Blog

Survivor’s Hope COVID-19 Statement

Due to the recent updates of COVID-19, Survivor’s Hope Crisis Centre will be implementing the following strategies immediately to ensure that the health and safety of the community, volunteers, staff and Board of Directors of Survivor’s Hope remains a priority.

The organization will remain operational and work hours will continue as status quo with an emphasis on slowing down the spread of the virus by completing the following strategies:

– The office in Pinawa will be closed until April 10, at which time we will reassess. Staff will check for phone messages and will be checking emails regularly while working from home.

– All SADI workshops and Girls’ Group Mentorship programming is suspended until April 10, at which time we will reassess.

– The SARAH Program will be available to provide advocacy over the phone but in-person advocacy at hospitals and RCMP detachments is suspended at this time. Immediate SARAH support by phone can be accessed by those who have the SARAH pager number using the same protocols as always.

–  The SARAH workers on the schedule for the next two weekends will not be called to attend call-outs anywhere in community. The person on pager duty will provide the advocacy and support by-phone using the SARAH phone. We will reassess this plan April 10.

For staff, please inform your supervisor via phone call, text and/or email if applicable should you be experiencing symptoms and will not be able to work from home. It is notable that the Government of Canada has waived the one-week waiting period for EI sickness benefits for new claimants who are quarantined so they can be paid for the first week of their claim. Link for more information is below.

With your support, we will inform the community of our indefinite program suspension and encourage everyone to follow the advice of Public Health officials and stay home as much as possible. Our phone and Facebook communication will remain operational to assist with providing support.

As we become more informed on the virus in the coming days and weeks, the above mentioned strategies will be updated to best respond to the health and safety of the Survivor’s Hope Crisis Centre team and the larger community. This is a reminder on how to best practice the values of Survivor’s Hope Crisis Centre by treating one another with respect, helping with understanding and empathy, seeking to understand situations and being open minded.

For more information on COVID-19 please review the following links:

https://www.gov.mb.ca/health/coronavirus/

https://www.gov.mb.ca/health/publichealth/factsheets/coronavirus_selfisolation.pdf

https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/2019-novel-coronavirus-infection.html

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/index.html

https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/corporate/notices/coronavirus.html

Health Links at 204-788-8200

Thank you for your understanding and compliance with these strategies, should you have any questions or concerns please feel free to ask.

Rural Third Party Reporting for Sexual Assault

Survivor’s Hope Crisis Centre is able to process Third Party Reports of sexual assault and assist with applying for up to $2000 in counselling through Manitoba Justice Compensation for Victims of Crime.

In April 2018, the Winnipeg Police Service and Manitoba RCMP announced a new protocol that would allow people to report sexual assault to a community agency who then submits an anonymous report to law enforcement. Survivor’s Hope has partnered with Klinic Community Health Centre to make Third Party Reporting accessible in north eastern Manitoba.

“We have a team of well trained volunteers who already do a stellar job of providing crisis support in hospitals and RCMP detachments through the region,” said Stephanie Klassen, Reaching Out Program Coordinator for Survivor’s Hope. “And now those skilled helpers are ready to assist anyone who wants to let law enforcement know about their experience of violence but doesn’t necessarily want to make a full statement and press charges.”

Third Party Reports allow anyone who was the direct target of sexualized violence to document as much of the experience as they want and submit it to either RCMP or Winnipeg Police Service. These reports help to track violent offenders and may provide additional information on other cases.

The Compensation for Victims of Crime Program through Manitoba Justice is now accessible to those who make Third Party Reports. Up to $2000 towards counselling can be accessed by completing an application form.

Those interested in more information about Third Party Reports are encouraged to contact Survivor’s Hope 204-753-5353 or email.

“We wanted to share this information during 16 days of activism which take place Nov 25 – Dec 10 each year,” said Klassen. “The ability to make Third Party Reports is the result of the work of activists in Manitoba who are constantly working to provide better care to those who have experienced sexualized violence.”

