Nearly 20 years ago I sat in my living room with my nearly nine-month-old baby and a male police officer sitting on the couch across from us. I had tears streaming down my face. I felt so ashamed. At that time I was a doctoral student in engineering and horrified that my life had become the shambles it had descended to in (what I thought then) was a matter of weeks.
Domestic violence and abuse is insidious. It can creep into one’s life like a slow moving cancer or it can strike suddenly like a highly infectious disease. My experience of it was so insidious I failed to name it properly for far too long. Even the marriage counsellor we went to after the first blows failed to name it. The bruises he left early in our nearly five-year-long marriage were marks of horrific shame, but they left a psychological mark for many years afterwards. The fact that he was physically stronger than me is what propelled me, finally, to call the police.
He had just left the marriage for a younger co-worker and had used his keys to enter the marital home and take items without my knowledge or consent. One of the items he took was a baby jogger that my mother had given to us the previous christmas — an item that would be sorely needed by me as I faced the daunting task of not only being a new mum but also an unplanned-for single mum. I never got the jogger back. The officer told me to change the locks — he was sympathetic, but there was nothing to be done about the theft. Upon reflection, it would have been very helpful if he had suggested going to a domestic violence shelter for counselling and help. It might have saved me years of the shame I carried.
One good beating every seven years is all it takes to keep a woman in line was a ‘joke’ often told by cowboys in the wild west. And interestingly, research shows this to contain some truth. Nothing says control and intimidation when you have been violently thrown down or struck by someone who is stronger than you. It changes your behaviour. And although research shows that up to 40 per cent of women have experienced some sort of domestic violence or abuse at the hands or mouths of their partners, we are still not doing enough about it.
A brilliant campaign is underway to try and remedy this. It was started by a team of people involved in domestic violence counselling and anti-pornography organizations. One of these organizations is headed by a dear woman I am honoured to call a friend. Megan Robinson-Walker is the Executive Director of the London Abused Women’s Centre in London, Ont. and she and her colleagues have spearheaded a campaign with the hashtag #50DollarsNot50Shades. The idea is that instead of supporting a movie based on glamourizing (and normalizing) violence against women, people should take the money they would spend on a night at the movies and give it to their local domestic violence shelter. The campaign has attracted significant attention in the mainstream media worldwide.
Here in Newfoundland and Labrador, our provincial government closed the Family Violence Intervention Court in 2013 despite the fact research showed that half of the women in this province over the age of 15 will experience violence and of that half, nearly 80 per cent will be at the hands of a partner or former partner.
I met a new friend recently who works in the domestic violence shelter in St. John’s and she told me of the secondary trauma long-term counsellors like herself experience. Their work is critical to the hundreds of women and their children who flee abuse every years in this province. And it’s tiring. And underfunded. So I ask you to please consider boycotting the movie and instead donate $50 (or whatever you can afford) to one of the 12 domestic violence shelters in our province. You can find them all listed here. Valentine’s Day is supposed to be romantic, yet for the women running and living in those shelters there is nothing romantic about the violence they’ve witnessed and experienced.
Orla Hegarty B.Math., M.A.Sc. is a recent Newfoundlander by Choice and started the facebook group NL Feminist & Allies as a way to disseminate feminist information that is not funded by the Newfoundland and Labrador government. She lives on the Irish Loop in St. Stephen’s.