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2004-12-06: Striving for an End to Violence

Letter to the Editor
Submitted by Lisa Murphy, PEIACSW Director
December 6, 2004

I used to wonder if anyone knew what happens to kids who witness their moms being bullied, yelled at, slapped, punched, spit on, demeaned, or controlled. Thanks to some recent Island-based research by a project called "herStory: Woman Abuse and the PEI Justice System," I now know that the impact on children of exposure to woman abuse is measurable. What's more, it is an important issue for the community of PEI to be concerned about. In recent years, children's exposure to the abuse of their mothers has come to be recognized as a form of child abuse.

Why bring this up this holiday season? December 6 marks the 15th Anniversary of the 1989 Montreal Massacre, the murder of 14 young women in a Montreal engineering school by an adult male survivor of childhood abuse.

On December 6, 15 years ago, a tragedy unfolded. Some say it was a predictable tragedy. On the last day of school before Christmas break, a young tortured man walked into a college (one he had failed to get accepted into) and forcibly separated the female and male students. He then pointed his gun and shot the girls one-by-one. He massacred 14 women - women he felt were less than he. He then shot himself.

I say he was a tortured young man because after the screams and sirens quieted and the investigation into the murders began, the Canadian public learned that this young man, his sister, and his mother were all brutalized on a daily basis and bullied at the whim of his father. And even though his mom found a way to take her children and escape, and get them into counselling, it was too late for the boy - the damage was done.

Recently, I learned more about what that kind of damage means to children in PEI. I discovered from November 23rd released Factsheets on woman abuse in PEI that the psychological impact on children exposed to violence in the home is similar to the impact of direct victimization. (The Factsheet series covers sixteen topic areas and is available to view and print from http://www.isn.net/~tha/womanabuseresearch/resources.htm). The Factsheets state that the exposure can impair psychological development, including intelligence, memory, recognition, perception, attention, imagination, and moral development. A child's social development may also be impacted, resulting in an impaired ability to perceive, feel, understand, and express emotions.

Children who are exposed to violence in their homes are between 10 and 27 times more likely to experience serious emotional and behavioural problems than children in non-violent homes and are more likely to be aggressive towards peers, teachers, and mothers.

The Factsheet also reveals that in PEI many underestimate the impact of family violence on children. In domestic violence reports received by police in PEI between 1996 and 1998, children were present in 57% of the cases. In 1993, 78% of Canadian women who stayed in a transition home indicated that at some point their children had witnessed the violence against them.

I want to believe that we have learned some important lessons since the 1989 Montreal Massacre. For some years now in PEI, everyone is required by law to report children in need of protection. Children under the age of 18 are considered "in need of protection" when they are exposed to abuse as well as when they are being abused. If someone you know discloses abuse in her relationship or you suspect abuse and there are children living in the home, you are required by law to report to Child Protection. It may not be easy, but you need to make that important call 1-800-341-6868 (toll-free to you).

This year, the PEI Advisory Council on the Status of Women made the focus of its annual Purple Ribbon Campaign Against Violence on the impact of exposure to woman abuse on children. Thirty-five thousand (35,000) information cards with the purple ribbon pinned to them contain descriptions of real effects of exposure to violence.

Please wear a purple ribbon on and around December 6 to commemorate the 14th Annual National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.

Montreal Massacre Memorial services organized by community groups every year are held in Charlottetown, Summerside, and the Evangeline region. These provide a time and place for the community to come together and remember those women who have died violently at the hands of men. It's also a time for individuals to commit to actively work towards ending violence and fear in PEI homes. This is an important New Year's Resolution, given that from April 2003 to March 2004 a total of 1,342 women used family violence support services across PEI.

If you can, please make a donation in your community to an organization actively working to end violence against women and children.

First mourn, then work for change!

Lisa Murphy

Director, PEI Advisory Council on the Status of Women

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