Christmas Thoughts

Christmas is just days away, there is snow covering the ground and the air is cold. The malls and stores are full of people shopping for gifts for loved ones. The grocery stores are bustling as people buy food for the various parties  they will be hosting or attending and, of course, their Christmas dinner.  It is a busy time of year for most and the messages of, “Be grateful,” and “Give not receive,” are heard in media, social media and in conversation. It’s a time of joy and togetherness.

But not for everyone. For so many, Christmas is a time of sadness, a time of fear, a time of uncertainty. There are arguments made for both sides, but ask anyone who works in the field of violence against women and domestic violence, this time of year is more dangerous for women living with an abusive partner. There is a spike in domestic violence during any holiday, but Christmas seems to see the greatest spike, particularly in more rural communities.  The added financial stress that comes with Christmas shopping and gift-giving and the increase in social activity and the extra expectations put on families to be “together” can often lead to increased tension levels, lower tolerance for frustration and an increase in violent episodes.

Often alcohol plays a huge part in the violence as well because people are more apt to be drinking during the holidays and we all know that alcohol influences your judgement and reduces your inhibitions. Couples will argue or fight without violence on a normal day, but put alcohol in the mix, so to speak, and you have a recipe for disaster. In a household that already is experiencing violence from an abuser, this increases the likelihood of a violent episode and may speed up the cycle of violence , ending the Honeymoon phase and accelerating the tension-building phase to put the family back in to the Crisis Phase more rapidly. Sometimes the Cycle of Violence is experienced many times during a stressful period, such as Christmas time, with each Crisis Phase escalating more and more.  This is where women sustain very serious injuries or are even murdered at the hands of their partner.

In my own marriage, the holidays were a very stressful time. My husband was not a very social person and the expectation put on him by co-workers,  our friends and family to attend parties caused him to feel pressure to behave in a way that was socially acceptable. No off-colour jokes, no inappropriate comments, no swearing at or berating me or the children if we displeased him. In turn, we also felt the expectation to appear as the perfect family; pretty, compliant wife, stay-at-home mother caring for three charming and well-behaved children. To an outsider, we looked like the perfect family; very “together”. We were not. If this facade was broken, if we somehow embarrassed Jason, there would be hell to pay when we got home.

The financial stress to buy gifts was only exacerbated by his unreasonable need to impress his family and friends  by sending exorbitant gifts home; he exulted in their praise and gratitude. However, this led to our budget being even more strained and him reprimanding and berating me for spending too much on gifts for my family back home and  our children. Inevitably there would be a fight about how much was spent, among other short-comings that I invariably had during this season and it was just a matter of when, how hard and how many times I was to experience Jason’s hands on me. I know from very real experience just how tumultuous the Christmas season can be when living with an abusive partner.

so, be mindful of the fact that not everyone will be experiencing the “Joy of Christmas” and check yourself before you encourage people to “cheer up” or “be grateful”. Also be aware of the signs of abuse and if you suspect a woman is a victim of domestic violence, do not turn a blind eye or pretend you do not see her bruise, her fear, her exhaustion. Ask her, “Are you safe?” This question is so much more effective than, “How are you?” or “Are you okay?” These questions are mundane and perfunctory and a woman living with an abusive partner will automatically answer this question with the same answer we are all programmed to say: “I’m fine,” and “Yes.” Asking her if she is safe is not a routine greeting and she may not have an automatic response to this question. She may have to think about it and she may just tell you, “No.” And if she does disclose to you that she is not safe, be prepared to help her, even if it is just a small gesture such as listening if she wants to talk  or giving her the number to a Crisis Line; you have a moral duty to help her. Don’t let her down.

 

 

We Are Human

She’s someone’s sister. Someone’s mother. Someone’s daughter. Someone’s wife.

“Men judge us by our broad hips and forget their birthplace.”

Women must be sheltered from the fierce storms of life.

