Silence

This has been a week of mourning and remembrance in Montreal and throughout Quebec. We had been informed for months by medical and government spokespeople that the lockdown and isolation measures necessitated by the Covid crisis have driven up rates of divorce, conjugal violence, mental instability, drug overdoses, depression and suicide. But over the past weeks, the number of killings of women by their domestic partners drove this home with chilling ferocity.

Over the past 8 weeks, 8 women — one a week — have been the victims of fatal conjugal violence. Those have been in addition to the five murdered in the same circumstances earlier in the year. This epidemic has even given rise to a new term. ‘Feminicide.’

It has also given rise to a new public consciousness. That we all have a role to play in helping those who are victims of domestic violence before they become fatal statistics. Part of that role is participation in public demonstrations to send the message to women that they are not alone and that society cares. Last week’s three events manifested that eloquently and the story is in this issue.

Last Friday, thousands marched from Lafontaine Park to Jeanne Mance Park in a demonstration organized by several alliances of Women’s Shelters through the province. Last Saturday, some 1500 marched from Cabot Square to Dorchester Square to mourn and remember the all too brief life of Rebekah Love Harry, a 29-year old Lasalle mother of one who succumbed to injuries allegedly received in a beating from her domestic partner. She was the 7th Feminicide in 7 weeks. A GoFundMe page started to raise money for her funeral and her son’s future raised much more than the $80,000 targeted.

According to government comments, the rate of conjugal violence has gone up almost 50% since the Pandemic began. But percentages often leave us numb. They are much more meaningful when brought down to a community level. The West Island Women’s Shelter is the largest in the greater Montreal area. The Shelter had a large contingent at the Saturday march. Shelter President attorney Brigitte Garceau told The Suburban and La Presse that the shelter has handled over 10,000 crisis calls since last March. The average is a year is 6,000. That drives the point home quite dramatically.

So what can we all do? That question is not rhetorical. We all have a responsibility to do something. Because silence really is violence. We borrowed the title of this editorial from the Shelter’s posters that were carried in Saturday’s March. And the silence is not that of the victims, it is the silence of all of us who enable the violence merely by not speaking out.

Women in abusive relationships need to know that we all care. That this is not a taboo subject. They need to know that they can reach out to neighbours and friends and even the police if the situation calls for it. They will only be at ease in doing so when they hear us all speaking out on it. They need to know that the abuse they are enduring is not their fault. And they need to know that we all get it.

Men need to talk to other men. If they suspect that friends of theirs are being violent, they need to tell them to stop. Comments should not be dismissed as some hyperbolic joke. Women who suspect that other women are victims should reach out and not be afraid to ask. A victim is always waiting for a sympathetic ear. And when we hear screaming from neighbour’s home, let us not take the attitude that it’s none of our business. This is all of our business. This epidemic of violence has resulted in almost 250,000 calls to crisis lines throughout Quebec since last March. That’s almost as many people as have tested positive for Covid which number just crossed 300,000.

It is important to make your presence felt at demonstrations. It is important to materially help Shelters in your areas because there are no government facilities. But nothing is as important as speaking out. We may be masked but we are not silenced. If we remain silent, we are unwitting enablers of violence. Our words are the greatest support we can offer victims of abuse. A caring ear. A loving heart. And the strength of moral courage.

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