Sometimes Quiet is Violent: The Effect of Silencing Abuse Victims

By: Sophia Yan

Do you remember your first crush? Do you remember the butterflies fluttering in your stomach whenever you saw them? The anxiety that would strike you whenever they walked by, or how fast your heart would beat whenever you tried to stammer a hello at them? Do you remember spending time to yourself, picturing yourself dating them, being with them, and possibly even marrying them?

You imagined a picture perfect relationship, with dating, marriage, a house in the suburbs with a white picket fence, a dog, and 2.5 kids.

You’re young and naïve by the time your first relationship happens. Can you believe it? Someone you think the world of, actually wants to date you! The butterflies come back tenfold, and your elation skyrockets as you enter the first stages of your new relationship. You’re so caught up in your newfound love that you begin to miss a few flags. They might be small; missed calls with no explanation or an “unintentional” personal insult in a heated argument. Or they might be big; the argument you have is escalating and suddenly their eyes flash and then snap! They hit you.

You are now a victim of domestic abuse. Your mind is reeling; how can your significant other hurt you like that? Weren’t they the person you’ve always dreamed about? Weren’t supposed to be the person you wanted to spend the rest of your life with? Wasn’t this supposed to be perfect? How did you miss all of those Red Flags?

What are you supposed to do now?

This is the traditional narrative of a domestic abuse story.

This is what We, as a society, think of when someone mentions domestic abuse. The young, hopeful, naïve, love struck teen, usually female, entering their first relationship with their significant other. Their relationship seems Picture Perfect, until An Incident happens between them and suddenly, the abuse is marked and that person becomes a Victim. And, that’s it. This is the general perception of abuse at best. At worst, it’s just a heavy word hanging around uncomfortably. It weighs on the mind of everyone in the room, until someone changes the topic.

That’s what abuse is like for most people; an uncomfortable topic waiting to be changed. But for some, like Mattie, it’s their entire lives.

“The abusive person in my family was my father. The abuse was emotional, never physical. He manipulated and invalidated me, he made me feel worthless, as if my opinions and feelings didn’t matter or didn’t exist in the first place. He “corrected” how I felt and thought. It didn’t matter if I was being honest about my feelings. If he didn’t like my answer he would switch it around so it fit what he thought of me.”

This is my co-producer, Rebecca, reading Mattie’s interview.

“He made me feel like I was stupid and useless, that I couldn’t do anything for myself. It was terrifying to be around him because his moods changed so suddenly. It was like I was constantly walking on eggshells around him. Sometimes even not doing anything would make him start screaming at me. One minute he would be nice and sweet, offering to go on bike rides other family activities and the next he was trapping me in some room and yelling at me. I learned to hide in my room when he was home to avoid his outbursts. I didn’t come out until he was gone, not even for food because I was so scared. That was part of the manipulation.”

“It took me a long time to realize he was emotionally abusive. Growing up like that it felt normal. It was just what happened. Looking back on it there was so many signs that it wasn’t normal behaviour.”

“It wasn’t until grade 12 when I figured out he had been gambling for a while. In the beginning it didn’t feel like it was big deal but it slowly got more serious as my family realized just how much money he lost, he was spending his checks at the casino and relying on my mother to pay the bills. She sprained her foot horribly in December of that year and she still went to work like that because our financial situation was bad. The found out a year later that he had enough money from his checks to let her stay at home to heal her foot but he gambled all of. The gambling the final straw. It was only then that I started to think that out family wasn’t normal.”