In the male-dominated fields of literature and politics, women are spoken of as men’s family, or their childhood homes, or treasures for them to protect. All out value lies in that we have value to men. While they are indeed beautiful ideas, to love our mothers and our sisters, to associate the feminine with the divine cradle of life, and to want- to protect women, because the world is indeed full of fierce and destructive storms- none of these ideas make these storms stop, and none of them build a shelter big enough to house all women. We will not be safe until even women who are only children, who are childless, who are orphaned, who are alone, are not considered worthless. We will not be safe until we are not the birthplace of men, but bodies and minds capable of self-actualization. We will not be safe until we are not objects to be sheltered, but fellow builders,  participants in the creation of spaces in which to take refuge from the storm. We will not be safe until it is recognized that our value is not relational to men; we are men, men are us, and the discrepancy in the struggles we face is reflective of social injustice, not an inherent discrepancy in value.

We live in a world where fourteen women can be murdered for daring to pursue higher education. We live in a world where a teenage girl can be filmed being raped as she is vomiting, and the malicious spread of these images and the failure of the Canadian justice system will result in her suicide. We live in a world where more than one thousand Indigenous women and girls can be missing or murdered and this can be dismissed by the Canadian government. We live in a world where a woman who dares to pursue the most powerful political position in the world can be called a “nasty woman” and be judged on her looks and her demeanor rather than her qualifications for the job. We live in a world where women are not permitted to be outside unaccompanied by a man without risking being beaten and raped. We live in a world where girls are not permitted to go to school and if they defy their government and pursue an education they will be shot in the head and left to die, held as an example for other girls of what will happen if they, too, attempt to become educated. We live in a world where a woman can be beaten to death for speaking up for other women. Where a woman can receive death and rape threats for simply for speaking or creating art in a public space. We live in a world that still does not respect the dignity and importance- the value – of all women.

But we also live in a world where women can come together and lift our voices and our spirits together in hope. We live in a world where women are gathering, marching, protesting and these gatherings are getting bigger. We are getting louder. We are being heard.

The fight to have our value recognized is still being fought, and in spite of all the horrors we still face, and will face for years to come, we are winning. Those who stand against us, those who stand in our way, will not be able to stand there forever.We are many and we are powerful, and most importantly, we are human. Any arguments for continued violence against us, for our continued inequality, is an argument with that fundamental fact; We are human. As long as we know we are more than sisters, mothers, daughters and wives, more than the birthplace of men, more than treasures to be protected, that we are people in our own right, with independent an incontrovertible value, we cannot be silenced.

Note: This is an edited version of a speech written by my daughter, Em Kwissa, for the Dec. 6th vigil held in Lanark County in 2014. I have posted it with edits as I believe it is still relevant and still reflective of what women are facing today.

Standing in Solidarity

It’s no secret that misogyny and patriarchy have been forces at work in society for centuries. It’s no secret that women are treated as second class citizens around the world, objectified, discriminated against and denied equal rights and access to education, health care and protection under the law. Women have long been expected to “put up or shut up” and suffer in silence. The recent election campaign in the United States brought forward a lot of old wounds and shed light in the fact that the Women’s Movement still has so much work to do. Feminism is still not seen as equality for all, but the taking of rights from men to give women rights that many still believe they are not entitled to.Women are still not viewed as equals.

And while we can be incredulous and shout, “It’s 2016, people!” it does not seem to resonate with as many people as we thought it would. In truth, the politically correct climate we have been living in since the 90’s has really just pushed the truth of how so many people really think in to the darkest corners of their minds and hearts, leaving them feeling bitter. The Trump campaign which championed misogyny, patriarchy and white supremacy has allowed these stifled thoughts to bubble to the surface and has given people license to spew the hate that has been lying in wait in their hearts. Their words spur actions and we are seeing racist and misogynistic displays of hate across North America and around the world. We have been naive to think that the idea of “you can’t say that, you can’t think that way anymore” really changed what lies in people’s hearts and minds. Clearly we were deluded to think that the change we have been working to create was real and would continue to evolve for the good of humankind when a man like Donald Trump can be elected President of the United States of America.

