‘Twas the night before Christmas…

Domestic abuse is not a “women’s issue.”

Myrna Driedger, MLA Winnipeg Manitoba Progressive Conservative (PC) caucus
Myrna Driedger
Broadway Journal

Deck the Halls… Joy to the World… Silent Night… As we rush around doing our shopping and getting ready for Christmas, we hear Christmas carols and dream of family get-togethers, chestnuts roasting in an open fire, shortbread cookies and all the wonderful sights and smells of Christmas. But do we set ourselves up for failure? Do we have unreasonable expectations of providing an idyllic experience over the holidays?

It seems many of the holidays have become a “production” over the years. Maybe it’s just because our lives are busier with other demands than they used to be. Have you noticed, though, that decorating seems to be taking on an almost theatrical caliber, both inside and outside the home?

Along with the expectations about providing the perfect holiday experience for our families comes the stress and an anxiety to fulfill these expectations. Maybe we need to spend less time with Christmas preparations and instead experience the simplicity of just spending time with our friends and family.

Most of us do have images, whether elaborate or simple, of good times spent enjoying food and drink with our families and friends. But for some people, the festive season is fearsome. Many victims in abusive relationships know that with finances being stretched, or with alcohol free-flowing, Christmas is likely to be a volatile time. It’s long been held that domestic violence increases over the holiday season, although recently some statistics have begun to debunk that theory. Information on this subject seems to be contradictory.

While police records may show an increase in calls over the Christmas holidays, some national organizations have recorded a decrease. An increase occurs on or after New Year’s Day. Maybe victims don’t want to spoil the illusion of a happy family over the holiday season. Maybe it’s because, to keep the peace. the victim goes out of her way to avoid disagreements. We know, though, the actions to avoid the outbreak of violence must be very stressful themselves.

There is a cycle of abuse with domestic violence. Sometimes each phase of the cycle can take months. There’ll be a buildup of tension, then the perpetrator will make a move, followed by an attempt to rationalize, or justify the behaviour and pretend everything is normal. Stress is what starts the cycle, the cause perhaps being a job, money or bills to pay. In the face of this, the abuser feels powerless, choosing to go after the spouse either with name calling or demeaning behaviour. As the tension builds, the victim tries to calm the abuser and anticipate every thing in the relationship that makes it vulnerable, to try to keep things on an even keel.

But this is when the tension builds up even more and leads to severe verbal abuse, or violent physical or sexual assaults.

We have many organizations dedicated to helping victims of domestic abuse – many shelters and many support groups. One of these groups is RESOLVE (Research and Education for Solutions to Violence and Abuse). I was pleased recently to bring greetings at an event related to domestic violence prevention put on by RESOLVE. Dr. Jane Ursel, currently RESOLVE’S acting director ,has been involved in research and other activities seeking ways to reduce the risks of this violence.

RESOLVE Alberta has been active with their “I Believe You” campaign which ensures that when people step forward to report they have been victims of domestic violence, they will be believed. The University of Manitoba recently hosted RESOLVE Research Day 2017. The conference theme was “Trauma Informed Treatment: Intervention and Prevention”.

One mistake I believe we have made over the years, despite our good intentions, is that we have made this a women’s issue. This has let men off the hook. I believe that it is time to change the channel.

I am very pleased with the initiative the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have taken. They want to “break the silence” on violence against women. Featuring players such as Matt Nichols, Jamaal Westerman, Jake Thomas, Matt Bucknor, Ian Wild and coach Buck Pierce, they have been running ads on TV talking about some of the unacceptable behaviours that are considered abusive. They hope that people will learn how to break the silence on these matters. Watch the Winnipeg Blue Bombers videos on the Manitoba government website at Manitoba.ca/stoptheviolence

I hope that we see more male groups and more men stepping up to make this a “men’s” issue. If we truly want to stop the cycle of abuse, we need more men taking this on. If you’re looking for a New Year’s resolution, I can’t imagine a better one.

Best wishes to all for a holiday season that is not necessarily “perfect” in every way, but is filled with moments and memories that will last a lifetime.

Hon. Myrna Driedger is MLA for Charleswood and Speaker of the legislative assembly.

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