Education for Judges?

judge-desk-gavel

 

 

 

 

 

 

Manitoba’s provincial government recently decided to not make any changes to the training judges are required to attend regarding sexual assault law. This is in spite of other provinces, like Ontario, enforcing training for all new judges (some would like the training to be mandated to all existing judges).

Sexual assault stands out as statistically unique in Canada’s courts, and this is not just a Canadian problem. According to the most recent General Social Survey, only one in twenty victims of sexual assault perpetrated by a stranger are reported to law enforcement, compared to one in three other crimes resulting in victimization as defined by the survey. We know that more than half of all sexual assaults are committed by partners or acquaintances, and these are even less likely to be reported to law enforcement.

All of that is part of sexual assault cases having the very lowest conviction rate of all violent crimes tried in Canada. Only 0.3% of sexual assault incidences result in a conviction. In fact, of the cases that actually end up before a judge, fewer of them result in a conviction than any other violent crime.

Victims of sexual assault also report higher rates of PTSD and disruption in their lives than victims of other crimes. One in four victims of sexual assault experience difficulty carrying out regular daily activities after an assault. And when all is said and done, one in three women and one in six men will have an experience of sexualized violence.

Let’s sum this all up by saying three things:

  1. Sexual assault happens a lot.
  2. The vast majority of people who commit sexual assault face no consequences for their actions.
  3. A big chunk of our population is left reeling because of sexual assault.

Maybe we could ALL use some more education about sexual assault and consent and how to prevent this shockingly common tragedy. This data should inspire a revolution in the public conversation about gender, sex, and relationships. If it’s money that we care about, the cost of prevention can’t be anywhere as high as the cost of sexual assault. Educational programs like our SADI program should be expanded and brought to every school!  I bet that would include some future judges!

Elder Abuse Awareness Day: Abuse Disclosures

On June 15, 2016, World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) celebrates its 10th anniversary.  Started in 2006 by the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, the day is set aside to bring global awareness about the mistreatment of older persons.

Elder abuse, according to Manitoba’s chapter of WEAAD, is defined as “any act or lack of action by someone in a position of trust that harms the health or well-being of an older person.” Forms of abuse can include, but are not limited to, psychological, financial and sexual violence, as well as neglect.

In Manitoba it is estimated that between 4-10% of people over the age of 60 are victims of elder abuse.  It is also estimated that only 1-in-5 older adults disclose their experience of abuse to others, so the rates of abuse may actually be much higher.

The mistreatment of an older adult has severe consequences.  It can lead to mental health concerns, social isolation, and even premature death. Preventing elder abuse and responding to it in a timely and appropriate manner can save lives.

Being able to spot warning signs that an older adult is being abused can play an important role in helping someone seek help.  Signs that someone is being abused include:

  • Anxiety and fear
  • Social Isolation
  • Depression
  • Confiding in you about the abuse

Another layer of complexity is that for some older adults there may be a previous history of abuse.  Someone who has managed to cope in their adulthood with a traumatic past may find that it is harder to cope as an older person.  The process of aging itself, with the loss of independence and the onset of health complications, can have a significant impact on someone with a history of trauma.  Signs that someone is being affected something traumatic from their past include the same warning signs that someone is being abused: heightened anxiety or fear, depression, social isolation, and confiding in trusted ones about past abuse.

If an older adult discloses to you about past or current abuse, your response does not actually change. Talking about abuse, past or present, can be a very difficult and vulnerable process.  If someone tells you about abuse they have suffered, one of the most important things to do is to listen and believe them.