Hate is taught and learned in families, generation by generation, a cycle as predominant and recognizable as the cycle of abuse, yet we have allowed ourselves to be wooed by this artificial safety net we call “politically correct”. Trump has pulled that safety net out from under us and we are witnessing  the beginning of a free fall in to a clash of ideologies and civil unrest. Rallies and protests in the streets are peaceful so far, but for how long?  I fear that the worst is yet to come and there will be violence in short order. While Trump has been back peddling on some of his campaign promises already and trying to tone down some of his campaign rhetoric, the damage has already been done. Those filled with hate, dissatisfied with their lives and looking for a scapegoat, have been given permission to act on their backwards ideologies.

Some may say I am being dramatic, but I don’t think I am. So many people are now living in fear, living with uncertainty and are trying to navigate a world that already looked down its proverbial nose at them, but they now have a target on their back. So many like me are sleepless at night with worry, anxiety heightened and feeling helpless to do anything to feel safe. I have been an advocate for women for years and I have always stood in Solidarity with any group who is disadvantaged or marginalized, however the situation that is unfolding seems overwhelming and impossible to process. There is so much that we were not prepared for; the election of Trump first and for most. All I can think to do is continue to speak out. But words seem so useless and wearing a safety pin on my clothing seems so minimal. Sharing posts on social media and signing petitions seems so trite and redundant.

I have long said that real action is what is needed to make change. Taking a real stand and, if need be, taking to the streets, is what will get people to take notice. Our complacency in how we deliver our message of what is acceptable, what we will tolerate and allow has come back to bite us in the ass. The protests and rallies that are happening right now in the USA are what should have been happening all along until we forced our politicians and world leaders to hear us and pass the laws that are need to protect the rights of all citizens.  We know that the Legal, Judicial and  Electoral Systems are broken and that at the very least change needs to take place, if not a complete overhaul. But we will never get this change to happen if we are not willing to put real pressure on our government. Women and LGBTQ persons and People of Colour are still dying daily and we can no longer afford to express our anger and sadness on Facebook and Twitter. Like the Water Protectors at Standing Rock, we need to be more visible and raise our voices higher than the din of hate that is now bubbling rapidly to the surface.

Civil unrest is evident and I do believe there will be a clash of ideologies, however history has taught us that the only real way to bring change is with force. The Suffragettes took to the streets to get the vote, the Women’s Movement took to the streets, burning their bras to get gender equality. People of Colour took to the streets in the Civil Rights Movement to get equal rights… When did we become so complacent as to think that social media was the answer? It is so easy to speak out from the comfort of our living room, sharing a post and then switching our focus to something less difficult for us to see. But not everyone has the privilege to tune out the hate, the pain that it causes and I believe we all have a duty to stand in Solidarity and participate in the Revolution that is coming if we truly want this world to be better for our children.

Call me an angry Feminist if you want, but I will be standing with my sisters and brothers in Solidarity and I will not be silenced.

“Imagine”

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today… Aha-ah…Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion, too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace… You…

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world… You…

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one

 

I need Feminism because…

I attended Ottawa Slut Walk on Sunday. A very good friend attended with me. We made posters and wore feather boas and put glitter in our hair. While we did not dress as flamboyantly as many of the other marchers, our voices were just as loud and our conviction just as strong.

I am a survivor of sexual assault and domestic violence. My friend is gay and deals with a whole other level of abuse on a daily basis that I can only sympathize for. He and I marched together, feeling empowered by all the people walking the streets of Ottawa with us.

In the year 2016, we would think that Slut Walk would not be necessary. We would hope that rape culture and misogyny and patriarchy were no longer relevant, but things that kids learn about in their history classes. Unfortunately, this is not the case; Feminism is a dirty word and so many people not only misunderstand Feminism, they truly believe it is about promoting inequality between men and women.

