The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence is underway to put a spotlight on the global issue of violence against women (VAW). VAW takes many forms—intimate partner violence, sexual assault, sexual harassment, gender-based discrimination, human trafficking and so much more. These 16 days, spanning from the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on November 25 to Human Rights Day on December 10, brings the issue of VAW born of a patriarchal society to the forefront, with stats and statements dominating every social media feed. It’s good to see the issue is getting attention and to witness men making pledges to do their part to end the pattern. But the true impact of VAW can’t be conveyed through stats and governmental announcements.
The devastation and the subsequent work it takes for women to rebuild their lives after violence can only come close to being expressed through true stories of what women have been through. That’s why we want to take this opportunity to share a story of one brave woman who turned to Interval House when she found herself in a very dark situation.
Marjan’s partner wanted to take her on vacation to Mexico. It would be an amorous getaway—especially if they left the kids behind. Marjan thought a vacation would be refreshing and that the kids could use one too! While someone in a healthy marriage might think of leaving the kids behind as romantic, Marjan saw it as a red flag. Her partner had been abusive and threatening in the past and she didn’t want to be anywhere without her dear children close by.
So they all flew to Mexico together and the vacation was going well. They were in a picturesque place having fun in the sun as a family. Then one night, when Marjan emerged from the shower after a wonderful beach day, her husband’s demeanour changed from cheerful and relaxed to irrationally irate. He attacked. With great force, he began grabbing, scratching and hitting Marjan. He struck her with items he found in the room as she tried desperately to defend herself. All the while, the couple’s young children were witnessing the horrible assault. It was clear to Marjan that she was not intended to survive this round of abuse.
Marjan had been brutalized by this man before. She had even stayed at a domestic violence shelter once. While she ultimately chose to return to her abuser, she gained valuable skills in the time she spent there. She learned about safety planning, the importance of keeping her ID and travel documents safe and reachable, and she learned about identifying signs of escalating danger. She had also gotten into the habit of sharing her whereabouts with loved ones at all times, especially when going anywhere with her husband.
Marjan entered fight or flight mode, bolstered by what she had learned from her past experience. She managed to gather enough strength to flee to a nearby suite for help. The local police were called and Marjan’s husband was arrested and restrained. She was able to get tickets to return early from her trip with her children and when she arrived in Canada, police met her and escorted her to safety at Interval House. Because the crime committed happened in Mexico, the Canadian authorities had no grounds to lay charges against Marjan’s husband. It’s outrageous and devastating that her husband got away with such a brutal assault and a pattern of abuse.
Once Marjan’s immediate medical needs were taken care of, there was much to deal with back at the shelter. Having arrived from her holiday in Mexico, all Marjan and her kids had with them were summer clothes. Our staff helped them get the clothes and essentials they needed. Then, the family was able to get counselling to address the trauma they had experienced and begin to heal their emotional and physical wounds. Our counsellors also helped Marjan access legal aid and begin the long custody process. Interval House Children’s Counsellors also helped to get school support for one of her children.
With the care they received at Interval House, Marjan and her children started to recover from their painful experiences and after just a couple of months, they were ready to move on and begin their lives again without violence and intimidation. Marjan felt that this experience was the wakeup call she needed and is confident that she will never fall into the pattern of abuse again. The family is now living with a friend and working on re-establishing themselves and becoming self-sufficient.
Violence against women is so pervasive in our global culture. It is a culture that still treats women like second class citizens—second to men. We continue to live in a time when husbands think they have the right to inflict force on their wives and when strangers think that any women’s body is theirs to comment on or make a pass at. That’s why the 16 Days of Activism is so important to get us talking about how we can change the status quo and move more rapidly toward gender equality and respect for all. By welcoming women and children escaping violence and providing holistic support, Interval House works hard to stop the cycle of violence every day. Will you?