Another important action is to support the person.  Support can look like many things, but it is always good to be informed about what resources are available to a victim of violence.  If you suspect someone is in imminent need of safety, call 9-1-1.  If you are an older person who has experienced abuse, or a concerned person seeking more information, Manitoba has a Seniors Abuse Support Line that you can contact 24/7 at 1-888-896-7183.  For more information on World Elder Abuse Awareness Day you can visit their webpage, http://www.weaadmanitoba.ca/

Survivor’s Hope Crisis Centre provides crisis intervention, support, and information to survivors and secondary victims of sexualized violence in north-eastern Manitoba. They run workshops in schools throughout the region that aim to prepare youth for strong, healthy, and respectful relationships. They also operate a drop-in support service on Monday afternoons in Powerview-Pine Falls. For more information, visit www.survivors-hope.ca or call 204-753-5353.

Sexual Violence Myths Getting Good Press?

By: Stephanie Klassen

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and there are two recent news stories that raise some very important points about sexual violence.

It is not often that we hear satisfying stories of closure and justice in regards to sexual violence. These types of crimes are fraught with influence from cultural myths and misunderstandings about what is happening when sexual violence occurs.

We have heard a Manitoba judge say that sexual assault is actually just a “clumsy Don Juan” trying to get lucky and accidentally assaulting someone. It is a myth that sexual assault is rooted in the desire for sex.

We have watched the Ghomeshi trial in which every action the survivors took after the assaults was given far more weight than the actual assaults. It is a myth that all sexual assault survivors will act in the same manner if they were really sexually assaulted.

Two recent stories have highlighted more myths about sexual violence.

There is currently a lawsuit against the Mennonite Brethren Church of Manitoba that alleges the church created an atmosphere that made it easy for a pastor to lure, groom, and sexually assault a child in his congregation.

This lawsuit highlights myths about sexual violence by shattering the usual myths. This lawsuit is trying to get to the bottom of why sexual violence happens and the conditions that promote silencing victims. In a word – power.

It is not often that we see legal action taken against the structures that promote inequality or injustice, but this lawsuit is attempting to do just that. It’s not that churches promote inequality and injustice, but when people, particularly children, are told that the church leader is “chosen by God,” that leader has a lot of power and authority which may be easily abused. More safeguards are required in these settings to hold leaders accountable and encourage anyone who may be a victim to trust their own experience and feel safe to speak up.

There are many groups, inside and outside faith communities, working on and discussing these problems. Especially relevant to the faith community involved in this lawsuit is the organization Our Stories Untold which is working to end the silence around sexual violence in churches.

Another story that has recently highlighted myths by breaking them came out of a denied conviction appeal. A teacher was convicted in 2013 of sexually assaulting a female student by repeatedly groping her at school. He tried to appeal his sentence on the grounds that the victim had not come forward soon enough; she had not reported the first incident on the first day it took place.

The Court responded in a refreshingly informed way by saying that the convict’s argument was not evidence that the assaults never took place. The Court acknowledged that the power the teacher had over the student played a significant role in the assaults and in the student’s response, which likely included some form of Sexual Assault Trauma.

At its core, sexual violence is about power, not sex. Sexual contact is simply the weapon of choice. Sexual violence comes from a disregard for consent which essentially entails dehumanizing someone, using them as an object so the perpetrator feels powerful and gets what they want.

Too often we hear myths about sexual violence mistaken for truth. Sexual Assault Awareness Month is a time to become better informed, debunk myths, and create safer spaces for everyone in our communities.

For more information on a variety of topics related to sexual violence, visit the Links page of our website.

Preventing More Than Murder-Suicide: Early Warning Signs of Domestic Violence

Unfortunately, 2014 ended with some brutal cases of domestic violence.  In Edmonton, a woman and seven of her family members and friends were killed by her ex-husband before he shot himself. In Fort Worth, Texas, a woman and her two daughters were killed by her ex-boyfriend who then killed himself. In BC, spousal homicide was at a five-year high in 2014.

Edmonton Police Chief, Rod Knecht, told reporters that the case in his city was an incident of “domestic violence gone awry.” Let’s be clear – there are zero cases of domestic violence that “go well”, so there cannot be cases that go “awry”. Every single incident of domestic violence is a relationship gone awry, a partner gone awry.

