Women abuse: 'It's not OK'

  • October 24, 2008
{mosimage}TORONTO - Deborah Sinclair’s first introduction to the reality of women’s abuse happened when she was 12, while having lunch at a friend’s house. The friend’s father lifted up the kitchen table in rage despite the fact she, the other six kids and their mother were all present.

“I wondered if he knew I was there,” she said. “And you know I didn’t tell my parents because I was fearful they wouldn’t let me go back.”
Sinclair shared her personal story to open her keynote talk at the archdiocese of Toronto’s first conference dealing with abuse against women, held Oct. 18. The day-long conference, titled “Living without Fear,” drew about 150 people.

Sinclair’s anecdote sets the background for her now 30-year career in social work to help others deal with the problem of women abuse, which often affects children. As in her own experience, the fear and unwillingness to tell anyone is a behaviour all too common, something that needs to change for society to stomp out the problem of abuse.

“Once the abuse starts, we know it won’t stop spontaneously,” she said.

She added that “violence is everybody’s business” and people must discuss the issue, take responsibility to get involved and work together by addressing the roots of the problem and prevention. This can include something as simple as condemning a sexist joke or speaking up and telling a man who mistreats his girlfriend, common-law partner or wife that “it’s not OK.”

“Everyone has a right to live — pretty simple,” she said. “No one ever deserves to be harmed or to be controlled by another human being.”

Sinclair said too many people think that cases of women abuse are just an isolated incident, an “act of passion.” But, she said, in Ontario alone, one woman is killed by her husband every 12 days. In the United States, four women die daily. She said 29 per cent of Canadian women studied reported emotional abuse from their husband, with 25 per cent reporting physical or sexual abuse. Children of 50 to 60 per cent of those studied were also being physically or sexually abused.

Sinclair sits on the Domestic Violence Death Review Committee, a panel that reviews every death resulting from spousal violence.

“What we’ve found is most deaths are predictable and they’re preventable.”

Archbishop Thomas Collins, who gave the opening address, told attendees to seek, judge and act.

“The first step is to seek and be attentive, to see and notice those things around us that are not as they should be. It’s so easy to see it so often that you don’t notice it,” he said, comparing the issue to homelessness. “The second step is to judge — not in the sense of being judgmental — but to judge by the standard of the Gospel, through prayer and reflection. And finally, to act, to do something. Not just to see what is there or to understand it more fully and then move on.”

He said it cannot be assumed that violence against women is a minor reality simply because it occurs out of sight of larger society, which is why priests should be speaking about it from the pulpit.

Catholic Family Services sponsored the event with the Office of Catholic Youth, ShareLife, Catholic Charities, Faith Connections and the Office of Lay Ministry, Chaplaincy and Parish Social Ministry.

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