Behind Closed Doors
by Susan Weinheimer
“What happens behind closed doors when it involves violence is considered criminal behaviour. We all play a role in creating change!”
To fully understand the topic of intimate partner violence (IPV), it is helpful to note that our society has been shaped by history. Ingrained societal belief was established in the 1400s through an English law which allowed a husband or father to beat his wife and children with a stick no thicker than his thumb. Women were viewed as property of the dominant male in their life; typically, their father or husband. This ideology is reflected in the British North American Act of 1867 which stated: “Women are persons in matters of pains and penalties, but are not persons in matters of rights and privileges.” According to this law the term “person” was legally understood to refer only to men. While women were declared as “persons” in 1929, the ideology that what happened behind closed doors was considered a “private” matter to which extended family and neighbours turned a blind eye.
Fast forward to 2023 where Canadian laws have changed, yet the maltreatment of women and children still exists. Additionally, the attitude “what happens behind closed doors” remains unchanged for many. Currently referred to as IPV this can no longer be viewed as a private matter. IPV is evident in all segments of society regardless of gender, income, education, occupation, religion, and rural or urban location.
- One in four women experience some type of abuse in their relationship by the time they are in their mid-twenties (WHO).
- 79% of victims of IPV are female, though males are also victims of IPV (Stats Can/2019).
- 3,491 women and 2,724 children are living in shelters to escape abuse (CDN Women’s FDTN).
- 70% of spousal violence is not reported to police (CDN Women’s FDTN).
- 362,000 children in Canada are exposed to family violence (CDN Women’s FDTN).
- On average, every six days a woman in Canada is killed by her partner.
- Saskatchewan and Manitoba have the highest rates of IPV among the provinces (CDN Women’s FDTN).
Abuse is intended to control the behaviour of another individual, through many forms, to intimidate and instill fear. Types of abuse include the use of verbal, psychological, physical, spiritual, sexual, financial, and criminal harassment, and stalking. The specific types of abuse may initially be difficult to label, as they are interconnected. An abusive relationship moves through what has been titled a cycle of violence moving from the Honeymoon phase, Tension-Building phase, to an Acute Explosion. This repeats over time with the periods between the honeymoon phase and an acute explosion becoming shorter and the explosion becoming more severe. Time spent in the honeymoon phase can make it difficult for the victim to identify the abuse, as the abuser often expresses remorse and promises to change. It is doubly challenging for the victim if they have grown up witnessing IPV, where living in the cycle of violence is their normal. It is to be noted that the abuser’s cycle of violence pulls everyone around them into the cycle.
Long-term effects of abusive relationships destroy a victim’s self-esteem. In addition, the abuser has “programmed” the victim to believe they have no value. This brainwashing makes it difficult to find the inner strength to leave. Often the victim not only blames themselves but believes that family and friends blame them as well. The loss to victims is significant, affecting all aspects of life, including the loss of self-esteem and self-respect, friends/family, physical, mental and emotional health, community position, wages, and earning potential.
Children learn what they live. Those who grow up witnessing IPV tend to repeat violent behaviour throughout their lives either as victims or abusers. Thus the cycle of violence continues and violence becomes even more embedded in our society. How do we measure the loss of human potential when those impacted by violence do not have the opportunity to live to their full potential? According to the Canadian Women’s Foundation, Canadians pay an estimated $7.4 billion to deal with consequences of IPV. These costs include emergency hospital visits, funerals, and loss of income. This does not include the cost of police services, the criminal justice system, social services, or counselling services. Additionally, the Nova Scotia Federation (2019) states that the cost of IPV to Canadian employers is $77.9 million annually.
Safety is the number one priority. If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 911 for help. Do not leave information about help for abuse anywhere that the abuser may see it. This includes information on an answering machine, in an email, or in a text message. When safe, speak directly to the victim. Know that if the abuser suspects that the victim is planning to leave, the violence will escalate.
If the victim wants to talk, listen without judgment. Respect the choice for her/him not to talk, but let them know that they deserve to be treated with respect. Ask if you can help, remembering that safety is number one for the victim as well as for yourself.
Should the victim choose to stay in the relationship, do your best not to voice judgment. Respect the choice. Statistics show that women will leave an abusive relationship up to ten times before leaving for good. Educate yourself on the topic of IPV and help to create awareness in your community.
What happens behind closed doors when it involves violence is considered criminal behaviour. We all play a role in creating change!
Susan Weinheimer is a life coach with a background in social work, Reality Therapy and Violence in the Family certificate. She is also a Level I Personality Dimensions® Facilitator and a Level II Personality Dimensions® Trainer. Her love of helping people to learn self-awareness through Safety, Education, Empowerment, and Coaching (SEEC) has led her to promote awareness of Intimate Partner Violence and personal growth in the community. In addition to PD®, she facilitates presentations on Intimate Partner Violence and Healthy Relationships as well as creating individual coaching plans. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.