Domestic violence happens in homes across Canada every single day. At any given time, there are nearly 10,000 women and children in emergency shelters across the country. It happens an awful lot, but this is no excuse for us to start thinking “mild domestic violence” is acceptable.

One news report listed some warning signs of a potential murder-suicide – “…obsessive behaviour, depression in the killer, and an escalation of violence prior to the murder.” All of these “warning signs” are more than just red flags – they clearly indicate a situation that needs to be addressed. This is like saying a house engulfed in flames is at risk of burning down!

Long before we check for the warning signs of mass murder and suicide, there are so many other concerns that ought to be addressed. Depression and violent behaviour should never go unchecked. Those are not signs of a problem; those are large problems in and of themselves!

Abusive relationships are about an imbalance of power and one partner controlling the other. The partner that uses abusive behaviour is solely responsible for their behaviour and the victimized partner does not deserve to be treated poorly.

In SADI workshops with grade 12 students, we discuss these warning signs that someone may use abusive behaviour:

  • constantly checking up on partner
  • telling the partner what to wear, what to do, who to spend time with
  • excessively jealous, accuses the other of cheating or flirting
  • showing up unannounced
  • humiliating the person
  • teasing
  • lack of communication
  • inability to listen
  • no trust
  • possessiveness
  • no balance or equality
  • lack of respect
  • put downs
  • big mood swings
  • makes you feel nervous (like you are walking on eggshells)
  • criticizes you
  • threatens to hurt you

All of these warning signs indicate that one partner is not concerned about building a healthy or respectful relationship. If you see your partner, someone else’s partner, or even if you see yourself engaging in some of these behaviours, it is a good idea to re-evaluate the relationship. Everybody deserves to be in a healthy and respectful relationship – EVERYBODY! We are setting the bar way too low if we only try to prevent murder-suicide. We can prevent all forms of domestic violence.

There is a toll-free number in Manitoba that you can call 24/7 to talk to a trained counsellor about any relationship that you suspect is abusive 1-888-977-0007. Emergency shelters are always available to anyone who feels unsafe in their relationship, long before you are worried about an impending murder-suicide.

Peace and War Begin at Home: Our Shared Responsibility to End Violence

nfl

Recent NFL news has been less about impressive plays and game outcomes and more about family violence and league policies. If you have not heard, the NFL and some players have been getting a lot of bad press lately.  A video was released of Baltimore Ravens’ Ray Rice punching his fiancé out cold and dragging her unconscious from an elevator. Evidence and allegations of child abuse recently came to light after Minnesota Vikings’ Adrian Peterson ‘spanked’ his child with a tree branch leaving open wounds and welts over the boy’s legs and genitals.

These occurrences of family violence are unfortunately common in North America. In Canada, one in six women will experience physical violence from an intimate partner and nearly one in three Canadians experience some form of abuse as a child. The Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson stories are not unique. These stories are most certainly being played out in every community to some extent.

There is a lot of debate about how the NFL ought to respond to these incidents. The NFL decided to indefinitely suspend Ray Rice once the video became public, which was long after the NFL knew about the incident. Adrian Peterson was suspended for just one game.

It should be striking to us that if Adrian Peterson had taken the same action against anyone other than his own child (someone else’s child, his wife, his father, a total stranger) there would be no debate about the issue. It would very clearly be assault. If Ray Rice had punched out someone with whom he was not in a relationship, there wouldn’t have been as much wavering on the consequences. Why is it that the most intimate of relationships seem to come with permission to commit crimes against each other?

And what if these events involved the employees of a different workplace? The alarming stats regarding family violence make it clear that the NFL is not the only ‘employer’ dealing with this issue. Would your employer suspend an employee who knocked out his wife? Would there be support for someone who hit their children with branches, leaving them bloodied and bruised? Who is included in the list of responsible parties when families become violent?

