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Nowhere to turn

Andrew Livingstone
Northern News Services
Published Saturday, March 14, 2009

NWT - With his hands gripped tightly around her neck, all she could see was black..

“All I could think about was my son at that moment,” Emily said. “After he let go I grabbed my son and went down the hall. I was scared.”

NNSL Photo/Graphic

Emily (not her real name) has been in an abusive relationship for over four years and is trying to escape the physical, mental and emotional abuse she experiences. With no support systems in place to help her, Emily is finding it tough to escape the unhealthy relationship she is in. - Andrew Livingstone/NNSL photo

Like any relationship, it started out perfect. There was happiness and the feeling of love. But then the nightmare started. The heavy drinking and drug use. Not long after, she would be forced to walk down the street with the blue and black of physical abuse painted on her face, her tragic home life for everyone to see.

“I don’t feel like a girl should feel. When you’re in a relationship you should feel loved and feel you’re getting taken care of. I don’t feel like that. I feel like shit, like one big fat blob. I feel worthless.

“I should be hating him for what he’s done, but I don’t.”

For four-and-a-half years Emily (News/North is protecting her identity because this relationship is still ongoing) has lived in an abusive relationship. With a bright, young son and another on the way, Emily wants to escape the shackles of abuse, but struggles with the love she has for her boyfriend.

“Because we have a child together we have so much to do together,” she said. “Once you’re trying to get out of it, you’re suddenly getting back in.

“I’m trying to leave him but I physically can’t do it. I can’t bring myself to leave him. I don’t know what to do.”

Emily’s situation is all too common. The recent beating death of a Gameti woman and the subsequent charge of second-degree murder laid against her common-law husband has raised questions about how spousal abuse is handled in the North.

Nancy Peel is the executive director for the NWT Native Women’s Association and was fortunate to escape an abusive relationship some years ago.

“I don’t think what we have in place is enough,” Peel said. “We don’t have a system set up that allows us to step in.” Growing up in a community where it was normal to see women with black eyes and bruises after the weekend, Peel said even after all these years away from the abuse, she still doesn’t understand why she let it go on for so long.

“It’s difficult getting out,” she said. “I don’t know what it is and I’m still trying to put my finger on it.”

Peel said women build a mentality where they feel the abuse is deserved and they should just accept fate as it is.

“There is that mentality out there that you must have played a part in it. There is a lot of guilt and shame surrounding it.”

The guilt and shame Peel outlined is all too real for Emily.

“Having to walk uptown with a black eye from your boyfriend is painful. Everyone knows who did it. Having to see my son and him knowing too what happened. It hurts a lot.”

Peel said she hid the abuse she endured even from those closest to her.

“I pretended like everything was OK even though it wasn’t. From my own experiences it was being able to identify that you can get the help you need.”

There are things in an abusive relationship that will prevent a woman from escaping, Peel said. Isolation and dependence play a major role in preventing women from finding an alternative life.

“If there are children involved they’re going to be taken away,” Peel said. “(The abused indivudials) probably aren’t working and are dependent on their abuser so you think twice about leaving. It certainly went through my mind the question of how am I going to live?”

Teresa Winter, executive director of the Inuvik Youth Center, said the limited support makes it extremely hard for women to build a new life.

“This type of violence can create so many obstacles for women,” she said. “A community needs to acknowledge how abusers are dealt with.”

Winter said putting abusers in jail isn’t the solution to the problem plaguing the North, adding there should be some form of system in place for social support mechanisms when abuse continually rears its ugly face in a relationship.

“By just putting people in jail and letting them out again so they can take their anger out on their partners … we’re in a vicious cycle,” she said.

“We don’t have the proper system in place to help both people involved in the situation.”

By looking at the cause of why a person is abusing, they might be able to help that person turn the page on abuse.

“My feelings are very much tied to what happened in Gameti,” Winter said. “How many times does this have to happen before we do something about it? ”

According to the Crime in Canada’s North report released in 2007, the violent crime rate in the NWT is seven times the national average: 6,300 crimes per 100,000 people and nine times the average of Toronto. Between 1999 and 2006 the national violent crime rate declined one percent but rose 26 per cent in the NWT during that same time period. NWT statistics do not record assaults on spouses.

Emily called the RCMP after her boyfriend choked her. After eight hours in the drunk tank, they let him go.

“They didn’t put a protection order on him, no cell time, no nothing. That’s all the time I had to recover from all that happened and he’s allowed back to do the same thing all over again.

“Every time I hear he’s drinking, it scares me. I don’t know what he’s going to be like when he comes home. I don’t know if I’m going to have to run and hide or sit there and smile with him.”

Emily said her friends are her only support, citing a lack of community support to help her deal with her situation. Peel said there needs to be more education and awareness raised around the issue of spousal abuse, but to not give up on getting out.

“We need to be able to offer counselling services to them,” she said, adding there is a six to eight week wait for abuse counselling.

“By the time they get in the honeymoon period is starting all over again and they think it’s going to be different.

“They need to identify the support systems in their community that will allow them to see further than their abuse.”

Emily is currently trying to change her life around and rebuild her spirit that has been bruised by the fists of abuse.

“I want my kids to grow up with a brain in their heads. I don’t want them to think that getting hit is OK. I don’t want them to think being called a bitch is OK. There is no fact that it’s OK.”