Domestic violence is a silent killer. The Salvation Army shelters for abused women and children, provide a way out of the nightmare.
For many women, nightmares don’t stop in the morning. Instead they are spectres that haunt the day and night. They threaten. They’re fearful. Worst of all, they’re real. The nightmare is usually a spouse?married or common-law?and the effects of the violence can last a lifetime.
Family violence or domestic violence are more inclusive terms than the old phrase “wife abuse.” The new terminology acknowledges that while a spouse may bear the brunt of the cruelty inflicted by a partner, other members of the household, usually children, are also impacted. But whatever it’s called, unfortunately, it’s not rare.
Accordingly to the 2004 General Social Survey seven percent of Canadian women (age 15+) have experienced spousal violence in the last five years. More than twice as many women have been stalked in a way that made them fear for their lives. And as alarming as these numbers are, they are only a portion of the total. According to the same survey, only 27 percent of spousal abuse victims report to the police and only one-third ever turn to an agency for help.
And the maltreatment they suffer isn’t minor. Many abused women report sexual assault, being beaten, choked, threatened with a gun or knife, or they have had these weapons used against them.
Unfortunately, most of us still imagine domestic violence only affects people who are not like us. But the risk factors for family violence are not unusual. Factors that increase the likelihood of spousal violence include: females under 25, common-law relationships versus marriage, those in a relationship less than three years and where the abuser is a heavy drinker. Aboriginal women are three times more likely to be victims of spousal abuse. And other factors like social status, education and whether you live in the city or countryside don’t impact on the sad reality that many women live lives of fear.
So why don’t they get out, leave the guy behind and start all over again? It’s not nearly as easy as it sounds. Accordingly to Marilyn Field, executive director of The Salvation Army’s Honeychurch Family Life Resource Centre (FLRC) in Brampton, Ontario, many women are afraid to stay at home but equally afraid to leave. “They walk away from a home, from financial resources and into what?” The courage needed to step out with no clear idea of where to live, where to get cash to buy food and clothing and how to keep the kids in school is hard to come by.
Linda Scally, director of the short-term shelter at The Salvation Army’s L’Abri d’Espoir in Montreal says escaping women also have to deal with old prejudices. “There are still stereotypes in society that women were looking for the abuse, or they deserved it or that it can’t be really that bad if they stayed in the home.”
When some do make a decision to risk it and leave, they often turn up at shelters like those run by the Army. For Ann (who asked that her surname be kept confidential) it took three emergency visits to the FLRC, with her children, to finally break free of the abuse at home and start building a new life. “At Honeychurch they just get it. It’s very comforting because at those times when you’re getting away, and you feel like you’re losing your mind, it’s so good to have people who just get it.” Today, although it’s been four years since Ann left FLRC for good, she still attends the Monday evening support group called Reclaiming Your Life.
Every year hundreds of women and children, like Ann, seek shelter at a Salvation Army facility. Although L’Abri d’Espoir in Montreal is not specifically set-up as a refuge for victims of family violence, Scally estimates that 60 percent of the women in the shelter are coming from situations of domestic violence.
Once in a shelter like Kate Booth House or Honeychurch women stay for six to eight weeks. Moms and children are assigned individual counselors and workshops. Help is given on legal issues, job and life skill training and appointments with government agencies to arrange social assistance and housing. “We offer a support system,” says Major Marjory Peddle at Kate Booth House. “And help them take control of their lives.”
For the children, bringing them a sense of joy and routine is encouraged by their counselors, but the initial task is to listen. “My kids were treated like people,” says Ann, who sought shelter at Honeychurch three times. “They were treated like they were worthy, like they count. They had workers who would get down on their level and tell them: ‘I want to hear you. It’s not your fault. I understand.’ ”
The Army family violence facilities are, unfortunately, always in demand. “We are a crisis centre that operates 24 hours a day,” says Peddle. Kate Booth House in Vancouver has outgrown its location in the 20 years since it started and in the spring a larger facility, twice as large, will open. At Honeychurch the facility can accommodate 18 women and up to 50 children?it’s always full. “We believe that the family is the cornerstone of society so we have to work as agents of healing for the family,” says Nancy Turley, the Army’s territorial abuse advisor. Women like Ann are grateful the Army was there: “I can’t sing enough praises for The Salvation Army. Honest to God we wouldn’t be here and we wouldn’t be doing so well without them.”
Article by Bramwell Ryan