According to the United Nations, one in every three women globally will be beaten, raped or otherwise abused in her lifetime. One in four will be a victim of domestic violence. It is an issue that transcends all borders, boundaries, and demographics. The numbers tell us that it is happening all around us. Touching women we know. Women we love. And yet, as pervasive as it is, it remains an issue shrouded in stigma, in shame, and in silence.
I remember my first encounter with domestic violence. It was dark, an evening. I was a child being readied for bed. There was a knock at the front door and my father, a local police officer, opened it for a favourite babysitter from down the street and her bloody, broken, and weeping mother. The injuries had been sustained at the hand of her husband. My father encouraged her to file a police report and press charges. She refused. He encouraged her to leave the family home with her daughter. Again, she refused. When tears had stopped and injuries had been tended, she simply took her daughter’s hand, thanked my father for the kindness and advice, and once more stepped into the darkness.
As a teen, I participated in an evening ride-along with a pair of city patrol officers. I recall attending a number of ‘domestics’, brutal and devastating scenarios that, on this particular shift, were all without definitive resolution. Victims refused to press charges; officers diffused the various situations to the best of their professional ability and then merely walked away.
We, as members of the same communities as victims, are often blind to what has been described a ‘behind closed doors’ epidemic, not noticing until too late that it has potentially deadly consequences. In Canada, one woman is murdered every six days by her current or former partner. In the United States, three women die every day at the hands of boyfriends or husbands. In the United Kingdom, an average of two women are killed each week. Australia’s Counting Dead Women confirms the country lost eighty women to violence in 2015, an estimated eighty percent of which were considered domestic homicides.
The impact of what I experienced on those occasions decades ago, even though safely at an arm’s length distance, stays with me. Domestic violence, or intimate partner violence, is an issue I feel driven to do something about. Because I believe passionately that the numbers have to change. Perhaps it is because I am a woman, and the majority— though by no means all— of the victims are female. Perhaps it is also because I am a mother of daughters and I am wary for their sake. For the women caught up by the violence, who live with it, who endure it, there are no obvious or easy answers to what seem the most obvious of questions. In the same way, there are no obvious or easy solutions. But if change is born out of awareness, then it is critically important to break the silence and to speak to this issue whenever and wherever possible. Women’s lives depend on it.