Feminism is about equality of the sexes, it’s not about giving women rights while taking rights away from men. Feminism means women and men are seen as equals; in the work place, in the home, walking down the street, in a bar, on a bus…But this is not the case. Women are not seen as equals and are not treated with the absence of malice. While not all women are victims, or survivors, if one of us is oppressed, we are all oppressed.

We need feminism because girls and women are sexually objectified, harassed and assaulted every day, just because they are female. According to Statistics Canada, 1 in 4 girls will be sexually abused before they turn 18, compared to 1 in 8 boys.  That is a staggering figure! In the media and in society in general, women are looked as sexual objects and it is so pervasive that even girls in elementary schools are being slut-shamed for wearing clothing deemed to be “too sexy”. I’m sorry, but there is nothing “sexy” about a ten year old and no one should be thinking otherwise.

This is why I need Feminism and why I know so many other women who are Survivors need Feminism. This is why I marched in Solidarity at Ottawa Slut Walk on Sunday and why I founded Slut Walk Lanark County. I want all women and LGBTQ to feel safe and respected and EQUAL in our society. And I will continue to march until there are no more unsafe streets to march on and misogyny truly is a phenomenon that kids only read about in their history books.

 

 

Action Research Change

There are some words that we use to get a reaction, to get people to take notice. Words that make it very clear what we mean and how we feel. Society does not like these words being used out in the open but this is how Rape Culture, Misogyny and Patriarchy are continuing to be normalized. This is why violence against women is still, in 2016, a rampant occurrence. This is why women are still being killed on a daily basis and people hardly bat an eye. Victim blaming and shaming keep women from reporting sexual assault and abuse; their silence is deafening.

So lets just get it out in the open; lets start talking, no shouting, in anger and demand change. Lets stop calling it “sexual assault” when its RAPE. Let’s stop saying she’s a  victim of domestic violence and say “HE IS AN ABUSER”. I want to stop hearing that women are being victims of murder, like they are active participants in their death. Let’s call it what it is; “HE MURDERED HER”, he took her life, stole her from her family and friends to accommodate his own person agenda of POWER and CONTROL. Let’s just stop being so kind to these MEN and call them out on their actions and be truthful in our adjectives. Let’s hold ourselves accountable for the way we treat victims by BLAMING them, SHAMING them and making them feel like whatever happened to them was THEIR OWN FAULT. I for one am sick and tired of being politically correct  when it comes to violence against women. It’s addressed by government and agencies as VOW (violence against women). This is what we have reduced this “issue” to; an acronym. We can do more; women DESERVE more than than being lumped into a category of “issues to address” and referred to as a VOW. It’s callous and cold and it makes me angry to hear this. I am not the only one; many women and agencies, outreach services and shelter service are angry, too. That is what ARC is about.

The Federal government has pledged to make VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN a priority and develop a national strategy. In response to this, ARC has been meeting to discuss and prioritize what we want in a National Strategy. We are discussing the justice system and how it sets women up to be re-victimized in the courts. Police need mandatory training at all levels to understand what violence against women is, the cycle of abuse and how to speak to a victim. There needs to be much more funding for organizations and agencies that provide services and support to women. This money needs to be directly allotted to this issue and not offered as a trickle down of money that never really makes it to those who need it most. There must be a mechanism for oversight and accountability for funding and for agencies receiving this money.

Aboriginal women need a specialized agenda to support their unique position in society. They have been ignored, abused, murdered and treated like second class citizens for generations. Abuse within their communities is generational and normalized. And when an Aboriginal woman is MURDERED or is MISSING, no one seems to care. It’s not given the priority that it should and, sometimes, the very people who are supposed to be protecting these women and girls are the ones RAPING and MURDERING them.

