extremists.

Too many women are still living in dangerous households. too many children are witnessing or suffering abuse. Too many women are being left destitute and living in poverty after divorce. Too many women are being murdered, too many are children left motherless. Too many women are disappearing, too many families are  left wondering, worrying. In rural communities, the rates of these occurrences are two to four times more than in urban areas. That is unacceptable!

More government funding needs to be directed to rural areas to build and improve infrastructure to allow efficient,  effective supports and services for women There is an overwhelming need for more affordable housing, transitional housing, transportation services, income supports, mental health providers and health care providers. Education programs need to be funded to enable advocates to get into schools and educate youth about healthy relationships. Public Education campaigns need to be funded to allow advocacy agencies to speak to the public about what they can do to facilitate change in their communities. Survivors need to be financially compensated for their invaluable role in these campaigns where they speak their lived experience and give credibility to these campaigns.

Money talks and put in the right places, it can speak loud and clear that women have a right to exist, free from fear of violence. Women have a right to live their lives, and navigate the world feeling safe.

 

No, I can’t “just get over it.”

I read It’s Time: Canada’s National Strategy to Prevent and Address Gender-based Violence today. I was part of the development of this Strategy, with a group of other strong and determined Survivors. We met over the course of a year to discuss our experiences in the Family Law, Criminal and Civil Court systems, as well as our experiences with social service agencies and child protection agencies. We culminated our accounts, thoughts and experiences, along with comprehensive recommendations, in to a report that was presented to the Minister of the Status of Women earlier this year. So, I was very curious and eager to read the report, particularly because our group, Believe/Croyez has been selected  from a National pool of other advocacy groups, who also provided reports of their own, with the hopes of being selected to work with the government in making this Strategy become a reality. Believe/Croyez will receive grant money to put our recommendations in to action and change the landscape of gender-based violence in this country, with a view to ending it.

So many parts of the report had me feeling hopeful and reassured; finally, it seems, the government is listening. Finally, we have a plan and that is a very good start. Something really struck me, though. A paragraph that says, “Violence can have life-long impacts on an individual’s physical, mental, sexual and reproductive health. Impacts can include physical injury and death, disabilities- including depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder- as well as sexually transmitted infections, unintended pregnancy, miscarriage, substance use, absence from school or work, job loss and social isolation.”  This is more true than anyone can know. I have often said, in an effort to lighten a very heavy mood when speaking about my own experiences, that domestic violence is the gift that keeps on giving. Just when a woman thinks she’s turned a corner, there seems to always be yet another road block for her to overcome. Being a victim is traumatizing , life threatening and life changing, but just because you’re “out” doesn’t mean it’s over.

Speaking for myself and, if I may, my children, we are still coping with the aftermath of my abusive marriage. I left my husband July 21, 2004, and still today, the shadows of Jason’s abuse hangs over us. We all have a degree of PTSD, depression and anxiety. We have all sustained physical, emotional and psychological injury from our abuser, causing us to miss work, school, become isolated from friends and family at times and, when we just couldn’t figure out a way to connect, from each other. I would often miss work in the early days of my separation due to lawyers’ meetings, court dates, doctor’s  and counselling appointments for my kids. But there were also times I missed work because the fear of leaving my house was so great, I couldn’t get myself through the door. The anxiety I felt being away from my children and not knowing for sure they were safe would have me keeping my children home from school for movie days, making ice cream sundaes while avoiding their questions about why they “got to” stay home today.

Often I would stay home rather than going out with friends because I just couldn’t handle their questions or worse, their lack of questions. They did not understand what I was experiencing and did not know how to support me. Seeing them living their “normal” lives was so painful for me; I felt like a failure in so many ways, it was just easier to make excuses and stay home. At times, friends just stopped inviting me, and I knew they were excluding me, but I didn’t blame them. I wasn’t much fun to be around with my anger and paranoia, my guilt and jealousy. Home with my babies was where I wanted to be and in spending so much time with my children, in keeping us all so close together, I created an isolation and a co-dependency that would later cause a rift in the family that I am not sure we (I) will ever be able to repair. My eldest daughter has left home, has stopped speaking to me and, while my heart is broken, I understand her motivation completely. She needs to separate herself from all that reminds her of the pain and hurt that was her childhood.

