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Surviving domestic violence and abuse

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Editor’s Note: The name of the woman in this story has been changed to protect the identity of herself and her children.
It is suspected that Domestic Violence is one of the main incidents that go unreported in Canada. There are so many reasons for this, ranging from fear and stigma to the extreme difficulty for people to
escape and survive from it.
Jane Doe, from the Parkland area, is still going through this process, years after she exited a domestic abusive relationship. “I wish I could be more hopeful and promising by telling my story and that somehow this will make a difference, but I would be naïve in thinking that,” said Doe. “Every woman I have come across that has been in a domestic violence relationship has a different story to tell, but there are factors and elements that make their stories very much alike.” “I will admit I was very uninformed about what domestic violence really was. People tend to stereotype the victims as uneducated women with limited resources and opportunities. This was not the case for myself or for many others. I was a successful career woman, with children, educated, and volunteered with various organizations.” Doe said she went
through different forms of domestic violence and abuse over the years. The worst forms of the abuse, for her, were psychological.
“Looking back on it, all the warning signs were there, I just didn’t allow myself to process it,” she said. “Things like lies and exaggerations to bursts of anger over things like who I was talking to and how
much money I spent. Situations would arise where my family and friends would be blamed for being instigators and I was told I had to keep away from them. From there, it began to escalate. I noticed people who were mutual friends, began to treat me very differently. These people would act like, all of sudden, I had done something wrong or distance themselves from me. At the time, I had no idea that I was being sabotaged through a barrage of lies as a desperate attempt to isolate me from people and
to make me look like a villain.”
“All throughout the while, our children were behind the scenes watching these threads of this family life unravel. When I tried to leave with the kids, I was told I could go but the kids had to stay. The kids  expressed that they didn’t want to stay and they made that clear. Threats were made saying CFS
and the RCMP would come and make sure my kids were taken away from me and I would be arrested if I tried to leave with them. I was told no one would believe a word I would say about anything. Several
scare tactics were used and my cell phone was taken away so I could not call anyone. That night I admitted defeat and spent the night in my bedroom with my children.”
“The next morning I got up and saw my phone was left unattended on the kitchen table that was my breaking point,” Doe continued. “I grabbed it and called my parents. While on the phone, I was caught talking to them, asking if the kids and I could stay there. Then the hollering match began. Something
instinctively told me to put my family on speakerphone so they could hear. My parents began to tell my ex-partner that if he did not let us go, they would call the cops. Reluctantly he let us go and that was
what I had hoped would be the end.”
Despite Doe’s hopes, it was far from over. She was lucky in the sense that the separation was filed very quickly and felt like she could resume back to work and pick up the pieces to form a new life.
“The kids were slow to adjust to this new life, but I could tell they were still worried,” explained Doe. “I would receive threatening voice mail messages and texts, along with claims that he had people watching
our every move and he knew what we were up to. While at work, I would get threats that he would commit suicide.
This began to take a toll on the kids and myself and we found ourselves living in constant fear and uncertainty. I was trying to hide the fact that this was going on and trying to make it look like everything was ok, but really, my world was crumbling down fast.” All the stress and worry took its toll and Doe found herself having to leave her job. Despite numerous calls to the RCMP about the incidents, the nightmare continued. There was always a loophole or delay for the matter being dealt with. As this
dragged on, Doe realized she was going to need a protection order and sought out supports from the local crisis shelter.
“It was the most difficult thing I have ever had to do,” said Doe. “First I had to come up with a safety plan for myself and the children incase our lives all of a sudden became at risk. Then I had to recount, in 
great detail, about incidents, comments made, and the overwhelming fear I had for my children and myself to a judge on the record. I had to prove I had sufficient cause for this order. In the back of my
mind I could hear him saying ‘no one will believe you’ and I began to doubt myself.”
Doe was able to secure a protection order for herself and her family, but was still not safe yet.“
One detail law enforcement and the crisis shelter had failed to mention to me was that a protection order can be appealed against,” said Doe. “So the other party has an option to challenge someone’s grounds for needing that order.” Doe found herself in a most unsettling situation of being unemployed and having to
seek a lawyer. Legal Aid was not an option for a variety of circumstances, so Doe cleaned the very little savings she had and maxed out credit cards to retain a lawyer.
“I had hoped a lawyer would be able to rectify this situation and it would be over, said Doe. “Instead it dragged on and on, with the bills adding up. To get back on my feet, I took a job, even though I wasn’t
ready mentally.” The job did not last long for Doe. Out of fear of judgment, she didn’t disclose what she was going through. Week after week, her case was remanded and she had to miss work on a weekly basis to attend court. Finally when her employer questioned her about it, she had to come clean and tell them she was going through a domestic violence situation. The next day, they let her go. The legal bills and proceedings dragged on and Doe was unsuccessful in finding work. 
“I was supporting my family through EI benefits and the charity of family, but both were running short,” she said. “I was on my last day of benefits and I went to the Employment Income Assistance (EIA) office
to see if I could qualify for benefits. I felt humiliated to be asking for support and assistance, but I had no choice. I will never forget filling out the application and meeting with the worker. She sat quietly looking 
through my paperwork and said to me, we do not get many people like you coming into our offices.
I felt so degraded as I sat there completely void of the conversation.” Doe never did receive a cheque from EIA; she managed to find a job the next day that supported her situation. Despite Doe’s life  changes, she is still not free from the incidents or fear and is continually caught in a revolving door of
phone calls to police and court dates. Terminology in the protection orders always seems to be under scrutiny and always open to interpretation whenever they are violated. “Some days I get beyond
frustrated at how the system is failing,” said Doe. “Whenever there is a breach of the order and action fails to happen, I feel like I have nothing more than just a piece of paper with words. When I would
call and nothing gets done about the breaches, I often want to say to the RCMP officers, this is my name, please remember it in case you respond to an incident that ends up costing me my life, at least you may remember how to spell my name on the body bag.” Doe feels that when there are children involved, the whole ordeal never completely ends. “When children are involved, it’s a lengthy process,” said Doe. 
“Family and Criminal courts do not work together. Where one may be charged criminally for acts of domestic violence, those charges do not necessarily have any bearing in family court. This complicates things like access and visitation. Many families, like mine, are caught in between the two and it’s a
never-ending battle until the children turn 18.” Many domestic violence survivors are being challenged in
courts across Canada by their former partners for parental alienation as a form of recourse. “What is even more disconcerting, is the fact that the concept of parental alienation is often misinterpreted and being used against domestic violence survivors who are trying to protect their children from being abused, “ explained Doe. “Parental alienation is not a case where one parent doesn’t get the children on Christmas day or get their way in a specific request. Nor is it when a decision is made to protect a child from severe
physical harm or abuse. 
The definition of parental alienation is the process of psychological manipulation of a child into showing unwarranted fear, disrespect or hostility towards a parent and or other family members.” This will forever be a life-changing event for Doe and her children. The ramification of domestic violence leaves a variety of impacts to all involved.
“I am not sure when this whole ordeal will ever be over, but I keep going on,” concluded Doe. “I talk about it to people now instead of hiding in shame, in hopes that I can help end the stigma and be that
one person that can help someone else in a similar situation. Hopefully someday the system can better enforce and protect those who have suffered from domestic violence and abuse.”