The #MeToo movement online has encouraged men and women to speak out about their experiences of abuse. Public domain photo/Pexels

Hollywood abuse scandal can give victims hope

  • November 17, 2017

As more stories of abuse and violence emerge from Hollywood and beyond, agencies like Catholic Family Services Toronto are bracing for impact.

Shereen McFarlane, program director at CFS Toronto, said whenever high-profile cases about sexual abuse and domestic violence emerge in mainstream media, it can be difficult for abuse victims to speak out. She cites the Jian Ghomeshi case, which resulted in the former radio host being acquitted last year on charges of sexual assault.

“We want women to speak up and we want women to come forward but these cases can make it difficult,” said McFarlane. “When it’s in the media and it gets painted in a particular way, it’s hard to undo…. It imprints in the mind of people that it’s pointless.”

It can be discouraging for clients to see how abuse victims are silenced by the power and influence of their more prominent abusers, she said.

However, McFarlane said she is hopeful for this new wave of awareness in the wake of the revelations about Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein and others who are accused of abusive sexual behaviour. The #MeToo movement online has encouraged men and women to speak out about their experiences of abuse.

“It’s great that the media is taking this on,” said McFarlane. “It tends to go in waves, but we deal with it everyday. So to have it be consistently in the news is great for awareness and understanding.”

When high-profile cases of abuse make its way into the media limelight, McFarlane said that it can be an affirming experience not only for the staff and the work that they do, but also for the clients. It demonstrates that they are not alone in their experience of abuse.

In 2011, Statistics Canada released a study that said women are four times more likely than men to be victims of spousal abuse.

Another Stats Can survey in 2013 also revealed women are six times more likely than men to say the incident was not reported out of fear of their spouse.

For eight years, CFS Toronto and Catholic Women’s League have organized an annual Mass to End Women Abuse as a way to raise awareness for this ongoing issue. In 2014, CFS Toronto also launched an annual benefit dinner to raise funds for programs that support abuse victims.

McFarlane said it’s important that conversations about abuse continue to take place within the community.

“It makes it real for the donors,” said McFarlane. “Through this foundation fundraiser, people have the opportunity to support us so that we can really deal with this issue and put an end to violence against women.”

The CFS Toronto benefit dinner and concert takes place Nov. 22 at the Lula Lounge at Dufferin and Dundas Street West. Doors open at 6 p.m. Tickets are $40 in advance and $45 at the door.

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