I suffer from PTSD, OCD, Anxiety and Depression… I never realized a person could have all of these diagnoses until I was awarded them, like a prize for “worst dressed” at a red carpet event. These are all badges I wear and the pin pricks in my skin where the various cocktails of medication do not numb their sharp points are reminders that while my marriage is long over, the effects of it are not. I am prone to self-medication with alcohol and, on occasion, recreational drugs. I have rituals that must be completed daily (hourly, minute-by-minute depending on my anxiety level)  some of which, my children can tell you,  are extreme and, for them, invasive. They have never enjoyed me vacuuming and mopping the floors and even less so when the vacuum is turned on while they are sleeping or trying to watch TV. I do both of these things daily, sometimes four or five times a day at my most anxious. There have been times where I have not slept for days and other times when its all I could do to get out of bed. Some say it is a testament to my strength that I always did get out of bed, but it was not so much my strength as my guilt, knowing I owed it to my kids to get out of bed and make the best effort I could to parent them. There were many days I went back to bed after I got the kids to school and stayed there until it was time to pick them up again.

I also have chronic pain in my back and chronic sciatica. I am told the injuries are those consistent with those a person would sustain from repeated hard falls to the floor on one’s bum. The vertebra in my back have been compressed to the point that I have bulging discs and deterioration, and the sacrum and pelvic bones have been damaged and this causes chronic sciatica. I was not a particularly clumsy child, according to my father, and I am 99% sure these injuries are from literally being knocked on my ass by my husband on many occasions. The pain is never completely fades, no matter how many pharmaceutical drugs my doctors prescribe, or how much alcohol I drink. The constant burning and ache are always there, reminding me of the trauma I survived. The pain keeps me prisoner in a cage of resentment, knowing that it will never get any better and I will never truly be free of “him”.

The choices I made, to leave twelve times and go back thirteen, were made in desperation and a will to protect my babies and try to make the best of a marriage doomed to fail. Even in leaving for the final time, I knew it would not be over just because I vowed to never go back, putting borders and country between us, to guarantee it. I knew he would come for me, and he did. Ten years of courts, lawyers, negotiations, left me bankrupt and living in a deeper poverty pit than I ever imagined. The stalking, threats, break and entering, dozens of daily emails kept me feeling afraid for my life and made it impossible for me to be completely present in any given moment. I lived in a state of hyper vigilance for so many years, that my body could not withstand the stress and so I now have fibromyalgia , a painful, difficult disorder that exacerbates the pain I already live with. I have  a sleep disorder that keeps me from falling in to R.E.M. which is required to repair and restore your body. I rarely wake up feeling refreshed.

Still when I go near the Perth Courthouse, I can feel the bile of fear rising in my throat. My hands get clammy, my stomach turns and tears well up in my eyes. When I receive an email from Jason, I still feel anxious and afraid, just seeing his name in my inbox. I received a note from my daughter’s orthodontist last week and it had a hand written note from Jason on it. Seeing his hand writing gave me such a jolt I dropped the paper. I put the letter away; I’ll come back to it when I feel I can. Isn’t that pathetic?

Strength, composure, competence is what people see when I meet them. I dress nicely, I do my hair and my make up daily. I present myself to the world as a Survivor who has overcome her demons and is moving forward in her life. And I am, moving forward. But the demons are at my back, talking in my ear, reminding me that I failed to protect my children, that their pain is my fault, that the future is non-existent.

I separated from my abuser July 21, 2004. I packed up my children and pugs and fled in the night, back to my hometowns to escape. We did not escape. And though court matters have been settled since August 5, 2015, the aftermath and the effects of my marriage are still with me. I will always be “surviving”. My children have a future ahead of them that sometimes seems out of reach, but I will always be there to encourage and support them. Their road is longer and perhaps more treacherous than most and I blame myself for much of that. So, when people say, “It’s been thirteen years. Can’t you just get over it?” I tell them, “No. I can’t.” I cannot just get over it because it’s not over for me. It never will be. That’s the reality of domestic violence. Leaving is not the end. It’s just the beginning of another journey filled with pain, fear and guilt. We Survivors are stronger than anyone, except another Survivor,  can ever really know. We put one foot in front of the other every single day, looking a head to a future we sometimes don’t even trust is there. We cannot get over it. It changed our lives, changed who we were and who we could have become. We wear the badge of Survivor without ever having had the choice to not. Our physical, mental, emotional and financial wellness is fleeting, inconsistent and unpredictable. So don’t ask me why I can’t “just get over it.” This is now my life. And the only way to “get over it” is to end it. That is the raw, unsugarcoated, truth. Society doesn’t want to hear this and for decades the trauma of domestic violence was ignored, swept under the rug. But, now we have a strategy, a plan. I was part of that and that is so empowering.

