There are some things you are allowed to be proud to have survived. Anyone who has ever had a lump removed from their breast can proudly declare themselves a breast cancer survivor.
Have a car crash, a crazy freak accident or get drunk and do something stupid and your survival becomes a badge of honour and a great story. Get mugged, carjacked, beat up for cheering for the wrong team, or attacked in any violent way and you become a hero for surviving it.
But if you’ve been raped or a victim of domestic violence, you don’t have a badge, a hero status or a great story. You’re a survivor as much as anyone else, but they don’t make you a T-shirt or run marathons for you and you would never stand up at a party and say “I’m a rape survivor” or “I’m a domestic violence survivor” as a note of pride and inspiration like a cancer survivor could.
On Nov. 25, the province launched another purple ribbon campaign. Although it’s been four years now, I’m not sure the purple ribbon will ever become as widely recognized as the pink one. Because while we’re all willing to stick that purple car magnet on the rear of our car along with the “Proud honours student parent” and “If you can read this you’re driving too close” bumper stickers, we’d prefer that that reminder stay on our bumper — behind us.
If you’re a woman who has survived violence, that is exactly where you are supposed to leave it — behind you. In fact, according to the website our province has created for “awareness” of domestic violence, respectwomen.ca, and our province’s Violence Protection Act, once you’ve survived the violence and gotten away, you’re pretty much fine.
At least, that’s the way it reads to me.
It’s wonderful that our province puts resources into helping women recognize and escape abusive relationships, but our resources for women after they’ve left are tragically wanting. Our resources to prevent things such as the double homicide/suicide in CBS recently are dangerously low. Our resources to help children heal and help women recognize the potential their abusive partner squashed are sadly low.
It is not enough to walk away. A woman who has escaped violence hasn’t just left bruises and broken bones. But that is how we, as a society, see partner violence. In fact, if a woman has the resources and strength to leave before she gets that first black eye or broken bone, many people would challenge her assertion that there was any violence at all.
Domestic violence is rarely about fists, though. That is a part of it, and the part we concentrate on because it is so visual and immediate. But even with the worst physical offender, women rarely get beaten every day. Instead they get beaten down.
If a woman is being abused, it doesn’t start with the black eye. It starts with control, isolation and psychological torture. The experience of any abuse survivor is akin to that of a prisoner of war survivor (though, again, while the POW is a hero, the woman should just move past it).
And if a woman walks or runs away from abuse, there are no more black eyes, but the other damage inflicted lasts a lot longer. Most leave with little to no financial resources and often little financial knowledge because they weren’t permitted that. Their credit scores are shot or they’ve never had their own credit.
They leave with a splotchy resume, if one at all, because the controlling spouse wouldn’t permit them to work late or to promote themselves at work or perhaps didn’t permit them to work at all.
They leave with a consistent sense of inferiority and failure that makes the transition from survival to thriving all that more difficult.
And, typically, they leave with children also burdened with multiple scars.
But once they’ve left and have started to feel safe again because of protection orders or new housing and the government has perhaps — if they were already in receipt of support — given them a relocation allowance or extended their benefits, they are left alone with their memories and their struggles.
They consistently face questions about why they don’t have “important” paperwork because they decided getting out was more important than finding a copy of last year’s taxes or getting copies of the children’s medical records.
They struggle to find help for their children and themselves to adjust to life without control and violence and they get put on a wait list while they watch their children fall to pieces.
They are assumed to have left because they “fell out of love” or “fought a lot” or “found someone else” ... and those assumptions come with marks of judgment that assault them again.
They might ask for help from social services, or the single parents network, or legal aid, or any number of other resources supposedly available to them, but they will always be given the run around because the resources are stretched too thin and only the persistent will get them. Yet they lack the ability or know-how to be persistent or advocate for themselves because they’ve spent the last decade being told they are worthless.
And then they will drive behind your car and see your purple ribbon and know that you don’t actually want them to talk about it. You want them to forget about it and move on.
And if they walked up to you and said “I am a domestic violence survivor” you wouldn’t open your arms as you would for a breast cancer survivor. You wouldn’t want to hear about it. Or, you would want to hear too much — asking them to prove their survivorhood with bruises and police reports.
One in two women in our province will be the victim of physical or sexual assault at some point in their adult lives. One in two women. Fifty per cent. Half.
Of all the women you know, can you name more than one or two that you recognize as a survivor of violence?
And when you do, can you look at her as a survivor? Or do you instead wonder why she can’t seem to get her act together?
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