Voices & Stories
I was nine years old the first time I was sexually assaulted by a family friend. It was unusual in a large family to find myself alone and he was so close to my family that he appeared to be the one to call when darkness fell. I suspect that knowing my personality he was afraid that I would tell and so the assaults stopped after several occasions. Why did I not tell? For the same reason most children do not. You are the child and they are the adult and they tell you that you will not be believed. I did get the courage to threaten him but only when I saw him eyeing my younger sister. I am not sure why I was willing to protect her but not myself.
I am a survivor. I was bright and did well in school. I was not assaulted by a family member and I quickly learned not to be in the house by myself in case he should drop by. My assault has not prevented me from setting goals and frequently reaching or going beyond these goals. The memories are always with me and flood back at inappropriate times. Most are not as lucky as me. Their suffering is more painful and they do not have my advantages.
We need to understand why children are victimized in this way. We need solution-oriented research. Our society needs to make the hurting stop.
My awareness of child abuse began about twenty-five years ago, when I was a teacher in a suburban school. One day, after I had finished presenting the lesson to a Grade 3 French class, I handed out an assignment for them to work on. I was walking up and down the aisles, making sure that the children had understood what they were told to do.
It was a bright, sunny morning. As I approached Andy’s desk, my shadow fell across his face. Instinctively, he flung up his bent arm to protect his head.
“I will never hit you, Andy” I said to him. “You can count on me.” To myself, I thought, someone must hit him on a regular basis, since his self-protective reflex is so well developed.
As the years went by, I observed children whose behaviour was bizarre and sometimes violent. It did not make sense to me. I was unable to account for it. Slowly, however, as more and more stories came to light, it began to dawn on me that Andy’s story was only one small part of a broad picture of child abuse and family violence that occurs in too many of our homes.
The Prairieaction Foundation offers a way to finally make a difference. It will support research that explores the causes of family violence and seeks remedies to reduce its terrible effects on children’s lives. It will help sustain a prairie network linking front-line agencies with researchers and policy makers, so that the most effective programs and practices can be found and widely implemented. By working together, we can begin to bring about change.
As a family law lawyer I see the consequences of family violence on a day to day basis. Children raised in violent homes often face violence in their own marriages and relationships far into the future. Unfortunately their children can follow the same painful pattern. Even if they do not repeat the cycle of violence and abuse in which they were raised, those raised with violence will often have enormous difficulties raising their own children.
I remember one case where a young woman was sexually abused as a child. As a result of the fear, suspicion and loathing her own upbringing gave to her, she found it impossible to look after her own children. Her marriage was destroyed and her own children have faced the constant struggle of dealing with two parents who have endured the tragic consequences of violence in their own upbringing. My fear is: What will their children face?
There is no hope for healing without more research, education and understanding. The tragic affects of violence on victims and their families will continue for generations unless we find ways to stop the cycle. The Prairieaction Foundation supports solutions to violence and abuse. Help us to find the answers.
“Peace in society depends upon peace in the family” — Augustine
The Honourable Mr. Justice Murray Sinclair, Court of Queen’s Bench, Manitoba; former PAF Board member – Violence is Never Right
In my job as a judge, I see the painful effects of domestic abuse and family violence every day. However, it is my personal experience that has affected me the most.
My mother died of tuberculosis when I was only a year old. The debilitating nature of the disease weakened her to the point that she suffered a stroke while giving birth to my younger brother. She never recovered. From the pictures that remain of her and from the stories that my aunts and uncles tell, she was a remarkable woman. Physically beautiful and quiet, she was strong enough to exercise control over the headstrong young man my father was reported to be. I had to rely on those stories and pictures of my mother since my father never spoke of her after she died, except in his final days, before he passed away in 1994.
My father became an alcoholic. His behaviour was disruptive to our family life and frightening to us as his children. Like many alcoholics, he was an abusive man. His anger and abuse however, was mostly directed at my younger brother, who my father blamed for my mother’s death. Nothing my brother did ever satisfied my father, and when my father was in one of his drunken rages, it was my brother who received the brunt of the abuse. Accused by my father of killing our mother, my little brother grew up carrying a heavy burden.
My grandparents tried to protect us by convincing my father that they should care for us. But too often Dad showed up to torment us with his drinking and late night rages. My grandmother decided to send my younger brother away to live with an aunt. It wasn’t until many years later that I realized that she did so in fear for his life. One day she found my father and brother facing off in the kitchen. My father was threatening to beat my brother. My brother was holding a knife. They were ready to kill one another.
My sister left home, around the same time, to live with an aunt. I wanted to stay with my grandparents who were the only parents I knew. Without my brother to torment, my father’s anger was redirected at anyone nearby. We learned to watch for signs of his anger – hyper vigilance the professionals call it – and quickly leave if he looked ready to explode. One day I missed the signs and made the mistake of asking him for money for a school activity. First he hit me, then grabbed me by the throat and held me against the wall for a few seconds. I couldn’t breathe. He didn’t speak. Suddenly he let me go and went into the bedroom. I never forgot again to check for signs of his anger. It marked our relationship forever and affected the relationships I formed with virtually every other person too.
Many years later I learned that my father’s behaviour was neither right nor normal. I thought everyone suffered the way my family did. I always laughed at the lack of violence on the television show “Leave It to Beaver”. The concept of a father sitting down and talking things out with his son was completely foreign to me. Today I know many others who have lived or are living the way I did. More must be done to help families who are suffering from violence and abuse. My brother, sister and I were lucky enough to have grandparents, aunts and uncles to protect us. Unfortunately few parents or partners wake up one morning and recognize on their own, that they are abusing and hurting the ones who love them the most.
Solutions must be found to end family violence and abuse. I believe we need to find ways to build upon the strength and value of family bonds. In my life it has always been my family; my grandparents, aunts, uncles, brother, sister, cousins and now my wife and children who have helped me to heal and enabled me to become a better human being than thought I was going to be.
The Prairieaction Foundation is an important vehicle to achieve the vision of keeping individuals and families safe from violence and abuse. I am proud to be involved with it.
Carolynne Boivin, PAF Founding President; Member, PAF Honorary Board – Violence & Abuse is Everyone’s Business
During my term as President of the Prairieaction Foundation, I became convinced that violence and abuse is everyone’s business. Violence takes many forms: emotional or psychological abuse; economic abuse; physical abuse; and neglect. Violence represents an abuse of power and the violation of a position of trust. Services exist in Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan to help victims and perpetrators of violence. Legislation and policies have been developed to respond to problems of violence. Across North America, for example, emergency shelters for women and children have been in place for two decades. These are necessary Band-Aid solutions but not the answer to preventing the cycle of violence. New approaches are needed.
We live with a history of fragmented research where goals and outcomes have not always been developed or shared by academics and service agencies. Some provinces have better practices, information and policies than others without effective communication networks. Rural areas and small towns are especially isolated. The current competitive environment for diminished research funds has resulted in a non-collaborative practice environment.
For the past five years the Manitoba Research Centre on Family Violence and Violence Against Women has invited social service providers, academics from different disciplines and government policy makers to collaborate on a research agenda and test results in communities across Canada. Now it is ready to expand its action research mandate to include Alberta and Saskatchewan. RESOLVE is supported by the Prairieaction Foundation endowment fund. Join us in combating violence and abuse through action research. We need many champions of solutions.