The Family Law system fails women every day. There is a seemingly deliberate lack of understanding of domestic violence. Attorney’s and judges seem indifferent to the unique situation that is the reality of a woman escaping a relationship in which she was abused and assaulted. Family Law courts do not want to address or acknowledge criminal behaviour perpetrated by an ABUSER, and this sentiment is reciprocated by the Criminal Courts. Rather than working in tandem, they work in isolation and this leaves women and children at greater risk of harm. DOMESTIC VIOLENCE falls on deaf ears in the Family Court and women and children are left caught in the wheels of a very slow, inept system that has no empathy or understanding for them. Mandatory training for judges and lawyers is what is needed and  will be included in the proposal from ARC.

Legal Aid funding needs to be increased and the test for eligibility needs to be specialized for victims of domestic violence or assault. Women should not have to deplete all their financial resources before becoming eligible for Aid. They should not have to live in abject poverty and prove their lack of assets and savings in order to be assisted. They should not be told they must sell their home, a home in which either she is living in or the abuser is and be forced in to a financial battle with her abuser that she cannot win. Women identifying as victims of domestic violence should be granted immediate assistance without a test of eligibility to at least have funds to meet with a lawyer and learn her rights.

Police need to be thoroughly trained about the cycle of abuse. Probation conditions need to be strictly enforced and victims need to be notified of all changes within those conditions. Restraining orders and conditions are not worth the paper they are written on if no one is willing to enforce them. Who is going to stand with a woman and allow her to feel safe?

Court Support Workers are under funded and over-worked. Money needs to be designated to hire more workers in each district to allow ease of access of service to victims. Particularly in rural areas, where distances between clients are great and courthouses can be a long way to travel. Funding for services in rural communities needs to be allotted more fairly and efficiently to allow shelters and victim services to properly meet the needs of the women they serve. It is sad to say in 2016, but money needs to be spent on building MORE SHELTERS for women. Wait lists and lack of beds leave women and children at risk and at the mercy of the ABUSER. Often shelters are a great distance from where the woman lives so she is pulled out of her community and support system. This is unacceptable!

Counselling for children needs to be included in the National Strategy; kids are not as resilient as people want to believe. Violence in the home affects the children as much as, and just as uniquely, as their mother and this needs to be recognized and understood. Trauma changes a child’s DNA, and this includes domestic violence. These children are not just witnesses, they, too, are victims. This trauma can change their path for the future, can lead to depression, anxiety, PTSD… These kids can later on become more likely to engage in risky behaviours, abuse drugs or alcohol and have severe mental health challenges. If we have a plan to support them as soon as possible, they can recover from the trauma and go on to be healthy, well-adjusted adults. But we cant just assume that “kids are resilient’ and they will bounce back. It’s not true and it is unfair to these children to assume otherwise.

The neglect of women and children in the medical system needs to addressed. The cycle of abuse needs to be part of the training of all persons in the medical field. Posting information in exam rooms and having pamphlets on the table in waiting rooms is not effective in assisting women and children. The right questions need to be asked. Women need to be allowed to speak autonomously without the abuser in the room and their situation needs to be respected. Action needs to be taken keeping in mind the unique situation of each woman.

This also applies to Law students. Domestic violence is not a mandatory area of study and is rarely discussed in the lecture hall. The Law Society has developed a training program in 2015, but it is not mandatory for students to access it in order to graduate. This needs to change, particularly for those going in to Family or Criminal Law so that they can better serve women who have been victimized become their clients.

The root issue of violence against women is MISOGYNY. Women are still not considered equal to men, their bodies are objectified and sexualized and they are not respected as autonomous individuals. Women are paid LESS in the work force, given LESS respect in the courts and looked at as hysterical, hormonal creatures who are somehow acting out against a man. Women are thought of manipulative and “GOLD DIGGERS” and not as sentient and intelligent PEOPLE. In 2016 one would think that misogyny was a thing of the past. But it is not. We are are all socialized as children to think of girls and women as “LESS” than an boy or man. It’s time to let these stereotypes and gender roles die and create a new thought pattern in which girls are raised as equal and as valuable as boys. Where women are respected and treated with the same DIGNITY as men.

