I was told recently of a case of alleged domestic abuse involving a family I know. It involves a mom’s physical and psychological abuse by her husband, complete financial dependency and the occasional physical punishment of their two young children, both under seven.
That the family looks like the average middle-class family — and nothing “shows” — is sad and infuriating.
I fear this is often the case in families who hide such dark secrets; appearances matter. Also, an odd sense of loyalty and pride prevents the victim from seeking help.
The alleged abuser in this case is, to all who know him, save for his immediate family, a good person. Both he and his wife have post-graduate degrees; their children attend private schools and attend church every Sunday — when the bruises don’t show, that is.
Now you might be tempted to ask how can a situation like this occur nowadays and why wouldn’t the mother extract herself and her children from it?
It’s not easy. Often, the abused spouse is unable to loosen the emotional ties enough to make a rational decision or is simply unable to act, out of fear. Many of those who make it to the shelter often decide to go back to their spouses. I would like to believe that counselling and support programs can enable better, happier lives and less, if any, recurrence.
Sometimes, the victim finds excuses for the abuser. Perhaps a tough childhood with physical abuse planted the seeds for such behaviour but is that enough to allow violence to affect more people? It’s easy to see the fallacy in excusing one’s abuser, but affection and fear mixed up make for blurry vision.
Due to psychological intimidation and repeated threats, the abused spouse and children might not disclose the situation because they fear retaliation or they do not believe anyone would be able to help.
There could be death threats directed toward any or all of the family members, including suicidal threats.
Sometimes the victim can be a man, too, although in Canada approximately 83 per cent of all domestic assaults are perpetrated by men against women.
Can we spot such a situation? Most likely not, unless we are witnessing it or have someone come forward. According to the Canadian Women’s Foundation, in most cases the abuse happens gradually and the victims are ashamed to admit it, out of fear and with hope that it will stop.
The same source estimates that on any given day in Canada, approximately 3,000 women (and their 2,500 children) are found in a shelter escaping domestic violence.
Sadly, too many.
Domestic violence is not likely to go away anytime soon. What’s worse, domestic violence breeds more domestic violence. Many of the children who witness violence in the family on a regular basis are more likely to become abusers or victims when they grow up.
It should also be noted that psychological abuse also counts as domestic abuse. Albeit not as dramatic as physical harm, psychological abuse is equally destructive and able to cause serious harm due to its insidious nature.
What can be done?
Awareness — to start with.
Domestic violence, whether the victims are spouses, children, in-laws or parents, is wrong and inexcusable.
Children and teenagers should be taught about respecting personal boundaries — theirs and others’ — and what better way than leading by example.
Whether children are victims of domestic abuse themselves, witnessing spousal violence can have the same effect direct violence would have, and will make them more complacent to violence when they grow up.
Having resources in place to educate people and also offer shelter and counselling to those in need is a must.
When women opt stay in an abused home, we need to refrain from judgment or from pushing them into taking the kind of action that seems logical to those who are not directly involved.
The best way to help is to listen, help someone know that solutions exist and most of all, never turn a blind eye. As always, any help is better than no help at all. Healthy communities rely on it.
Originally published as a column in the Saturday edition of the Kamloops Daily News on August 10, 2013