Violence against women: See it, name it, check it

The following is the presentation from guest speaker Barb MacQuarrie  at the Women’s Breakfast for Everyone, hosted by Violence Against Women Services Elgin County, held March 2, 2017 at the St. Thomas Seniors Centre.

  • Barb MacQuarrie is the Community Director for the Centre for Research and Education on Violence against Women & Children in the Faculty of Education at the Western University. She develops and promotes evidence based education and prevention initiatives involving both community-based and university-based partners.
  • Barb has presented to a wide variety of audiences locally, nationally and internationally about gendered violence and strategies to address it.
  • Barb manages several provincial and national public education campaign and training programs. She holds a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council grant to study the impact of violence on workers and the workplace. She is a member of the Board of Directors for the Muslim Resource Centre for Social Support & Integration.
  • Barb is a recipient of the Order of Ontario, the province’s highest official honour, recognizing individual excellence and achievement
Violence against women is both a cause and consequence of inequality. It is really important to remember it’s not just capricious individual behaviour. This problem is underwritten by that big phenomena of gender inequality and we always have to come back to that. And we have to make sure when we’re really trying to address it, that we don’t lose sight of this. So any effort we’re involved in to promote equality is going to help with this problem. 
We know it’s a violation of human rights. We know it’s a detriment to help and it’s maybe something we don’t think enough about. Violence against women costs us a lot. It costs all of us. On a societal basis and on an individual basis. 