I am Somebody

I live in a rural community. Violence against women in my community is not something that has been discussed openly for generations. The way women are viewed in rural communities may look from the outside as “traditional”; homemakers, caregivers, mothers, wives, sisters. Women are not viewed as individuals with autonomy; we are possessions, objects and are only considered as part of another person; someone’s wife, mother, daughter. Never just “me”. So when a woman is living with domestic violence or she is assaulted, it is not thought of as anything more than a “family matter” or a “wrong place, wrong time” situation. Somehow she is at fault and the questions that are asked are, “What did she do?” or “Why was she there?” or “What was she wearing?” The questions of “How did this happen?” or “How do we stop this?” are left to be asked by the local shelters and women’s advocacy groups. But they fall on deaf ears.

In rural communities, violence against women is an accepted fact of life, it is ingrained in the culture and it is passed down from generation to generation. In these communities where families live so close to one another and neighbours are cousins and the whole community has grown up together, raised their children together and grown old together, it is difficult to change attitudes. It is difficult to expect that a woman could have access to appropriate services or even be acknowledged as a victim and not an instigator of the violence she has experienced. What people who live in urban ares do not understand is that rural communities are closed, tight-knit and tight-lipped. There is no openness about “differences” or desire for diversity; people like things to stay the way they are, the way they have always been and to expect change to happen is like waiting to win the lottery. The chances are slim to none. Those working to make change, to advocate for women have a very steep uphill battle that those living in urban areas find difficult to understand.

Recently there have been a number of very violent events in my community that have shocked and angered advocates and politicians. Our small “quaint” communities have become a focus in the media and government because of these events and the fact that not until women were murdered, did anyone take notice of what was happening. This is not atypical when it comes to violence against women, but in communities where these things are not talked about it has left people shocked and angry, wanting to figure out how to stop this cycle of abuse and violence from continuing.

There were three Rural Forums: in Lanark County, Renfrew County and Lennox Addington County to talk about the violence that has occurred and what can be done to prevent it from happening again. The context and motivation for these forums, which were put together quickly and expertly by Lanark County Interval House and the Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Advisory Committee was this: six women were killed between September 2015 and April 2016. In Wilno on September 22, 2015 three women were killed by their abuser. In Almonte on February 10, 2016 a man, a local politician widely respected in the community,  was killed while protecting his family from his daughter’s abuser, his daughter  was severely injured by gunshot and the abuser committed suicide. In Odessa on February 14, 2016 a woman was murdered and her abuser killed himself. In Carleton Place on April 1, 2016 an abuser attempted to murder his victim  and on April 16, 2016 on Shannonville Road a woman was murdered.

All of these violent incidences were directly related to domestic violence and violence against women and they brought the issue crashing in to the face of these rural communities and left them reeling and stunned. Families are devastated and not just advocates are angry anymore. Everyone is angry and demanding action. And so the Forums were put together to get communities and agencies talking and working together to prevent further violence against women. The obstacles that women face in rural communities to access services, if there even are services in her community are vast and daunting. There is no public transportation for women to move from place to place to access support or even to escape violence. There is often no cellular service and party lines still exist in some small towns. A women who calls 911 might wait an hour for police to arrive as they are stationed in the larger communities and the vastness of their service area can leave people in danger while waiting for help to arrive. Navigation of back roads is tricky and in winter weather some roads are not even accessible. In our communities, women are often without a driver’s license and if they have one would have no access to a vehicle if their spouse has it to go to work. And in rural communities guns are accessible and present in the home as they are used for hunting and protecting livestock from predators.  Not only is this dangerous to women it adds to their fear of seeking help knowing that a rifle is hanging on a wall in the house, loaded and ready at anytime. What women would speak out against her abuser knowing that?

