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Politics, Life and Journalism in Northumberland County, Ontario

Rural women suffering from abuse cannot be forgotten in Northumberland

First published: March 24, 2005

A proposal to create a monument to increase awareness of the many people in Northumberland County who suffer the affects of family violence or sexual abuse deserves support.

The Abuse Awareness Project, a group of people from various organizations including the Interfaith Coalition, Northumberland Services for Women and others, are calling for designs for a public display to honour these victims and to inspire others with the incredible courage of those who live with the emotional and physical scars of abuse and to remember those who have died at the hands of abusers.

Family violence and sexual abuse tends to be problems all too often ignored; yet the figures are stunning. In 2004, one in four victims of violent crime were sufferers of family violence. Eight in 10 victims of spousal violence reported are women, the majority between 25- and 34-years old. And for those who do not believe this affects every aspect of our daily lives, the Canadian economy loses $4 billion annually because of abuse against women and children.

Local numbers are far harder to find. Since local police usually lump reports of abuse with other stats, it is difficult to say exactly how many cases are reported in Northumberland. But in 2002, Northumberland Services for Women assisted 66 women and 68 children directly in the shelter and nearly 100 women and 129 children through various additional services and programs. Abuse counselling was provided to more than 400 women and 77 women received transitional support, with nearly 250 women participating in groups and workshops.

Generally, abuse is considered an urban problem, but more studies find that the situation is grim in rural areas. The Community Abuse Program of Rural Ontario has undertaken a number of studies showing the hardship women and children face when trying to deal with abuse in a rural community like Northumberland. Often, the closeness of the working relationship on a farm means there is little distinction between business and personal lives. The boardroom is the kitchen table or bedroom and the stress bleeds into all aspects of life. Emotional abuse often takes the form of blame for an unsuccessful farm, but can also involve physical abuse to both women and children.

It is much more difficult for rural women to take any kind of action since they are not paid a wage or there are few financial resources to allow them to leave. Rural culture is also based on self-sufficiency and women will not seek outside help, since it is a sign of failure. Also the close-knit communities, which can be so supportive at times, can also mean there is a lack of anonymity when asking for help. Isolation is a huge problem.

The Ontario Rural Women’s Abuse Study released in December 1998 confirmed the doubly isolated life rural women lead, removed by virtue of their geography, distance from services and support networks, which is then compounded by the dominating and controlling behaviour of their partners. Some spouses will deliberately move to remote areas to cut ties with friends and family.

This memorial will become an important daily reminder about this problem in our community that we are not powerless. And, like those women who are strong enough to triumph over their abusive situations, we can take bold action to end abuse. Community leaders must use this opportunity to further educate the public about the horrors of family violence and sexual abuse annually. Many women stay in abusive situations for years because they believe abuse is normal, convinced it is their fault. It is a lack of knowledge, embarrassment, fear of reprisal and fear of not being believed cause women to remain silent.

If we can be more vigilant, understanding and accepting as a community, then these women and their children will no longer feel ashamed to come forward to seek assistance. Many of our own fears and embarrassment regarding abuse must be overcome, too. All too often nobody will speak up when we witness or overhear abuse to women or children.

Memorials can have great power in a community. We know how important our war memorials are in keeping memories of those who died to protect our freedoms. It also gives us a chance each year to reflect on this sacrifice, in the hopes of preventing it from every happening again.

There is also our memorial to those who were killed or injured in the workplace. This is a vital reminder of the contribution of workers and the price these individuals pay earning a living.

More recently, efforts to create a memorial park for slain Cobourg Police Office Chris Garrett also help us not to forget the amazing contribution he and all police, fire and ambulance workers made each day to ensure our health and safety.

It is so easy to forget all these contributions. Those who are cynical may snipe at the idea, saying we don’t need another memorial. But those closed-minded individuals fail to see the richness of all these reminders that work like threads to create a beautiful tapestry of our community. All too often, our lives are swept up in the immediacy of living moment to moment and we fail, as a community, to remember what has gone before and the contributions that weave together to create a strong, vibrant strand from our past to our present and future.

These women make a contribution to our community through their personal strength and character to help us realize nothing is gained by hurting others, imposing threats or exercising power against women and children. By overcoming their own fear and stigma imposed by others, they regain their lives. We can be inspired to live our lives more courageously and to tear down the walls of ignorance about abuse.

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