CAA: help shed light on domestic abuse
The executive director of the Centre Against Abuse has renewed her call on the community to help shed light on domestic abuse.
Speaking today at the Hamilton Rotary Club, Laurie Shiell outlined what can be done to break the taboo surrounding “Bermuda's secret” and how to help those in abusive relationships.
“Domestic abuse is not something that anyone asks for or deserves,” Ms Shiell said. “Domestic abuse is not a woman's issue. Domestic abuse is a human issue.
“We need to shed light on this secret to remove the shame that prevents most survivors from sharing their story and getting help.
“This can only be accomplished as a community. Only together can we end this secret.”
Drawing on the example of three seemingly successful relationships, Ms Shiell said: “Normally you cannot look at a person and tell they are in an abusive relationship.
“You cannot determine an abuser or a survivor by their job, the sports they play, the company they keep, or the activities they are involved in.
“Most people do not proudly wear a shirt that says ‘I am domestic abuse survivor', like cancer survivors wear.
“Both the abuser and the survivor, do an excellent job at keeping the abuse a secret.”
She added that people also often turn a blind eye and help to keep the secret, “because we do not know how to help, and some of us just do not want to get involved”.
In order to bring awareness to the issue, Ms Shiell stressed the need for society to stop making it a taboo topic.
“We need to talk about domestic abuse,” she said. “We need to offer information sessions in our workplace, houses of worship, schools, and communities.
“By opening the discussions on this topic we encourage people to speak out. We give them an avenue to feel safe to tell their secret.”
She said it is also important to talk directly to the survivor and show concern about any suspicions without judgment.
“Listen and believe what they tell you,” she said. “Reassure them that the abuse is not their fault, and that you want to be there for them.”
Survivors should also not be criticised for staying in an abusive situation, which they do for a variety of reasons “that are valid to them”.
“The decision to leave has to be theirs to make. Don't force a survivor to leave, or criticise them for staying; although it is our desire for them to escape immediately.”
According to Ms Shiell, research has shown that an abused partner is at greatest risk of abuse at the point of separation and immediately afterward.
“Survivors have to leave in a safe manner that protects them and their children,” she added.
“As a society we can focus on supporting the survivor and building their self confidence, being patient, and directing them to the Centre Against Abuse.”
CAA is the island's only specialist organisation that provides support to adult survivors of domestic abuse.
It also offers education sessions to companies, schools and community groups to bring awareness to the issue, rid it of its taboo status and to expose the secret in a supportive way.
Ms Shiell also highlighted the CAA's need for financial assistance from the community.
She said the charity had lost its $75,000 government grant, which “greatly jeopardises the services that we provide to our community”.
“We have already cut our expenses to a shoe string budget, and we work with two full-time employees in our office and two part-time counsellors.
“We do not want to close our doors as it would leave our community with no alternative, and the secret of domestic abuse would go back into its deep, dark hole and grow.
“The survivors will have nowhere to turn, and the rate of harm and even death will increase.”
Ms Shiell said people often to not want to give to the cause because “it is not an immediate feel-good pleasure”.
“Domestic abuse will never be a feel good thing. But knowing that your funding helped to assist a survivor with obtaining counselling, obtaining a protection order, and that this potentially saved a life, should bring a great deal of pride.”