Practically speaking, here are the issues: Education about violence against women need to be part of our school curriculum, whether it is in discussion of what a healthy relationship looks like, to understanding consent to understanding the cycle of abuse. Education also needs to be mandatory for Police and first responders as well as lawyers and judges. There needs to be a Domestic Violence Court established in rural communities as so often women are blamed for their abuser’s crimes and held to an impossible standard of proof that the violence occurred or was not her own fault. Judges in rural communities are on the bench “forever” and they are often raised in these communities and have not educated themselves or adopted any progressive ideologies regarding VAW and are ineffective, if not harmful, when ruling on cases of domestic violence and sexual assault. The Police Services Act, which is currently under review, needs to include mandatory training for police about violence against women and how to approach victims appropriately. Victim blaming can no longer be acceptable in any situation and police need to be held accountable for their words and actions. Bail needs to be reviewed as many perpetrators are released and victims are not notified, as was the case in Wilno. Conditions of Release need to be stiffer and penalties for breaching those conditions need to be tougher. Also monitoring of dangerous offender while out on Parole or bail should be considered in order to keep victims safe.

Transportation needs to be available to women and school buses already on the road in all the remote areas of these communities picking up children to take them to school could also be used as transportation for women needing to access services or reach a safe place.

Local politicians need to be more engaged and aware of what is happening “behind closed doors” in their communities. They need to be willing to work with advocacy groups and be part of the discussion when it comes to strategizing about prevention of violence against women as be strong and visible advocates for social justice around women’s rights.

Communities and agencies need to engage abusers and help them break the cycle of domestic violence and abuse. Programs for rehabilitation including education and self-awareness need to be developed to help abusers understand their crimes and how to move forward in a non-violent and productive way so that they can remain in their communities and possibly rebuild relationships with their families. They need to be held accountable for their actions and be expected to do better, to be better.

The obstacles that rural communities face when trying to prevent violence against women are unique to these communities and are not easily understood by politicians and policy makers who live in and come from larger, urban areas. But if we are to stop the murder of women and stop the cycle of domestic violence and stop the victim-blaming in our small communities, politicians must be willing to open their minds and try to understand the issues we face. When our politicians and policy makers are no longer apathetic about the murder of women in these communities, people will have no choice but to wake up and do something.

“I always wondered why Somebody didn’t do something about that, then I realized, I am Somebody.”

 

I should have known better.

With all the focus in the news and social media about violence against women, I have really been struggling with my own demons. It’s not just the violence that was inflicted on me in my marriage, but the fact that I stayed. I stayed and stayed and stayed. The fact that I married a man who I knew in my gut was not right for me, not because of violence, but because we just were not compatible at our core beliefs, weighs heavily on my conscience.  At the time, society scorned single mothers and my own family and friends were troubled by my social status. It was important to so many that I “find a man”. When I began dating Jason, who presented himself as a good, hardworking, responsible person, it was like a beacon in the dim light that was my unfortunate life. I admit that my motivation towards marriage was more about pleasing everyone than it was about my own personal agenda. This is not to say that I did not love Jason; I did. But I also never had pictured myself as a married woman and so it was a tough pill to swallow to admit that this was the only way I was going to live up to the expectations of society and, even more tough to swallow, my family. Once married, my status changed and people treated me differently and even my family seemed more at ease about my future. None of us knew that this was based on the lie that was Jason’s presentation of “goodness”. So, when I think about my life with Jason, I am always brought to a song by the Eurythmics called “Thorn in my side“. This song is like an anthem for my life before I finally was able to leave my marriage and the lines, “I should have known better, but I trusted you at first. I should have known better, but I got what I deserved“, are exactly the way that I still feel about my marriage to Jason. I feel immense guilt because of the horrible abuse my children suffered, which I take much responsibility for, and I struggle with the fact that, while I am told all the time by advocates and peers it is not true, I feel as though I did get what I deserved.