So, what does violence against women look like? There is no simple answer. It takes many, many different forms. It manifests in many different ways. We can talk about big categories like physical violence, the easiest to recognize. But it’s also sexual violence, it’s psychological and emotional violence. It’s spiritual abuse. It’s not letting someone practice their faith. It’s forcing someone to practice a faith that’s not their own. It’s economic abuse. 
mcquarrie-1jpgSo what happens is an abuser finding the vulnerability and we all have vulnerabilities. It is zoning in on that and using that against the person. It’s going to look different for every single person in every single case. 
It can be very difficult to recognize. As we start to understand the bigger ideas that it is based on inequality, that you can’t just identify it by bruises. It’s really about controlling somebody else, not just physically harming them. Then I think we’re going to get closer to understanding what the problem really is . . .
(short video clip show to audience)
What we saw was an altercation between a man and woman. We didn’t see him hit her at all. But we saw a lot of other dynamics, like the power of control.
(graphic of power of control wheel shown to audience)
power-and-control-wheel-updatedjpgDeveloped by a woman named Ellen Pence and it’s intended to identify those tactics that an abusive spouse or partner uses to control their partner. Around the outside, she has physical and sexual violence. She describes it that these tactics are glued on to that violence or this threat of violence. So, it’s not necessary to hit somebody every time. No know that you can or know that you will is enough. And the way that portrays a reminder to that threat is what this wheel outlines.
I think we saw most of these tactics in that short scenario. We saw intimidation, we saw emotional abuse and isolation. He was questioning, “where were you, who were you working with?” He doesn’t want her associating with other people. We saw the blaming and denial, so he’s taking no responsibility for his behaviour, it’s all her fault. She’s the one that’s done something wrong, even though all she’s done is go to work. 
There are no children here (in the video) so we didn’t see the use of children. That could be happening. We heard him say, “Don’t you thing a man has the right to know where his wife has been?” That assumption that she doesn’t have the right to associate with whoever she needs to just to do her job. 
There’s economic abuse. He’s unemployed and she’s working. She booked a trip for both of them and he says no. He’s controlling the financial decisions in the family. And then we saw the threat. The thumping of his fist and the pointing of the finger. It’s implicit, it doesn’t need to be anything more. 
That’s what I mean when I say no we can’t just look for bruises. There are a lot of other ways that we’re going to see women abuse. 
When we see these kinds of situations, what is the most common response. How many here have heard, “Why doesn’t she just leave?” There are so many reasons for that. I’ve put up a list of the most common reasons. She might be afraid of her own life or the life of her children. This is not an unfounded fear. Separation is the most dangerous time . . . over 75 per cent of deaths (in Ontario) happen in that period between the time someone decides they are going to leave, through the process of leaving and shortly after. Leaving in the long term with support, yes she will be safer. But don’t make the assumption it’s easy to just walk out the door and walk away. It doesn’t happen that way.
She might feel responsible for keeping her family together. Maybe she grew up in an abusive home and this actually seems quite normal to her. She might be afraid to be on her own. She might be blaming herself for the abuse. And you can be sure he is telling her “It’s your fault.” You start to internalize that after a while. 
The economic uncertainty, the poverty she is potentially facing, again a reality for many women, and not just the women themselves, but the children. She might be afraid of not being believed or not being supported. 
Maybe she doesn’t want to end the relationship. Maybe she still loves him. Maybe she may not want to disrupt her children’s lives. Maybe her partner, in between incidents of violence, will promise to change and beg her to stay. She might be facing pressure from community and family. You’re married, this is your life, you have to stay in that. A lot of different reasons.
So, it’s not fair to ask why she didn’t leave. It’s not helpful. It’s entirely her decision. What we have to do is change the question. We have to ask, “How can we help?”
I’m going to talk to you about what I think are doable steps. It can seem overwhelming when we’re faced with a friend, a family member, a neighbour, a co-worker who we know is experiencing abuse. How are we going to help this person? It can be really, really difficult to see the way out. There are simple things, though. We have to remember it’s not our problem to solve. We have a role to provide support. And the way we can be most helpful, is by decreasing her isolation. Remember back on the poser of control wheel, isolation is one of those tactics that reinforces the abuse. This is the place where we can actually be helpful and be supportive. 
I’m going to talk a little bit about isolation. Isolation is always present in abusive relationships. You will never find an abusive relationship where there is not isolation. You might say it’s the foundation of an abusive relationship. And it happens in a lot of different ways. If there are children, then children are not going to feel comfortable bringing a friend home. It’s an unpredictable environment. They might be embarrassed or ashamed of what’s going on. 
Abusive spouses are going to be forbidding their partner to see friends, questioning them on who they were with at work. Maybe making them quit their job. Even restricting their access to family some times. Once you have a sense  that this family abuse is happening, people get uncomfortable. They don’t invite them over to dinner, they don’t invite them to social functions because they are afraid of the unpredictability. They don’t know what’s going to happen. 
See how that abuse spreads out.
mcquarrie2jpgIt’s not just the woman experiencing abuse and her family that tend to be isolated. We isolate ourselves often, too. We don’t talk to others who may know little pieces of the situation. We remain isolated as bystanders. That means we can’t get the whole picture and so we might have a little window in and a neighbour or family member has a little window in, a friend has another little window in, a co-worker has another little window in and those little incidents on their own may not seem so serious. But when you have a chance to put it all together, you might be able to see a little more of the situation.
Isolation looks something like this. It reinforces the abuse and then the abuse reinforces the dynamics and you just get a downward spiral. 
We have a lot of ideas, attitudes and social norms that really reinforce isolation. And, I think if we don’t recognize that and start working on our own attitudes, then we can’t be helpful. We have all heard, mind your own business. Minding your own business can be leaving somebody completely isolated and unsupported. What goes on at home is private, avoid personal questions and people are responsible for solving their own problems. We can all recognize those as ideas we’ve been taught. We have to challenge them. 
I’m going to suggest a little framework for being able to break through our own biases, our own attitudes sense of mind my own business so that we can actually reach out and provide support to somebody who might need it. It’s called, recognize, respond and refer. Three simple actions. 
The Domestic Violence Death Review Committee, which operates under the auspices of the coroner’s office, has been reviewing cases of people who have died because of domestic violence since 2002 and what they have found consistently is that every time somebody died, somebody knew something. They either didn’t know how serious it was or they didn’t know what to do about it. What that suggests is that we can’t just rely on the really excellent services that we have. We have the shelters, they do great work. We have the police, they respond and they do help women to be safe. But, many women are not reaching out to them. We have to have the people closest to her, her immediate circle, her family members, her friends, her neighbours, her co-workers, have to know enough to be able to talk to her and be able to tell her the shelter is here. They can help you. You know you can go to the police.  They will help you too. She may not be able to make those connections on her own. 
This is also important because we know domestic violence has a huge impact on children. Sometimes for the rest of their lives in many, many ways. It can result in learning problems, it can result in behavioural problems, it can result in developmental problems. It can result in a boy who witnessed it growing up becoming an abuser himself. A young girl who witnessed it may grow up being in an abusive relationship. If you want to be able to stop those, we have to learn how to intervene.
One thing that is not helpful here is suggestive blaming. So when we ask that question, “Why didn’t you just leave?” that is suggestive blaming. There are a lot of reasons why she is staying in the relationship. She may be managing the risk herself. She may not have support. Let’s change the question and not ask why doesn’t she just leave, but how can we help?
We have to be able to help men take responsibility for their behaviour, too. We have to learn to do this in direct, but compassionate ways. I know we have services . . . where men can actually learn to change their behaviour. But men are not going to take that first step if everyone around them is saying, “Well, it wasn’t that serious, he really didn’t do anything wrong, it’s not such a big deal.” They have to hear the message that this is a big deal, that we care, we’re going to hold them responsible. And they need to seek help for themselves. 
So when I talk about recognizing, we’re rarely going to see the scene I showed you in the film, that’s not what we’re going to see. We’re going to see little warning signs. Some common warning signs are somebody is putting their partner down all the time. He does all the talking, he dominates the conversation. He’s checking up on her. And he tries to keep you away from her. He suggests he is the victim. He’s depressed. He acts as if he owns her. He is lying to make himself look good, exaggerating his good qualities. He acts as if he is superior, he is the only one who matters at home. These are warning signs. We’re not saying abuse is happening, but it’s time to sit up and pay attention.
In terms of her behaviour, if she is apologizing and making excuses for his behaviour or maybe when you try to talk to her about something you see, she becomes angry and aggressive and defensive. Maybe she is nervous talking when he’s there. Maybe she’s trying to cover up bruises or other injuries or making excuses for injuries. She might be missing appointments with you or unable to see you and she might be sad or lonely or using alcohol or drugs to cope. 
Again, a series of warning signs, and usually you’re not going to see just one sign, you’re going to see a pattern of some kind. And then we have to understand there are certain factors that mean the situation is getting more dangerous. If there is a separation and he still has access to her and the children; he’s taking drugs or drinking every day; he has access to weapons; no respect for the law; a history of abuse with her or with others; he is going to make a change in his life. If there’s a separation or he’s depressed and he’s threatened to harm or kill her, or he says things like “If I can’t have you, no one will,” that’s a sign of danger. We need to recognize it as that. He’s following her, he thinks she is seeing somebody else, threatened to harm her or the children or property, he’s blaming her for ruining his life, he’s threatening to kill himself, warning signs she might be in danger. 
If he’s not seeking support, if he has choked her, if he is watching her or checking up on telephone conversations, checking her emails or he has trouble keeping a job . . . So if you know abuse is happening and those things are also present, that situation is getting more dangerous. 
Next we have the response. And this is really difficult for us because we’ve been taught to mind our own business and what goes on in homes is private. How are we going to get through that? Well we’ve developed this framework for having a conversation. We call it see it, name it, check it. See the warning signs and the risk factors. Naming it is actually naming your concerns. First, we have to name it for ourselves, that makes me feel uncomfortable, I think something might be wrong there. And then we want to be able to name it for what we’re concerned about. When we do this, we’re not just going to speculate and we’re not going to judge and we’re not going to fill in the void. We’re going to talk about exactly what we’ve seen. I notice your partner doesn’t seem to want to be seen. She seems nervous when you’re around. You’ve had some injuries that are hard to explain. Whatever it is that you’ve seen, you’ll report just that and no more. And then, “I’m concerned about you, can I help?” “You need support.”
Conversations are going to be very, very short. They’re going to try and drag things out. You’re not trying to make somebody disclose. Usually somebody is not going to help assist with what’s going on the first time. So, we may have to have these conversations repeatedly. We don’t want to say, “I think, and I think and I think.” We really want to get the facts, talk about what we’re seeing and make sure somebody knows that we’re there. And we’re not just there once . . . but on an ongoing basis.

