After the Abuse: The Lingering Wounds of Domestic Violence

That’s when I realized I was a victim — when I heard the police officer say: ‘We have a woman here who’s a victim.’

Most survivors of conjugal violence live with post-traumatic stress disorder for the rest of their lives. The symptoms can diminish, but these women will always live with the after-effects. The protracted after-effects parallel the fact that domestic violence itself is often a long-term process.

“Violence is perpetuated day to day. It’s a question of control. The aggressor will control not only his victim, but also her environment,” explained Marie-Marthe Cousineau, a criminology professor at U de M who works closely with a province-wide network of shelters and resources for women who have been battered. “They isolate their victims, so that if they do leave, they have no one to turn to.”

Cousineau describes Ouellet-Morin’s study as “not surprising, but hyper-important.” She says she believes its findings also apply to abuse victims in North America. “We’d certainly find similar numbers here. We know there are long-term effects.”

Cousineau emphasized how difficult it can be for battered women to leave their abusers.

“These women feel so diminished that they cannot imagine living without their partners — or being strong enough to leave the relationship. The psychological effects, such as depression, also make it harder to leave,” she said. “Sometimes, it is difficult for these women to find help — if they have children, they may be afraid that admitting to being depressed could lead to the loss of their children.”

Leaving a violent relationship can be especially difficult for new immigrants, Cousineau said, “because they are so isolated. Many of them stay home, watching TV, eating and having physical symptoms similar to chronic fatigue syndrome.”

Manon Monastesse is the executive director of the Fédération des maisons d’hébergement pour femmes, which supports 36 women’s shelters across Quebec. Seven of these shelters deal almost exclusively with immigrants. The fact that many victims do not have legal status makes some of them even more reluctant to ask for help — and leave an abusive relationship.

Read the report in Montreal Gazette.


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