Does Mattie’s situation sound similar to the Traditional Abuse Narrative? Remember the main points of the narrative I presented to you earlier: young, naïve teen in a picture perfect relationship until something drastic happens and everything changes. The initial answer to this question is no; these two stories are almost completely different. One, Mattie’s abuser was a family member, while the Traditional Abuse Narrative is between two people in a romantic relationship. Two, Mattie’s father had repeated offences against him; he has several violent episodes, while the Traditional Abuse Narrative only has one. And three, there is no guise of “perfection” in Mattie’s story. Just, normalcy. The traditional abuse narrative has the teen swept up in love; there is no conditioning or manipulation in this story. While the stories are quite different, there is one underlying similarity between them: neither of the victims knew they were in an abusive relationship until it was too late. In the case of Mattie, her father was her abuser.  She had to live through the abuse her entire life. Mattie was 18 by the time she realized that her father was abusive. It’s hard to realize that the things your parents taught you isn’t normal. She was conditioned to believe that his behavior was normal by a young age, and didn’t question it because of that. And while the Traditional Abuse Narrative is hypothetical, the idea of being caught up in love is not uncommon. Or, as John Green says, “If you’ve ever been in love, you might have noticed you have an astonishing ability to miss red flags.” (8:54-8:57) This makes the focus of prevention over actual help useless, because you can’t help someone prevent a situation that’s already happened. It can take months, or even years for the victim to recognize the abuse, and by that time it’s already too late. The majority of domestic/sexual abuse campaigns focus on prevention, as evidenced by the survey I did at York University. 81% of participants selected prevention as the main topic they remember seeing domestic/sexual abuse campaigns. (Yan­) And while prevention is an important topic to cover, as it is good to get people aware of the situation, it doesn’t help people who have already gone through it and need help. These campaigns do link to hotlines and support systems; they are often treated as an afterthought, rather than being the focus. Not to mention, these prevention campaigns can guilt trip a victim: “Why didn’t I notice this before? How did I miss all of those Red Flags?” This will just turn off people like Mattie, who have been conditioned not to reach out to others, preventing them from the help that they need to move on.

The one thing that no one talks about, and what abuse victims need is the answer to this question: Where do you go? What do you do from here?

Because of the stigma that comes with discussing abuse, many women feel like they are alone and without help. (Peakeover) Many women who have situations severe enough to leave, often feel like they can’t because they have nowhere to go. However, that isn’t the case! There are organizations located in the GTA that focus on helping women recover from their abuse. The North York Woman’s Shelter offer both hospitality and provides support to women who are recovering from domestic abuse. Their programs strive to, “ensures that we are relating to all aspects of healing and recovery while empowering survivors to become independent.” (North York Woman’s Shelter). They have a lot of different counselling for their residents, from individual, which is open 24 hours, to group therapy. They also have workshops set up to help women get back onto their feet. Micro skills training in particular aims to help women learn skills for employment opportunities (NYWS). They even have programs catering specifically to mothers with children, like “Moms and Tots”, which aims to help restore the bond between mother and child. They also “provide women and their children with the opportunity to go on field trips and special outings to the movies, parks, and museums so they can experience normalcy of life.” (NYWS). They also have a variety of workshops for children specifically. The Children’s Group, Dance Program, Home Club and Reading Circle all focus on helping a child recover. Interestingly, they have a program called “Here to Help”, which focuses on children who are exposed to “women abuse” (NYWS). It really goes to show how experienced the NYWS is with abuse, as they even specifically tend to the needs of children who have gone through female abuse, which is something that is often look over by the general population.

While the North York Woman’s Shelter focuses on their residents, they also have a number of articles and external links that can be used by anyone. They have a 24-hour crisis line at the very top of their website, which is accessible on every page they have. There’s also an extensive “Get Help” section, which has pages detailing things such as types of abuse, statistics and hotlines to get help. They even have a page on the impact of abuse on children and a “Bill of Rights”, which is most likely used to remind women of the autonomy. Their recourses page is quite extensive, as it covers many different minority groups, such as LGBTQ+, Aboriginal Women, and Elder Abuse. They even have links to different shelters across the GTA, in case you can’t access the North York Woman’s Shelter.

The North York Woman’s Shelter hosts a variety of fundraisers in order to keep the shelter running. The biggest event that they hold is the Annual Gala, which was held on October 13th this year. The revenue from the tickets and the silent auction went directly to the shelter, and featured a sit down dinner, a bar, music and dancing, among other events (NYWS). They also do smaller fundraisers such as the Drop In-Community Sale, which starts and ends mid-June, to help fund the North York’s Woman Shelter. Finally, they do smaller fundraisers outside of the North York Woman’s Shelter. This is how I learned about them: My sister had bought chocolates from a booth they had set up in Vari Hall. The fundraisers not only help aid the shelter financially, but they also bring awareness to its existence and the idea of abuse as a tangible concept, rather than a distant issue that doesn’t actually exist.