Women are not viewed as equal in the world. We cannot navigate in our lives without fear of violence, prejudice or objectification. Every country in the world, no matter how advanced in their government policy on gender equality, has failed women in the past and continues to fail women because women are not viewed as equals. We are second-class citizens at best, and at worst, chattel to be bought and sold at the whims of men. In the Western world, we look at Middle Eastern countries and think them barbaric because they marry off their young girls at the tender age of seven or eight, they expect dowries in exchange for their daughters and it is legal and socially acceptable to beat, rape and even murder your wife if she does not cut the muster. We judge Asian countries on their one-child rule that means girls are killed, abandoned or aborted so that families may have sons which are more valuable in that they will grow up and carry on the family name and become providers. Girls will grow up to be burdens on their family unless they can be married off. And the women in Africa, living with civil war and abject poverty are ignored because, well, they are African. Poverty and injustice is just expected to occur there so the world stands by and does nothing but turn a blind eye.

Here in the supposed superior Western World, we have gender equality laws, we have programs to empower girls and laws that say men cannot beat, rape or murder their wives. We do not allow child marriage and we have laws against prostitution and pornography. We preach that girls are not sexual objects and that women have the right to equal pay and to live their lives in autonomy; marriage is no longer the only way a woman can improve her social status. All of this gives girls and women a false sense of security. We are told that we are equal, we are worthy of respect and care, we have all the same rights and privileges as men, but this is a big fat lie. If this were true, we would not have schools telling our girls that having their shoulders exposed at school is a “distraction” to the boys and so they must cover up. We would not have tips posted on University campuses telling women how to avoid being raped. We would not have women walking in groups or pairs at night because they are afraid of being attacked. We would not have women subjected to cat-calls and slut shaming as a part of their every day life. We would have no need for women’s shelters or violence against women campaigns. All the effort expended to keep women safe is directed at women, because we are not only responsible for our actions, but we are also responsible for the actions of men.

The recent trial of Ke$ah to free herself from her abusive producer, Lukasz Gottwald, the Bill Cosby hearings and upcoming trial and the Jian Gomeshi trial and verdict all prove to women that we are not equal. The women in all of these cases were humiliated, attacked on their morals, belittled and blamed for the violence they suffered. They not only are at fault for falling victim to these men, even the very young girls in the Bill Cosby case, but they are also not believed because of their “inconsistent behaviour” of a victim of rape. While the courts have a perception about a victim ought to behave after being assaulted, experts say that there is no “right way” for a victim to behave after being raped or assaulted. So why do the courts allow victims to be shamed, doubted and blamed for the violence because of the way the victim behaved afterwards? If the experts know that victims will continue a relationship with their abuser, that they may never report the abuse or assault for years because “shame, guilt and humiliation equal silence” and this silence can last years, why do the legal systems not accept that it does not mean the violence never occurred? Because at the very core of the system, of society’s core beliefs, women are not equal. Women are second-class citizens. We are sexual objects put on this earth for the pleasure of men. We are enticers and gold-diggers. We are vindictive liars.We are deserving of whatever we get. Until these perceptions of women change, the Gomeshies and the Cosbys and the Gottwalds and the Jasons of the world will go unpunished for  the violence they commit. Men will continue to be portrayed as the true victims in courts, enduring trials that are based on lies created by jilted women who are out to get them.

Writing these words makes me feel sick and enraged. I do not want this to be true, but I know that it is. I know that I must navigate in a world that views me as unequal and raise daughters to be strong enough to face this world and know that we are all being judged for the abuse we already have suffered and that there will be more. And we will be blamed for that, too.

When I was younger, I believed my father when he told me that sometimes a woman “has to give it all” to keep a man. But I also believed him when he told me that he would keep me safe and when I married, that my husband would keep me safe. I believed this and so I gave myself and my daughter to Jason. This is why when I hear “Thorn in my Side”, I always have a visceral response to it and I know that, in the eyes of the world, I did get what I deserved.