In Canada, when it comes to child protection, every single one of us is responsible. Every adult is expected by law to report suspected child abuse to an authoritative body such as Child and Family Services. Children are dependent on adults for nearly everything in their lives and we are all a part of the village that is required to raise them to adulthood.

Many families will experience violence firsthand, but even more families will be bystanders. We are not required by law to report violence between adults, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t be responsible bystanders and lend a helping hand where it is needed. There are countless ways we can all be positive influences on the people around us. Our input can range from being examples of healthy families, or talking to our friends when we think they’re in trouble or causing trouble. In worst case scenarios, we can call 911 when we witness an assault.

Our intimate relationships should not be places of violence. There should not be silent permission to treat our partners and our children far worse than we treat our friends or even strangers. No matter what the situation is around us, we can all take some responsibility for ending violence. If peace and war begin at home, let’s make sure we are all promoting peace with our own families.

If you or someone you know is in danger, please contact the appropriate resources.

How We Talk About Sexual Assault

In Winnipeg last weekend, a woman was sexually assaulted by a cab driver in the middle of the night. She had been at a club and after stumbling on the sidewalk, a cab driver helped the woman into his cab, drove to the area near the address she provided, and then he sexually assaulted her.

The day after this incident, women started sharing their own scary experiences of cab drivers on social media. This story is not a new one. This is not the first time a woman has been sexually assaulted in a cab. This is not the first time a woman has been sexually assaulted after leaving a club. The lack of news reports about these types of occurrences creates a false sense of the actual rates of these incidents. I read this story and thought, “Why are they reporting on this assault and not all the others that have occurred?”

Nevertheless, it is important that these stories reach the general public, even if it is only some of the time.  We know that only about 10-15% of sexual assaults are ever reported to the authorities, so that means for every story we hear about sexual assault, we can assume that there are probably upwards of 8 other stories that we are not hearing.

That being said, just reporting on these incidents is not enough. We need to be careful with how they are reported. There are several concerns that stand out in the way this story was reported in the Winnipeg Free Press and on the CBC website.

Victim Blaming

The victim of this sexual assault had been drinking and every news report made that clear multiple times. It was reported in a matter-of-fact and non-judgmental way but the repeating of it communicates that this was a very important part of the story. If the victim’s alcohol consumption is communicated as a key factor in this story, then the message behind this repetition is “If the victim had not been drinking, none of this would have happened.”

Far too often, the victim is blamed for an assault if it happens when she/he is intoxicated. Victim-blaming messages are way too prevalent in our society. No matter how much someone has had to drink, it is always the perpetrator that is responsible for sexual assault.  Do we think that this woman’s intoxication is what gave the cab driver the idea to sexually assault her? His desire to take advantage of a vulnerable person has nothing to do with her clothes, her actions, or her alcohol consumption. It is all on him. (The “safety tips” in this sketch from The Daily Show are a joke because they won’t keep anyone safe.)

Highlighting the habits of victims when we report on sexual assault does absolutely nothing to address the root causes of why some people want to take advantage of others and engage in non-consensual sexual acts. Yes, there are social forces that encourage men to view women as objects to which they can help themselves, but we still need to hold individuals accountable for their actions while we try to change those harmful social forces.

Misplaced Concern

Despite the “seriousness” of this sexual assault (more on that later), the news reports still spent a significant amount of time addressing concerns that are peripheral to the crime that took place. Winnipeg Councillor Harvey Smith found it necessary to emphasize the good relationship between the Winnipeg Police Service and the taxi companies. He also talked about how few sexual misconduct cases come to the Manitoba Taxicab Board, of which he is a member. He also speculated about whether or not the victim made up these allegations and said it “does not look good” for the cab driver right now.