The path I’m on now is exactly where I want to be, speaking out and advocating to end violence against women. I will keep working toward this, keep fighting and keep lending my voice to those who don’t yet know they have their own. I Believe/Croyez we can end violence against women.

 

 

Family Law System Still Fails Women Everyday.

The Family Law system in Ontario is flawed. I mean, it is an absolute waste land of legal jargon, suppositions and red tape that makes it nearly impossible for people to navigate.  We have lawyers who are jaded, judges who are untrained and ignorant about the dynamics of domestic violence and abuse, and they are unsympathetic to victims of sexual assault, victim services workers who are underfunded and over worked, social workers who are indifferent. How are women supposed to navigate this system and protect themselves and their children?

I work with women who are victims of domestic violence and/or sexual assault daily. I collaborate with shelters, outreach services and advocates to support victims and survivors  and what I hear is a lot of anger that women and children are not being protected by the systems that are supposed to be the guard at the gate, keeping them safe from their abusers. Police are not believing victims, lawyers are not supporting their clients, judges have little or no understanding of the complexities of domestic violence and abuse and the prison and parole systems are just not effective. The system needs an overhaul and it needs it yesterday! Too many women and children are dying at the hands of their abusers and it has to stop. If the deaths of women and children is not enough to spur the government to make meaningful changes to policy and pass more comprehensive and effective laws, what will it take?

Domestic violence is a unique area and it requires specialization to effectively support victims and give them real justice. Judges, lawyers, police and social workers all should be required to have training that is specific to the complexities of domestic violence and the training should be mandatory and updated on a yearly schedule.

One of the biggest areas of concern is the court ordered Family Assessments. These assessments are invasive, lengthy and ineffective. They cost a lot of money and require a large time investment and the results are typically generic and unrealistic. There are limited psychologists in the province who provide this “service” and often times the assessments take much longer than expected. In my experience, the assessors are also misogynist hiding behind their Masters Degrees and they definitely don’t have training or knowledge of the dynamics of a DV situation.

When these assessments are ordered, there is little or no consideration given to how this will affect a child. The mental and emotional well-being of children is not considered; it is all about the rights and entitlements of the abuser (father). The mother is scrutinized and interrogated and made to feel as though she is the one who is in the wrong. Home visits and sessions in the office of the psychologist that are long and exhausting are mandatory. Children are not permitted to have their mother or another trusted adult  in the room and they are interviewed alone, with a stranger. It is frightening for these children and they often shut down and cannot provide clear or accurate answers to the questions being asked. Those children that are a bit older, teens perhaps, are often confrontational or defiant. These behaviours are all held against the mother, and indicator that she has somehow coached the children or spoken ill of her abuser (their father) and so they show an allegiance to their mother that can only indicate parental alienation. What is misunderstood here is that women and children become almost co-dependant when they have been victims of DV and they are fiercely protective of one another as a means of survival.

Recommendations made by the psychologists are often unrealistic, insensitive and even callous. The emotional and mental well-being of the children, and that of their mother, is ignored, not even accounted for. Supervised access and reintegration is most often recommended as a result of these assessments, sometimes with joint custody. This is appalling! Expecting a victim to share custody, decision-making and child rearing responsibilities with her abuser is just unacceptable.

Supervised access agencies are notorious for being biased in favour of the abuser (typically men). Their so-called impartial facilitators are anything but, writing comments in reports that reflect their biases and can cause judicial hardship to the woman and her children.

Mediation is often expected of the woman, sometimes her participation in a co-parenting training class is mandatory. This is a cruel and irresponsible expectation as it puts the woman in a position of being legally bullied by her abuser and keeps her feeling vulnerable and isolated. Women cannot be expected to sit across a table from her abuser and discuss parenting or anything else with her abuser. The imbalance of power is too great and the insensitivity of this being recommended and expected by assessors and judges is proof that these people do not have an understanding of DV, nor do they have any regard for a woman’s emotional and psychological safety.