The North York Woman’s Shelter is, as great as it is, just that. A Woman’s Shelter. While it is does a great job catering to the needs of women of every race and sexuality, it ultimately caters only to women. And that begs the question: what about the men? Men experience abuse just as women do, and their experiences and trauma are equally valid. And while the popular conception of an abuse victim is female, in reality both men and women are equally likely to be abused (Stats Canada). So, then, where are their hotlines? Their support systems? The reality of the situation is that there isn’t. There aren’t any male specific shelters in the entirety of Ontario, let alone the GTA. And the one I was able to find, which was located in Calgary, shut down after getting denied provincial and federal funds (Stephenson). And while one may argue that there are a variety of homeless shelters across Toronto and the GTA that men who need shelter can go to, they do not target abused men specifically. A shelter is more than just a place to stay; it’s a place for abuse survivors to recuperate from their trauma and to get them back on their feet. A homeless shelter doesn’t provide the same kind of services that a shelter does, nor does it really act as a safe space for men recovering from abuse. And this, of course, relates back to the Traditional Abuse Narrative I outlined in the beginning of the show. The idea of an abuse victim is very distinctly a heterosexual female. Following that single minded mindset, the idea of a man going through abuse seems outlandish, let alone a man needing systems to recover from that abuse. This train of thought is simply not true, and invalidates male abuse victims and their experiences. The man who founded the single male abuse shelter in Calgary, Earl Silverman, was reported to have committed suicide after his shelter shut down (Stephenson). The effects of ignoring and invalidating men who have been abused can be catastrophic; Earl is just one example of what happens when someone is invalidated of their experiences and cannot get help. There are still a variety of crisis services and help lines that are open to every person that can definitely help, but men specific shelters don’t exist in Canada. I’ll put related links in the recommended readings, but there isn’t a really “happy ending” for this specific topic.

Regardless of gender, race, or religion, abuse isn’t something that should be swept under the rug. If you’ve been through any kind of abuse, know that your experiences and feelings are valid. You are valid. If you need help, there is always support systems available to you. Even if you feel like you are trapped under your situation, remember that there are people who care about you and who will listen to you. And if you know someone who has gone through that abuse, be open and empathetic to their feelings. Listen. If you don’t know how to handle the situation, just listen. Sometimes all someone needs is a shoulder to cry on. And know, ultimately it gets better. You might not know when, and you might not know how. And there will be nights where it feels like it will never get better. But it does. You have to believe that, if you ever want to heal and move on from what hurt you. And you have to. You have to move on or else you’re stuck in the same situation, reliving the same moments of your life, over and over again. And you’re worth more than that. You are worth more than that. Thank you for listening to my podcast, love… 

From Scratch Media

Work Cited/References

Stats Canada. "Family Violence in Canada: a statistical profile, 2013" statscan.gc.ca http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/85-002-x/2014001/article/14114-eng.pdf

North York Women Shelter. "About Us" North York Woman Shelter. http://nyws.ca/about-us/

North York Woman Shelter. “Resources” North York Woman Shelter. http://nyws.ca/abuse/resouces/       

North York Woman Shelter. “Programs” North York Woman Shelter. http://nyws.ca/programs/        

Peckover, Sue. "‘I could have just done with a Little More Help’: An Analysis of Women's Help-Seeking from Health Visitors in the Context of Domestic Violence." Health & Social Care in the Community 11.3 (2003)

 "Reader, it’s Jane Eyre.” Youtube, uploaded by Crash Course, April 10 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z8tqY8fX0Ec

Stephenson, Amanda. “Calgarian who founded shelter for male victims of domestic abuse mourned.” Calgary Herald, 28 April 2013 http://www.calgaryherald.com/life/calgarian+founded+shelter+male+victims+domestic+abuse+mourned/8307690/story.html. Accessed 1 December 2016

Yan, Sophia. “1004 survey.” Google Forms. 18 November 2016. https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1HZBtjBhMB-ZEWColRtJT0W7Kiu-yEYymYUln6dGEct0/edit#responses

Recommended Readings

"Crisis Support" Canada Mental Health Association. http://ontario.cmha.ca/mental-health/services-and-support/crisis-support/

“About Family Violence” Department of Justice. http://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/cj-jp/fv-vf/about-apropos.html

Lepistö, Sari, et al. "Adolescents’ Experiences of Coping with Domestic Violence." Journal of advanced nursing 66.6 (2010): 1232-45. 

Hornor, G. "Domestic Violence and Children." Journal of Pediatric Health Care 19.4 (2005): 206-12.

Bacchus, Loraine, Gill Mezey, and Susan Bewley. "Experiences of Seeking Help from Health Professionals in a Sample of Women Who Experienced Domestic Violence." Health & Social Care in the Community 11.1 (2003): 10-8.