December 11, 2018 4:33 pm
Updated: December 18, 2018 5:25 pm

What are the myths surrounding family violence?

WATCH ABOVE: Family violence impacts the health and well-being of Canadians of all ages. But despite its prevalence, myths surrounding family violence continue to be widespread. Kim Smith reports.

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LISTEN ABOVE: An extended interview with Johanna Baynton Smith and Michelle Holubisky

The most common type of violent crime experienced by women is violence committed by an intimate partner, according to Statistics Canada’s report Family violence in Canada: A statistical profile, 2017released on Dec. 5.

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Close to one-third of all police-reported victims in Canada were victims of intimate-partner violence. And while family violence can affect anyone, females account for almost 8 in 10 victims.

Despite its prevalence, myths surrounding family violence continue to be widespread.

Johanna’s story

Johanna Baynton Smith said she was attracted to her ex-husband for the good reasons.

“You never think you’re going to end up in an abusive relationship,” Baynton Smith said.

READ MORE: 76% of Canada’s domestic homicide victims are female: study

They married and had three kids, but she said he was controlling and eventually the violence escalated.

“There was so much screaming and yelling and violence, pushing and shoving — painful events that happened that the children were all involved in,” she said.

Myth – All professional help is helpful

Baynton Smith eventually went looking for help. Her employer referred her to a psychologist. She said she quickly learned not all professionals are equipped to deal with family violence.

“She looked at me and went, ‘Johanna, you’re smarter than that. You’re a nurse, you have a career, you’re pretty, just leave. This is ridiculous. Just leave,'” Baynton Smith said.

“I felt extremely frustrated and I felt I wasn’t believed. She didn’t understand the consequences of what leaving might entail.”

Baynton Smith, along with other survivors of family violence, wrote a book called Moving Forward: Journeys of Strength and Hope to address myths around family violence.

Myth – Most women are in a position to ‘just leave’

Leaving an abusive relationship often means navigating custody, financial and safety issues, said Michelle Holubisky, a social worker with the family violence prevention team for the City of Edmonton.

“Many women stay in abusive relationships because it’s safer for them to actually stay than leave and not know what is going to happen to them,” Holubisky said.

READ MORE: Last year, 137 women were killed by someone they knew — each day

Some women don’t have their own finances to be able to live on their own, she said.

“It is impossible to leave an abusive relationship when all the money has been controlled by the abusive partner,” Holubisky said.

Instead of saying to a friend, colleague or client who is experience family violence, “Why don’t you just leave?” the book suggests saying, “Take your time to make the best decision that you can” or, “What do you think your options are?”

Myth – Family violence only affects people of low socio-economic status

Baynton Smith said she eventually broke her silence and began attending group support meetings offered by the City of Edmonton.

“There were people who I met in the group who were physicians, who were nurses, one person was a lawyer,” she said.

“There’s a myth that people who experience family violence come from a low socio-economic class. It’s not true. It can happen to any of us.”

In some cases, Holubisky said the abuse can be a contributing factor to mental-health issues, which might lead to being socio-economic marginalized.

Watch below: Ian Wheeliker is the director of programs with the Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters. He speaks about the generational cycle of violence and what needs to be done to stop the violence.

Myth – Family violence must mean physical abuse

Baynton Smith said early in the relationship, she didn’t understand she was in an abusive relationship because there was no physical violence.

“I just thought we were in an unhealthy relationship because of his drug use,” she said. “Eventually I realized that it didn’t matter if he was using drugs or not. Our house was very chaotic. There was nothing normal about the household.”

Drug and alcohol use are not a cause of family violence, but can be a contributing factor, Baynton Smith said.

Myth – Leaving the relationship means the end of the violence

When Baynton Smith left her husband, she took the three kids to a safe house. They eventually moved into their own apartment.

“For two years, we had stalking behaviour. He would be at our house. He would be throwing Christmas gifts on our front lawn,” she said.

“When you do leave an abusive relationship, it’s not over. It’s often just the beginning of another cycle of violence.”

Myth – Family violence happens behind closed doors

Baynton Smith’s relationship ended more than two decades ago. Her ex-husband has since passed away.

She said the violence impacted the kids, his parents, her parents and even her colleagues at work.

“We need to be talking about this as a community. It affects all of us.”

Today, her life is much different than it was. She wants others in similar situations to know change is possible and life can be much better.

For family violence resources in Edmonton, click here.


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