Throughout these processes, women are often left waiting for a child support order. Abusers often do not submit their financial statements or tax returns in a timely manner, or they lie about their income, and they are given excessive amounts of time to withhold this information and delay the child support order. The courts enable the abuser to financially abuse their victim. The Family Responsibility Office is slow to process court orders and have support payments deducted from and abusers income, leaving women and children living in dire financial hardship while they wait for FRO to get their paper work done. FRO is not aggressive with penalties for men who do not pay. The case workers are not allowed to use their discretion or common sense when interpreting support orders as they actually “are” rather than what they “say” and this leads to further delays in processing. Wording of orders is often ambiguous and while clarification is awaited, women and children live in poverty and uncertainty.

All of this is why domestic violence training must be developed along-side survivors, advocates and front line workers to develop a comprehensive and meaningful training program. The training should be made mandatory for every service provider, agency, police officer, lawyer and judge who will be in contact with a victim/survivor of domestic violence and their children. This is the only way to ensure that women and children are not revictimized and are actually protected by the very systems they are relying on to do so. It’s time for people to demand this change and pressure their government representatives to pass meaningful legislation and make funding programs that support victims a priority. Talk is cheap, women and children are dying and now is the time for action. Let’s push our government to put its money where its mouth is!

March 2

Today is the 9th anniversary of my divorce from Jason. Yes, 9th. People wonder why I continue to acknowledge this day, question why I celebrate this day and mark it as a milestone in my journey. Anyone who has escaped an abusive partner knows, that cutting the ties is so important to taking back your life, establishing autonomy and claiming your power. Receiving the divorce decree in my mailbox was one of the best days of my life and I will never forget the feeling of pure joy and vindication I felt when I opened the envelope.

I have been participating in a number of new initiatives to address and combat violence against women and rape culture in my community. One of the most validating engagements was being asked to tell my story and share my experiences in the Family and Criminal courts. Lanark County is trying to get funding for an expansion on our courthouse and have a designated Domestic Violence Court to address the high incidences of domestic violence in our communities. Being asked as a Survivor to speak to a researcher and offer my recommendations regarding the current Systems and the functionality of the courthouse itself in regards to safety for victims was very validating. Not only did it affirm for me that it is okay to speak about my experience, but also that my experiences, my knowledge and my opinions matter. This is very empowering.

As a Survivor of domestic violence and sexual assault, I am often called upon to share my story, support victims and join advisory boards and advocacy committees. I love that I am able to support and empower other women to find the strength they have within themselves to move from victim to survivor. I take my role as a board member and committee member very seriously and I advocate with intention and ferocity. I will not stop advocating until there is no longer a need to do so. When women can live in safety, without fear of abuse or assault, can navigate the world with true equality and autonomy.

March 2 is an important day in my life as it marks my freedom, the severing of ties to my abuser. March 8 is International Woman’s Day and I will be celebrating that day by striking, participating in the No Women for a Day protest. I hope that other women will also participate and support and encourage other women in doing so as well.

Today is a happy day for me. A day that I feel powerful, reflective and strong. Today is a great day.

 

 

Shadow Man

People who experience trauma often have lasting effects from it; anxiety, PTSD, depression, etc. The list is long and the ailments varying in degree from person to person. It doesn’t matter what caused the trauma when you are dealing with its effects; the trauma itself  is not the problem anymore. It’s the way it has changed your life that becomes the issue. So many people suffer every day and the resources are drying up and the empathy is perfunctory; everyone has some advice to offer, but no one really gets it unless they are survivors, too.

I have had a shadow that has followed me since I was young. He is always there, just over my shoulder or standing in the darkness, watching me. Waiting for me. I never really knew why he was there, but sometimes his allure was so strong, I was tempted to follow him in to the darkness.

