On December 6, 1989, the evening news reported a mass shooting at the École Polytechnique de Montréal. A 25 year old man had entered the school in the afternoon, forced a classroom of students to separate into groups of male and female, and shot the women, before moving through the building, targeting any woman he saw. He finally committed suicide. His suicide note blamed feminists for ruining his life…14 female students died that day.
I was 16 and expecting my first baby. Violence against women hadn’t really entered my world before. I knew about it, but now it was at the forefront of my mind. I struggled to conceive how anyone could commit such an act, let alone target his victims based on gender. Little did I know that in a few years, I would learn more about it from the survivors themselves.
As part of the practical experience portion of my Child & Youth Worker training in College, I worked at an emergency shelter for victims of domestic violence. In particular, I worked with the child witnesses to wife assault.
After college, when I couldn’t find a job in my field thanks to government cutbacks and the amalgamation of services in the area, I took on a volunteer position with the Sexual Assault Crisis Hotline. Every shift was stressful because you didn’t know who was calling at the other end of that line. Was it someone in crisis, or someone just needing to talk? The phone line for the centre was linked to my home phone, so I didn’t have any support if the caller was, for example, suicidal. I heard stories from women (and men) who had survived abuse, who had escaped from abuse, or who were still in abusive relationships. They were from every walk of life because abuse doesn’t choose sides. Some of these individuals showed incredible strength, while other struggled to move beyond their experiences. Many of their stories still break my heart.
Little Guy came home last Spring and shared a story with me that another boy in his class, shared during Show and Tell Time. It was a story of domestic violence – rather detailed. That broke my heart too.
Sadly, not much has changed since December 6, 1989. While we speak more freely about abuse, while it may be reported more often by younger individuals (proof that education does have some impact), there are still far too many suffering depravity at the hands of those they most love. Breaking the cycle of domestic violence is a crime that affects us all. We need to remember – and we need to speak out!