All of that is incredibly dismissive. Is the relationship between police and taxi drivers the most important concern in this story? Should we really be worried about the job security of the perpetrator of this crime? Raising these political and outlying concerns seems very disrespectful to this particular victim of a violent crime and to all victims of sexual assault. If this incident creates an opportunity to discuss any political issues, it ought to be the issue of women’s safety. Winnipeg was among the first “developed” cities to sign up with the UN Safe Cities Initiative because street harassment of women is a major concern and this story is an example of that first and foremost.

Serious vs. Not So Serious

The sexual assault in this incident has been reported as a serious sexual assault, which begs the question, “Which sexual assaults are not serious?”

If we look at conviction rates for the answer to that question, we would see that sexual assaults are deemed among the least serious of all the violent crimes as they have the second lowest conviction rate. A study of reports to police forces in Ontario found that sexual assault reports had the highest rate of being considered “unfounded” and only a third of reports across Canada lead to charges compared to half of all other violent crime reports.

The criminal code does not distinguish between serious and not serious sexual assault. There is, however, a difference between sexual assault (any unwanted sexual contact) and aggravated sexual assault (any unwanted sexual contact that results in wounding, maiming, disfiguring, or endangering the life of the victim). It sounds like this story is about aggravated sexual assault because the victim was reported to have been injured during the sexual assault.

Calling this a serious sexual assault is someone’s subjective take on the situation, not the legal description of what happened. Of course this is a story about serious sexual assault, but only because every sexual assault is serious. As long as we call some serious and others not, we will keep sending the message to victims that there is no guarantee that what they went through was serious enough to deserve any kind of a response. This also implies to perpetrators of sexual assault that sometimes what they do is not serious and therefore allowed. What we permit, we promote, and if we permit sexual assault of any kind, we are promoting it.

There have been a number of disappointing media stories about sexual assaults over the last few months. The very existence of sexual assault is bad enough; we don’t need to make it worse with the way we talk about it in the media. We can do so much better than this! We owe it to victims of sexual assault to honour their experiences when we report on them by making their concerns the central feature of the story.

Book Review: The Guy’s Guide to Feminism

The Guys Guide to FeminismBy: Michael Kaufman and Michael Kimmel

Feminism is often understood as a women’s topic that only engages ideas that matter to women. In The Guy’s Guide to Feminism, Michael Kaufman and Michael Kimmel turn that assumption on its head and use humour to explain why feminism is not only important, but also an integral part of life for males and females.

Kaufman is a co-founder of one of Canada’s most successful and internationally lauded charities, the White Ribbon Campaign which encourages men to join the cause of ending violence against women. Kimmel is an author and a sociology professor at State University of New York. Together, they have authored this step-by-step guide for guys. Even though the book is titled as a “guy’s guide,” just like feminism, it is not exclusively for one sex as it is interesting and relevant to everyone.

The book is a comedic encyclopedia that addresses a wide range of topics that are important to feminism and explains how these topics impact the lives of men. Issues such as birth control and domestic violence, consent and rape are redefined as issues that are important to men as well as women. At bottom, feminism is about equality. It is about three things:

1. Recognizing that there is discrimination against females in our world (such as women being stoned to death in Iran, girls being prevented from going to school in Pakistan, and the missing and murdered Aboriginal women of Canada).
2. Acknowledging that discrimination based on sex is not right.
3. Taking action against that discrimination and working in big and small ways to make the world safer for everyone.

The strength of Kaufman and Kimmel’s book is that it is a very accessible and funny introduction to many important issues that are an essential part of men’s and women’s lives. They use short stories, comics, and plenty of jokes to get their message across. The book is perfect for anyone interested in learning more about the basics of feminism and equality. It is also a great read for anyone who hopes to make the tenets of feminism more accessible for others.

The Guy’s Guide to Feminism is available through the SADI Resource section of the Pinawa Public Library.

Expectations of Victims?: Reactions to Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence

Near the end of March, a Nova Scotia woman had a very unfortunate experience with her boyfriend and then with the RCMP. While going through the process of reporting a domestic assault and documenting her injuries, this woman received a disturbing accidental voicemail message from the RCMP.