I know now he came to me after the first time I was sexually assaulted. I was a young girl at a home where my sister and I were cared for while my single father was at work.There were  a dozen or so kids from ages 6 months to 14 years old who went to this caregiver and we were not well supervised. I was the oldest girl at this place and there were a couple boys a bit older than me. There were also boys in the neighbourhood who would come to play. It was on a hot, sunny day when all the kids were outside playing in the yard that I was lured to the front of the house by one of the boys. Two other boys, neighbourhood kids, were waiting. The boys held my arms,  and pushed me to the ground. The other boy, who I thought was my friend, pulled down my shorts and fondled me. He put his fingers inside me. Then he held me while the other boys did the same. They laughed and teased and called me names as I cried. Eventually they let me go. I ran into the house to the bathroom downstairs (we were never allowed up in to the main part of the house) and locked the door. I hid in there for as long as I could. I cried and cried and wondered what I had done to make the boys want to hurt me. I was humiliated and full of shame; I knew it was my fault. I was so afraid that the babysitter would find out and and she would tell my dad…I would be in so much trouble if anyone found out what I had done. You see that? I blamed myself for the behaviour of those boys. They assaulted me and I felt I was to blame. It was the early 80s and Feminism was not something that even existed in my world.

I avoided the boys as best I could the rest of that day. I never told anyone what had happened. It wasn’t the last time I was assaulted by these boys and I lived with the shame, the confusion and anger. I turned it all on myself and searched for ways to appease my guilty conscience. And that is how Shadow Man came to me.

Shadow Man is the darkness, the sadness and shame that I cannot contain inside. He lurks around me, following me, reminding me that I am dirty, unworthy, loathsome and unloveable. He reminds me that I am alone, and that the only way to free myself of him is to join him in the darkness. There, I will find release from pain, a quietness.

He was a part of my life for years. I did everything I could to keep him at bay, but usually I resorted to self-destructive behaviours that really only fed him, and helped him grow stronger. As a young girl I became obsessive about keeping my room clean and in order. I tried to be perfect at school and at home and tried to stay out of the way of the older boys at the babysitters.I was anorexic in high school and college. I binge drank and experimented with drugs. I tried to be perfect, carefully doing my make up and hair every day to look like I was “pretty” and “normal”. Inside, I knew I was ugly, tarnished and unclean. Nothing I did chased Shadow Man away. I became angry, defiant and put on a facade of a strong, confident woman who said what needed to be said, did what needed to be done and had her shit together.

I suffered more trauma through my life; I was raped in high school and never reported it. I never told anyone about it until much later. I married a man who became abusive to me and my children in some of the most heinous ways; I still feel like it is unbelievable that it could have happened to me.

Shadow Man stayed with me my whole life, only leaving for a short period of time when I was and adult. I was working full time, things were quiet on the Family Court front and my kids and I were happy. I was happy, but He was still there. One day a friend of mine told me how you can tell a “spirit” to leave you alone, to go away. I was astonished; could I really do that? I suppose I wanted to believe that this Shadow Man was simply an unwanted entity who had attached itself to me. I followed my friend’s advice and I asked the Shadow Man what he wanted. I got no response that I could feel or understand. I told him he was unwelcome, that he had to leave me alone and never come back. To my surprise, he left. He was gone; I could not feel him anymore. I was so amazed and relieved!

Life was good and I was happy. I was as financially secure as I had ever been. My kids and I were in a good place and the Shadow Man became a memory.

And then my grandmother became ill and when I lost her, I felt like my whole world was crashing down. She was my best friend, my mentor, my hero. Without her I felt like I was disconnected, unstable, lost. I was exposed and Shadow Man found his way back to me; I welcomed him this time. I wanted to feel him near, to know he would be there when I was ready to fall in to the quiet, the dark and rest.

I know that I am not the only person who has experienced trauma in their lives and I know I am not the only one who battles this darkness. Trauma opens you up to it, allows it to come in to your life and haunt you. I have successfully resisted his allure many, many times, but there are still so many days when his darkness blots out the sun and swallows me. On those days, I allow myself to cry, to brood, to be angry. I allow myself to feel the pain that Shadow Man promises to take away. Some days the pain is overwhelming, the anxiety crippling. I will think that I cannot resist anymore, that I don’t even want to; I want the quiet, the peace. And then someone will remind me that I am a Survivor. A  friend, my children, or my grandmother’s voice will whisper in my ear, “One foot in front of the other, Lass. Better days ahead.”  So I allow myself to feel the sadness and anger and fear for a short time. I remind myself that I will survive it, as I have so many times before, and I will keep going. Shadow Man is here, he may always be, and I accept that. I have to find a way to live with this darkness and keep it at bay. I don’t know for how long, but today, I know that I win. And a win one day at a time is a good start.