By Pauline Kerr
People may have noticed more purple scarves than usual lately. November is Woman Abuse Prevention Month, and the purple scarf is the symbol of the courage it takes a woman to leave her abuser.
The message being delivered by those purple scarves is that it takes more than courage – it takes support from the entire community – sisters and brothers, extended family, neighbours, employers and co-workers, political leaders, social services, law enforcement and health care.
As with everything else, the COVID-19 pandemic has not improved the situation for female victims of abuse. Repeated lockdowns have led to increased isolation and stress. The meetings, seminars and informal gatherings where people could learn to recognize the signs a woman is being abused, and where she could go for help, have been on hold for well over a year.
The fundraisers that have paid for community outreach programs and emergency shelters have not been happening. And no, government funding has not been forthcoming to fill the gaps.
The pandemic has made it much more difficult to access social services of all kinds. For those who live in rural areas and already have a difficult time finding help to meet their needs, the situation is getting worse. Data published on the Canadian Women’s Foundation (CWF) website indicates rural women experience five times more incidents of domestic violence than men do, and 75 per cent more than urban women.
The pandemic has exacerbated the job losses and economic stressors that have been found to be danger signs for domestic violence.
Add to all that the very real housing crisis in this area. It is difficult enough for a two-income family with a healthy savings account to find affordable housing. Imagine the nightmare for a woman who may have fled an abusive situation with three or four traumatized children, no job, and an abusive ex-partner determined to keep her from getting a penny of “his” money. The CWF website indicates many women stay in abusive situations for financial reasons. Women trying to raise children on their own are five times more likely to be poor than if they had stayed.
While poverty is a factor in gender-based violence, it is not the only one.
Gender-based violence can happen in romantic relationships, in the workplace, with acquaintances and even with strangers. While anyone can be abused, simply being female puts one at a much greater risk for violence of all kinds. At even higher risk are women with disabilities, Indigenous women, trans and non-binary people, elderly women and women who are homeless.
It runs the full gamut, everything from physical violence, sexual assault and even murder, to cyber-stalking, bullying and name-calling.
Gender-based violence is surrounded by myths. No, women do not stay in a violent relationship because they like it. They stay because they are terrified and traumatized. The abuser may threaten to harm them, their children, other family members and pets if they leave. Victims have good reason to believe they will carry out those threats. Separation is a common theme in murder-suicides.
Nor do they stay because they are crazy, although living in an abusive situation can have a devastating impact on mental health.
No, domestic violence does not affect men the same way that it does women. While it is wrong no matter who commits acts of violence, women are far more likely to suffer physical injuries.
And no, gender-based violence is not something that used to happen more than it does now. It seems to be something that occurs in cycles, with crises and disasters – such as the COVID-19 pandemic – being particularly dangerous.
November’s purple scarves are a reminder that it will take the effort of a lot of concerned friends, nosy neighbours, caring co-workers, and determined community members – that includes all the good guys out there who do not abuse – to end gender-based violence.
If someone confides that they are being abused, believe them. Listen, offer your support, and keep the lines of communication open.
If someone is in danger, call 911.
Canadian Women’s Foundation website (canadianwomen.org)