The officer that called seemed to think he had hung up the phone when in actual fact he left a three minute message. The message consisted of several officers discussing this woman’s case. They discussed the complainant’s emotional state and one of the officers asked if she deserved to get hit and laughed.

It is important to say that this is not typical RCMP behaviour. Canadians are helped by dedicated officers every day and Survivor’s Hope works alongside such officers through the SARAH program. The officers involved in the voicemail message are now subjects of a disciplinary inquiry and an official apology has been issued.

IS THIS A REFLECTION OF US?

This story raises a very important concern and it doesn’t have anything to do with the RCMP. For a moment, let’s just think of the voicemail comments coming from average Canadians, not RCMP officers. Do their comments reflect some of the attitudes of the general public? Do we expect victims of domestic violence or sexual violence to express a limited range of emotional responses? Don’t people deserve help regardless of how they emotionally process an experience?

I am most concerned about the first comments heard on the voicemail message which are about the emotional state of the woman. The officers say that when they talked to the woman about what happened, she said she was afraid her boyfriend would kill her, but according to the officers, she was “very nonchalant,” which they point out a few times. I worry that they were pointing out her nonchalance as if it diminished her report of violence and how threatened she felt.

A LITTLE DOMESTIC VIOLENCE THEORY

Every time we discuss domestic violence, we discuss the cycle of violence, or cycle of abuse. The vast majority of domestic violence happens in a patterned matter. This means that it takes place in a relationship that follows a predictable path of building tension, explosive episode, rationalization, and then pretending normal for a while before the tension builds again and the cycle repeats. This is the cyclical pattern of abusive behaviour and those who are subjected to this behaviour by their partners know this cycle very well.

cycle of violence

It may not be surprising then that a victim of domestic violence can report their experience and their fear in a matter-of-fact nonchalant way. The cycle and the abuse, the fear and the pain are very familiar facets of everyday life. Many people organize their lives around this cycle because their partner controls them with abusive behaviours.

Those who live in the cycle of abuse, both the abusive partner and the victimized partner, can become so accustomed to this pattern that this seems normal. Children who grow up seeing the cycle of abuse in their home may come to believe that these behaviours are normal. Even though violence can be normalized in people’s lives, it does not make it okay and it does not mean that the threat of serious harm or even death is not real.

LEARNING TO COPE

Normalizing the cycle of abuse and violent experiences can be a coping strategy for those trapped in the cycle. It is not that they want this to be normal, but they can become so accustomed to it, that they just try to make it work. No one can live constantly in hyperdrive, in that adrenaline pumping state of fight or flight that happens when we feel threatened. Thus, constant fear becomes normal and can be discussed in nonchalant ways, or even minimized and explained away.

There is no typical or standard reaction to domestic violence or to sexual assault or to any other traumatic experience. The range of responses can be from numb to frenzied, from distracted to fixated, from urgent to avoidant, from guilty and shameful to enraged and vengeful and anything in between. Normalizing fear as a coping strategy is definitely not what everyone does when they are brutalized by domestic violence.

The point is that someone who lives in the cycle of abuse may not have the emotional response that we think is “appropriate” or “normal.” No one – not average citizens, not RCMP officers, not medical staff, not crisis workers – should take that as permission to dismiss a victimized person’s request for help.

OUR REACTION MAKES A DIFFERENCE

When we compare self-reporting surveys to police statistics, we find out that more than 70% of domestic violence and sexual violence does not get reported to the authorities, and that’s a conservative estimate. It is not easy to talk to strangers about these experiences. But when someone is able to talk to another about what has happened, the response of that trusted other is very important and can set the tone for the victimized person’s healing process.

This very unfortunate voicemail message might function as a mirror for us. When we look into this mirror, do we see our own assumptions about domestic violence? Do we judge a victim’s credibility based on how we assess their emotional reaction? We know we should not judge a book by its cover, so let’s make sure we don’t judge people by their outward response.