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My mother: The face of domestic violence

WINNIPEG, MB. – On any given day, more than 3,300 women, along with their 3,000 children, sleep in an emergency shelter to escape domestic violence in Canada. About half (49 per cent) of all female murder victims in Canada are killed by a former or current intimate partner.

Violence against women happens in all cultures and religions, in all ethnic and racial communities, at every age and in every income group. Sixty-seven per cent of Canadians personally know at least one woman who was sexually or physically assaulted. Chances are a person close to you may be or has been a victim of domestic violence: A person you work with? A neighbour? A relative? The person writing this column?

Yes, I am what you would call a statistic, my Mother was murdered by her husband. I started sharing my story some time ago, hoping I could open people’s eyes and help make a difference.  It’s no surprise our lives all changed the day she was taken from us, more than I ever acknowledged at the time and more than I ever accepted. But as the statistics indicate, I’m sadly not alone.

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My story starts with my mother, Joanne. Today would have been her 71st birthday. She was a wonderful lady who worked a full-time job, took care of her three boys for many years on her own and went back to school in her early 40’s to fulfil her dream of becoming a nurse. She was the strongest woman I knew. She was always there when we made a mistake in life to simply keep loving us and to teach us how to get back up. She always made us feel special, important and a part of a family. To me she was unstoppable … there were no barriers in this universe that could stop her. She taught us strength and to go after our dreams and make them happen. My mother, like all moms, was the tie that kept our family together. She made sure my brothers and I communicated even when distance kept us apart. I hear her voice often, reminding me that family is your “safe place,” a statement that became ironic when it was in her safe place that her life ended one September evening.

It was a Sunday night. My brother had just left the house for work, our youngest brother was out of town and I was at a hockey game hundreds of miles away. I now remember that night like it was yesterday, even though I locked it in my memory and threw away the key for many years. A few years after that night, I was in a federal prison boardroom, sitting less than 10 feet from my mother’s husband, who is also my mother’s murderer. I can’t explain the emotions and the questions. I do know that was when I awoke to the reality of what this man had done. It was as if the room in which I had locked all my memories burst open. It was the hidden pain caused by domestic violence. An example of that pain is the wedge it drove into my family. This was the first time since the trial that my brothers and I were together as a family. Ever since then it had been hard for us to meet. We never spoke of why, until that day, standing outside during a break so the man who murdered our mom could get a coffee.

The parole board asked him to talk about what happened and what caused it. They revealed his past abuse on partners, which we weren’t aware of. Each time, his abuse became worse — it started with shoving a girlfriend, then pushing his first wife, then punching her. That relationship ended but his pattern continued until finally he took a life … my mom’s life. I learned that day she previously had called the police about his abuse. She had even gone to a shelter on a few occasions for some peace when my brothers left the house for a weekend or a school trip. She never told us but then again we never asked. We, like most of society, were blind to the signs, or simply ignored them. My mother was living in fear, just as thousands of women are doing right now.

The reasons she went back are very similar for all the women who have done likewise — fear of survival, fear of being unable to provide a home for their children, and sadly, fear of what would happen if they spoke out and told others, even their own families. Nobody ever wants to think about the subject of domestic abuse. Nobody wants to admit to it, because of fear of their abusive partner and fear of what the community will think of them. I never wanted to tell anyone because of what they might think of me. I had my own family and still, I felt this way. Imagine how a young child must feel, one who is afraid to go to bed, a child who sleeps to the sounds of yelling or glasses breaking. Who do they turn to? Who do they call for help? The pattern begins — to hide the pain and learn to live with it. My brother told me of a simple sentence that continues to haunt him. He told me one night he and my mom were talking before he went to bed. She apologized for the yelling he witnessed earlier and as she walked out the door my brother asked her, “Will you be OK?” To that she replied, “Yes, I sleep with one eye open … love you.”

This is how she lived every day, as do hundreds and thousands of women now. I can assure you all children of domestic violence feel the same, no matter their age, financial status or education. They feel as my brothers and I all felt — it’s our fault. I was the oldest, I should have done something, I should have seen the signs. It was harder for my brother. He left the house that night for his part-time job even though my mom asked him to stay for supper. “Just stay and eat with us,” she said. He couldn’t stop himself from thinking if only he had said yes to supper at home.

Over the years I have had to sit through parole hearings and hear about my mother’s death time and time again, hear her killer claim it was her fault she made him angry, hear how he paid his debt to society. What I never hear is my mom.

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Sadly, the statistics show my story is not special. It’s time to talk about domestic violence. We must stand up and tell the hundreds of thousands of women and especially children affected by domestic violence that it’s OK to ask for help, that it’s OK to talk about it, that they can tell us and we’ll help them and make sure they’re safe, and most importantly, that we won’t judge them.

Domestic violence is real. It has an impact on generations and it’s a problem in our city, province, and country. Another shelter is not the fix for all of domestic violence. Tougher punishment, greater community support, education and reducing the victims’ fear of public perception are all parts of the solution. The only way for that to happen is to stand up and make your voice heard on this subject.

– KEVIN KLEIN, MyToba.ca

Kevin Klein is President and CEO of MyToba News. The former publisher and CEO of the Winnipeg Sun, Kevin has spent several years in Canadian media working in newspapers, radio and television. A proud and passionate citizen of Winnipeg and Manitoba, Kevin is excited to bring you news, pictures and information on the many wonderful charity groups in our province. If you have an event you want us to know about, email Kevin at kevin@mytoba.ca and follow him on Twitter @kevinkleinwpg.
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