International Women’s Day is March 8. It is a time for us to come together to celebrate the achievements of women. It is also a time to acknowledge the inequities that have existed and still for women: in homes, in workplaces, and in society. It is a time to acknowledge our biases and move toward something better.
Much abuse has resulted from the inequities between men and women. When we ignore the people who have been abused, we ignore the inequities. We put blinders up and, as a result, we perpetuate the abuse and the ongoing issues. If you would like to learn a little more, the Canadian Women’s Foundation has some important information about gender based violence in Canada. You can find more information about violence against women in BC specifically on some BC government pages. There are many long term impacts of violence on those who are abused. Additionally, there are many impacts of abuse on children, whether they are the primary on being abused or they are experiencing it secondarily.
Just as Pink Shirt Day, a day to put an end to bullying, mustn’t be a single day, International Women’s Day must also be more than just a single, one day, “event”. If we are going to continue to move this issue forward, it needs to be constantly in our minds and in our hearts. It is important to acknowledge, honour, and “see” those who have been through, and may be still going through, abuse. Provide support – ongoing support and connection. Not just a single day. Not just when the person is so desperate to be seen that they are yelling out for attention. Sadly, being a victim of domestic violence does not end the day someone leaves an abusive relationship. Oftentimes, post separation abuse can be horrendous for someone separated or divorced from an abuser. Tina Swithen, from One Mom’s Battle, has a great deal of useful information on her site, if you’d like to learn more about what can be involved in post separation abuse.
You can learn more about the definition of Family Violence and how it is dealt with in the in the BC Family Law Act. Very recently, the Canadian Federal Government changed the Divorce Act to also include Family Violence. These are very important steps in the protection of people, women in particular (but not excluding some men who are also victims of family violence). Unfortunately, even after one has been determined to have perpetrated family violence against a partner, or an ex partner, the violence does not necessarily cease. It is ongoing and can often be very expensive for the victim to fight against, often continuing the financial abuse of the victim well after separation. In addition, further court appearances means re-living the trauma of the abuse over and over and over again. The abuse continues through the court system.
One challenge for abuse survivors is the silence that surrounds abuse. No one wants to acknowledge it. People do not want to face it. No one wants to talk about it. They may think that once a person (both men and women can be in abusive relationships) leaves an abusive relationship, things are all better. Or, perhaps even more telling, they may not know what to do, what to say, or how to help, so they just don’t reach out. So, not only do they lose their identity as a wife, but they lose their identity as an in-law, a sister, a daughter, and, oftentimes, a friend. They lose these connections and, for many, these connections may be stronger than their own familial connections from birth.
The challenge, however, is the abuse does not often stop after separation. People often tell the abuse survivor to “move on”, “enjoy their life”, “forget about it”, “think positively”. When people say these things, however, the victim of abuse can often feel silenced and isolated, as a result. I watched a powerful short video called Silenced: A Hidden Epidemic. On the site where I found that video, I read more about abuse and the stigma that follows, the limited number of victims of abuse who come forward and why, and how the teachings of our society have brought us to this place of silencing women. Silencing victims.
Being a victim of domestic violence can be very isolating. Many people do not understand what happens during a relationship in which there is any form of domestic violence. People cannot relate to the power imbalance and control that exists in these relationships, especially if their view of the person who has been victimized is not congruent. This lack of understanding continues, especially if the domestic violence continues post-separation. People often stop talking to the abused person, likely for many reasons, including perhaps: they can’t related to the abused person, they don’t see any similarities they used to have, they don’t understand, they can’t connect to the person anymore, the person seems “fragile” or “too sensitive”, they don’t reach out to you, they haven’t been a “good friend” to you, they seem “fine” online (pictures, etc…), or perhaps the friend is in their own challenging relationship and reaching out and facing abuse is too difficult.
Below, I hope to provide some ways you can support someone going through an abusive relationship, even post separation (abuse often does not stop post separation).
- Saying the following things can be minimizing and silencing for the person healing from abuse (or perhaps going through continued post-separation abuse).
- “It’s over now.”
- “Just think positively.”
- “Now you can move on.”
- “He can’t hurt you anymore.”
- “You are so strong.”
- “You did it. You survived.”
- Also, telling your surviving friend these things can be difficult for them:
- “Just give me a call when you want to talk.” (So hard to reach out when one is healing – takes so much energy. It’s also difficult because the ongoing abuse is so close to the surface much of the time that it can be difficult because you really don’t think people want to hear what’s been happening. People cannot understand or relate and so often just want to give ideas for how you can move forward, which is impossible when they don’t truly understand what you are even going through.)
- “I’m here for you.” (but then not really want to truly listen or know more)
- Giving advice about what they should do next or how they should handle things… especially when you truly have no idea what they have been through or are going through.
- “I’m glad it is finally over.” (It never seems to be actually over.)
- “At least you have a court order that will protect you now.” – One would hope that this is the case, but it is so far from reality.
- Be honest.
- Listen. Show care and compassion.
Some things that may be more helpful to say to a person who has been through abuse or is going through ongoing post separation abuse could be:
- This has been really challenging. How are you? (then actually listen, but don’t give ways to “fix” the situation)
- How are your children?
- What is the latest update?
- How are things going?
- How are things improving?
- How are things still challenging?
- Is there anything I can do to help?
- I’m so sorry you have gone through this.
- I’m so sorry this is continuing.
- I can’t imagine how challenging this is and has been.
- I’m sorry I haven’t reached out more. I didn’t know what to do.
- I will try better.
Some things you could do to help a person who is struggling with life after abuse and/or dealing with continued post separation abuse:
- Send an email, card, private message, direct message telling the person something that inspires you. Tell them something you like about them. Remind them of a good memory. Tell them you miss them and think of them often (but only if you really actually mean it). Try to do this regularly – not just a one and done thing.
- If your friend has young children, offer to take the children for an evening or over night (after covid, of course).
- Ask your friend about supports they have (or don’t have).
- Ask them if they would like to connect with you (only if you are interested in doing this, of course) – video, phone, in person (after covid restrictions, of course) – provide a few times you would be available to do this and ask if any of these times work for them.
- Send them information about a good book you have read (not necessarily related to abuse) which you think they would like.
- Send them the title of a series or movie you have enjoyed that you think they might enjoy as well.
- Share a good recipe you have tried lately that you think they might like.
- Share a resource – something to do with them, their occupation, any hobbies they may have.
- Tell them about a situation and ask for their help (if you think they would be helpful).
- Deliver a plant or some flowers or a gift card for take out or a bottle of wine or some sparkling juice.
Here are some references for those who would like to help a friend or family member who is a victim of abuse (current or past) or for someone who may be in an abusive relationship.
If you are in an abusive relationship or know someone who is, please reach out for help and support. You are not alone, even if it feels like you are.
I’m sorry you have gone through this horrendous experience. I hope it stops for you soon. If you need support, I am here to listen and provide as much support as possible.