I read an article in the last issue of The Voice Magazine that made me feel sick to my stomach. Marie Well’s article on “How to be an Ultimate Female Valentine” read like an abuser’s wish-list. Let’s recap. According to this article, women must:
- Never tease, complain, criticize, or confront her partner about issues in the relationship that are bothering her
- Never react if her partner gets upset with her
- Give her partner every bit of positivity she has, without expecting anything in return
- Make sure she looks her best
- Be eager to please her partner
- Do only beautiful things that make her partner smile and feel good
- Never have any male friends
- Push any negative thoughts about her partner out of her mind
- Never deny her partner sex
Look—I understand that everyone has their own opinions, values, and cultural beliefs that will shape what they expect out of relationships. However, intimate partner violence is where I draw the line. If you feel as though you can’t deny your partner sex, for any reason, or your partner believes that they are entitled to sex from you—this is rape. If you are in a relationship where you feel as though you cannot communicate with your partner, tease them, or you feel afraid of making them upset—you may be experiencing intimate partner violence.
Reinforcing the outdated idea that women must be submissive to their partners is deeply misogynistic and dangerous. According to The Canadian Women’s Foundation, more than 4 in 10 women will experience gender-based violence in their lifetime. On any given night, 3,491 women and their 2,724 children sleep in shelters because it isn’t safe at home. And perhaps most terrifying, a woman is killed by her intimate partner approximately every six days.
What is Intimate Partner Violence?
Intimate partner violence can happen to anyone of any gender or sexual orientation; however, women are most often the victims and men most often the perpetrators. The most vulnerable women in our society—those who struggle with addictions, disabilities, poverty, indigenous women, or recent immigrants—are also more vulnerable to intimate partner violence. According to The Mayo Clinic, you might be experiencing intimate partner violence if you’re in a relationship with someone who:
- Calls you names, insults you or puts you down
- Prevents or discourages you from going to work or school or seeing family members or friends
- Tries to control how you spend money, where you go, what medicines you take or what you wear
- Acts jealous or possessive or constantly accuses you of being unfaithful
- Gets angry when drinking alcohol or using drugs
- Tries to control whether you can see a health care provider
- Threatens you with violence or a weapon
- Hits, kicks, shoves, slaps, chokes, or otherwise hurts you, your children, or your pets
- Forces you to have sex or engage in sexual acts against your will
- Blames you for his or her violent behavior or tells you that you deserve it
- Threatens to tell friends, family, colleagues, or community members your sexual orientation or gender identity
Why don’t they just leave?
The most dangerous time for an abused woman is when she attempts to leave the relationship, because the abuser is losing control. Almost 60% of police-reported dating violence happens after the relationship as ended, and women are six times more likely to be killed by an ex-partner than a current partner. The person abusing the victim may threaten to hurt or kill her, her children, themselves, or her loved ones (including pets) if she leaves.
Women who are experiencing intimate partner violence are often financially dependent on the abuser. Sometimes women have strong beliefs about keeping the family together—and often the abuser will threaten to take the woman’s children and never let her see them again.
Most importantly, abusers are adept at breaking their victims down—stripping them of all confidence, self-esteem, resources, and personhood—so that the abuser can have full control. Many women who are experiencing intimate partner violence feel as though they are fundamentally flawed, that they are unlovable, they are at fault for the abuse, or that a safer future is not possible for them.
What should I do if I think someone I know is being abused?
Ultimately, the woman being abused needs to make the decision to leave. No matter how pure your intentions are, you cannot force someone to leave, or even see how dangerous or toxic her partner’s behaviour is. Provide judgment-free support by listening, being patient, and letting her take the lead. If you think someone is in immediate danger, call 911.
What should I do if I think I’m being abused?
It can be hard to recognize or admit that you’re in an abusive relationship — but help is available. Remember, no one deserves to be abused. If you’re experiencing intimate partner violence:
- Ask for help. Talk to someone you trust—a friend, family member, your family doctor, or call a crisis line. The government of Canada has compiled a list of family violence resources here.
- Protect yourself. Do everything you can to ensure your abuser does not suspect you are leaving. Clear your browser history, delete messages to friends or family discussing the abuse or plans to leave, make phone calls from a safe location where you can’t be overheard, and turn off GPS on your phone or vehicle.
- Make a safety plan. If possible, pack a go-bag with everything you will be taking when you leave and hide it in a safe, easily accessible place. Pack light—things can always be retrieved later or replaced. Know exactly where you’re going, when you’ll go, and make sure at least one other person is aware of your plan. Be ready to call 911, or have someone ready to call 911 for you, if necessary.