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Women urged to flee abusive environments. (Health).

Thirty women's shelters in Alberta offer a safe place for abused women and other women in need.

"Our primary concern is for the victim, and the children if any are present," said Brenda Brochu. As executive director of the Peace River Regional Women's Shelter, she and the shelter's, staff have helped many women through the years with support, advocacy and information on family violence.

"Abuse happens when a power dynamic exists in a relationship, when one partner, usually the male, is using force or the threat of force to control the partner," she said. "The physical power differential, between the male and female also means that the woman suffers the most."

Three factors have been identified in the backgrounds of many men who abuse their loved ones.

"These are shaming, violence in the parental home, and intermittent attachment to their mother, when she is available at times to the youngsters but not at other times," she explained. "Residential school systems exerted all three factors on Aboriginal children--racial shaming, physical punishment, and the separation of families--so it was all there." In this environment, a little boy has learned that he must never admit that he has done anything wrong because someone will shame him. He's learned not to take responsibility for his own actions, and that he must blame someone else when things go wrong. He has a huge reservoir of anger which simmers below the surface that has resulted from never being good enough.

"He latches on to his woman as someone who is going to give him his identity and some significance in his life. He puts expectations on her that no one can humanly meet and he won't let go," she said.

Family violence is often present when substance abuse is present. Although not everyone gets violent when they drink, the insecurity and the anger is more easily released with lowered inhibitions.

"You are more likely to have severe violence when the abuser is drunk because he can't put on the brakes, so to speak. He's lost any sense of 'the consequences of what he's doing," she explained.

For the abuser, sobering up is the first step in recovery. But just getting dried out is not enough.

"The user needs to address the double problem of substance abuse and physical abuse. He can't work effectively on his violence if he's not sober," she said.

"We don't recommend any couple-counselling when there is violence in a relationship. The man must seek help for his problems and remain in treatment for many months before we would consider trying to bring them back together," said Brochu. "As a matter of fact, it is very productive for the woman to stay out of the relationship for an extended period of time.

Brochu said women stay in abusive relationships because abusers are typically very charming.

"They put their wives or girlfriends on a pedestal and it's very flattering, showering them with gifts and other wonderful behaviors," she said. When the abuse starts, the woman convinces herself that this is not the usual behaviour of the man she fell in love with and she excuses him. "Instead she tries to change her own behavior, she tries to get him to go back to the way he was before. She buys into the illusion that she can change him," said Brochu. She believes it's her responsibility to make the relationship work.

The women also often believe that the children' are better off with both parents, or they may simply be afraid of taking any action. As well, there may be financial concerns, as they aren't aware that safe and affordable housing is available for them and their children.

Brochu warns women who are just beginning to date a man to watch for possessiveness and emotional extremes that often go with the whirlwind beginnings of a potentially dangerous relationship. Verbal abuse and blaming the woman when things go wrong are also often observed, as is insensitivity to the well-being of others, induding animals, plants, and the environment.

Women who are in a crisis situation are urged, for the sake of themselves and their children, to seek help.

"There are women's shelters throughout Alberta. Most are listed in the emergency pages of local phone directories and many have toll-free numbers," she said. "As adults we are all responsible for our own behavior. There is never an excuse for violence."
COPYRIGHT 2002 Aboriginal Multi-Media Society of Alberta (AMMSA)
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2002 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Miller, Heather Andrews
Publication:Wind Speaker
Geographic Code:1CALB
Date:Nov 1, 2002
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