Contributed by Laura Banman
Imagine rising early to prepare for an important presentation at the office; weeks of effort resting on the quality of this presentation. Imagine the nervous anticipation, and your desire to present calm, confidence. Now imagine yourself laying out your “power suit” – and beginning to apply the makeup that will cover the bruising on your face and neck as you try to erase the hours-old memory of your partner’s words as his hands tightened on your throat. “You are a worthless, stupid, waste of skin! I should do the world a favour and kill you right now!”
Family violence and intimate partner abuse impact families from all segments of society; all socio-economic classes, all educational levels, all races, cultures, and religions. Family violence and abuse cross all barriers. This is a statistical fact.
While we may nod and accept this fact in theory, we generally do not stop to think about what it really means in our society and in our community. It means quite simply that while family violence happens in basement suites and duplexes and “trailer parks”, it happens just as often in expensive condos and waterfront homes and estate properties. It means that while perpetrators of abuse may be unemployed, have substance use issues, mental health issues and be poorly dressed, perpetrators of abuse may also be well-dressed, brilliant, high profile professionals with enviable salaries. They may be respected within the community because of their role as businessman, doctor, lawyer, policeman, firefighter, or clergyman.
Those who are victims of family violence and abuse, most often women and children, also are representative of all segments of society. A woman experiencing abuse may be a stay-at-home mom, a golf or shopping friend, a clerk at the grocery store, your real estate agent, a teacher – a brilliant, high profile professional with an enviable salary.
In most cases, no one knows what happens behind closed doors and within those relationships, because generally an abusive partner is not abusive or violent outside of the relationship or even all of the time within the relationship. Often, outside of the relationship an abusive partner is charming and personable; a “great guy” who would “give you the shirt off his back” and who is an adept manipulator, easily creating allies. Women say: “No one would believe what happens when the door closes. Everyone thinks he’s a great guy.”
Within the relationship, however, the abusive partner’s behaviours are aimed at establishing and maintaining dominance, power and control over their partner. This calculated campaign includes a variety of tactics and utilizes a number of forms of abuse or threats of abuse, the specifics of which may vary but which in general, are surprisingly similar regardless of the segment of society to which the partners belong.
Emotional and verbal abuse and blaming are generally the initial and most consistent tactics. This includes name-calling, put-downs, ridiculing, belittling, demeaning, humiliating, constant accusations of unfaithfulness, raging, and statements of blame like “If you weren’t so…”, “Well, if you didn’t…” or “If you only…”, leaving the victim wondering if the abuse really is her fault and if there might not have been something she could have done to prevent it. The tendency is for the victim to cover up or minimize the abuse, to assume responsibility for what happens and to try valiantly to change themselves and their behaviours in an effort to avert future incidents. In spite of their best efforts, abuse tends to escalate over time, moving from verbal and emotional abuse, to threats and intimidation, to physical assaults, which generally increase in intensity and frequency over time.
Regardless, of race, culture, educational level or socio-economic standing, the dynamics and the impacts of family violence and intimate partner abuse are consistent and the need for an effective response is the same.
It is essential that we be prepared to see and respond to the reality that family violence and intimate partner abuse may exist – even within the circle of individuals with whom we have consistent contact. We must not minimize or deny its existence or the far-reaching impacts it can have for those affected. It is essential that we realize that no segment of society is immune and that each of us can make a difference; by choosing to treat others with respect and kindness, by choosing not to accept abuse within our lives or the lives of our children, by choosing to believe and support those whose lives are impacted by this pervasive issue, by choosing to take a stand and by refusing to accept or condone behaviours that are disrespectful and abusive of others. Together we can make a difference.