Liz Brown, right, Violence Against Women Services Elgin County

This check it part also means checking with the experts, if you’re really concerned. Call a shelter. Call the police service and say, “This is what’s going on with my friend, I’m not sure what the situation is but I’m really uncomfortable.” They’ll talk to you. They will have suggestions for you about what you can do.

I’m not going to pretend these conversations are going to be easy. They’re not, they’re going to be awkward. But if we start from a place of caring and concern, we’re not going to damage the relationship. They know that we care about them and that means they are going to be able to maintain that relationship. So get ready, it’s going to be difficult, it’s going to be awkward. 
(short video clip shown to audience)
So in that conversation, she didn’t try to drag things out of her. It was short, it was supportive. It is something you can come back to. 
And the final thing we have to learn to do is refer. We have to know where our resources are. Of course, Violence Against Women Services Elgin County who can help somebody connect. It doesn’t mean they have to go in and become a resident of the shelter. And that is a really important point. I think many people still have that idea that’s what shelters do. In fact, the shelters are actually like system navigators. So, if you put the woman in the centre, she’s going to have all kinds of different needs. She had children, so she had needs there. She might have a legal needs. If she is an immigrant, she’s going to have needs to navigate that system as well. If she has health needs, she’s going to have to navigate that system. She might need social assistance, she’s going to have to navigate that. 
So, without ever coming into a shelter, without ever occupying a bed, the shelter will help a woman navigate all those systems. That’s what we need to let women know. This is all available to them. They don’t need to figure everything out. Someone can literally walk them through it all. 
I want to end with . . . we’ve broken through that social norm that says, “Mind your own business, what goes on in the home is private.” It’s one conversation at a time. 
Questions and comments may be emailed to: City Scope

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