What is domestic violence?
The Cambridge Dictionary describes domestic violence as “The situation in which someone you live with attacks you and tries to hurt you.”
Violence is often seen through the victim’s eyes; however, the mind, mouth and other senses fail because abuse is not defined by others or by the state’s history. It isn’t defined by social structures, physical structures or even by culture. What does that mean? Domestic violence isn’t defined except for those abused; even then, it isn’t clear due to post-traumatic stress disorder. Those who are being abused cannot recall events properly because most suffer from traumatization. That is why we have a rabbit hole that systems of “state” cannot resolve.
Understanding Domestic Violence through an Okanagan College Student’s Experience
I interviewed Cecile, a mature student at Okanagan College, on March 7-9, 2021. “There is a rabbit hole when it comes to defining hurt,” Cecile explained. She is a victim of domestic violence.
Cecile is a mother to her 15-year-old son, who was taken from her when he was 7 years old. Cecile was accused of thwarting access for over 8 years. Her abusive ex-husband was granted full custody and was able to take him to another Province by the Judge’s order in Supreme Court before any proper trial was set.
“My son, who was 7 years old at the time, was ripped from his home, his school, his appointments, piano classes, Tae kwon do, minor baseball, first communion and from all his friends with no formal investigation, and no evidence. My lawyer said to me in a little meeting room at the courthouse, “all you have to do is tell them that you will never go to the police again, and you will keep your son.” I left the courthouse with a final order in a matter of minutes. My ex-husband got approval by the court to move our son out of the province without any regard to our son and the implication this would have on him.
“We finished packing his toys and things from home that my son wanted. We both had a few minutes together before his dad was coming to pick him up. I looked at my beautiful son and asked him if he wanted anything else in his bag. My son fell to the floor, lost his air and said, “but mommy, you won’t fit in the bag.” I held and rocked him until it was time for him to go. I looked at him and said, “where there is a goodbye, there is always a hello.” That was the last I saw him at home. After that, I battle to communicate with him ever since. I see him for 2 to 3 weeks in the summer and every other Christmas, that is until COVID 19,” Cecile said.
This is what her ex-husband did once her son was out of the Province:
- He cut the landline phone.
- He got a cell phone.
- He explained that their WIFI connection was poor where they live. Cecile understood this since she fled with their baby from that very home to the women’s shelter.
COVID 19 and Interprovincial Parenting
“Since they took my son, I have been at the mercy of his dad and the institutions that keep the abuse going. Covid adds to the stress because when there are lockdowns and not hearing from them creates further concern. At least I felt comforted knowing he was safe at school. Still, with the pandemic, my son is home with poor WIFI service and no landline phone, every time I try to communicate to my son’s father, I am coming up against my own trauma, but I push through that and keep trying to communicate,” Cecile said.
The current Covid pandemic has changed all access for Cecile and her son. Her son suffers severe anxiety due to the pandemic and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“My ex-husband has stated that travel is not a good idea due to Covid. My son also expressed to me in brief moments of connection that he is too afraid to travel and come to another Province. He hasn’t gone to school consistently since the Pandemic. I signed forms for my son to have therapy for his anxiety. I am left in the dark. I bought my son a cell phone which includes unlimited data, but my calls don’t get through. I send text messages, but hardly any response,” Cecile shared.
What Cecile has learned about her situation is that state systems will not put a majority of people at risk by revealing the corrupt system we have here in Canada.
“The only thing that works for me is my faith in God. Despite oppression and abuse. God’s love for us will take care of my son going forward during the pandemic.
Why is Domestic Violence so Puzzling?
Abuse is puzzling. The degree of violence becomes more confusing, especially when the institutions themselves deny any abuse. It was abuse when Cecile’s ex-husband, the agencies and courts stripped her of her finances, her communication with her son, and her visits. Their child has become the tool her ex-husband uses to get back at her, with the systems’ approval that should have protected them. The violence continues.
“I am told I can see him anytime in the town and Province where he lives. The court order reads that I have generous access. What that does not solve is domestic violence or how the violence is affecting my son and me. It does not solve the fact that my ex warned me that I will not see him anymore than I do now if I move closer,” Cecile explained.
The court order forces Cecile to make access arrangements with her ex to see their child. This puts more stress on Cecile, who must follow the court order. Why? “Because I have to deal with my ex, who is abusive, to agree when and if I can see my son,” Cecile said.
The political stance on structural violence is the core where internal family violence becomes the violence of the structure in which we are governed. Stein says it well,
“Value and legitimacy of the various kinds of states and state agencies and of the state as such. Careful consideration of the standard theories leads repeatedly to findings that state values are secondary and derivative. Value accrues primarily to personal and community characteristics such as liberty, conscience, cultural creativity, and religious conviction. The state puts itself at risk whenever it goes up against those.” (XIV, Stein)
“Stopping the violence” slogans are misleading.
Cecile’s experience in finding help reveals that many hotlines, societies, and non-profit agencies read that they can call a number and get help immediately. Cecile stated that she does not doubt that abused mothers get help, but the slogan, ‘Stop the Violence,’ is misleading.
“There is no such thing as stopping the violence When I went to the women’s shelter, they had me fill out a detailed form so that they could assess the level of risk. They provided help and a plan to get housing and direction to stay safe. However, these very agencies do not help when it comes to custody and access within the legal system. Legal Aid is what parents use who cannot afford a lawyer. These institutions fail so many who are domestic violence victims,” Cecile said.
What do Mothers and their children need when they are threatened by violence?
They need the following:
- Changing the law on how MCFD (Ministry of Children and Family Development) is governed.
- Financial support for proper legal counsel.
- Better Government systems to work with parents, who are trained professionals to assess and work with both parents so that therapy is mandatory for the whole family.
- Donations/funding to help mothers see their children who are far away.
- Ways to communicate and co-parent safely with an abusive ex-husband, this is not possible; however, the courts and institutions force it.
Cecile could not afford the travel costs there and back for her son’s flights and her own. Planning vacation time around her ex-husband’s access dates (which were not negotiable) was a problem for her when she had to book her vacation time. This added more stress, made her sick where she had to go on sick leave numerous times.
“It is costly to pay for travel, lodging, medicine and food. I couldn’t carry on with the salary I was making. I decided to go back to school to gain better employment so I can afford to see my son.”
What Can a parent do to keep the Connection with their Child when there Is power imbalance?
Cecile shared what she does to keep hope alive and ways she communicates:
“I keep trying to call and tell my son I love him and goodnight. When I have seen my son before Covid, he told me he gets those messages even if it does not show.
I keep a journal of letters to my son. Words of inspiration and words that express my love for being his mother. Information about me, traditions we celebrated, memories we share. One day he will read them.
I continue to pray for my son and his dad every day. I pray blessings over my son every night. I write and speak of my gratitude for the gift of my son. I rely on my faith in God while my son and I are oppressed.
I keep a box of treasures that I find that my son will smile over for the different stages of his life. Treasures he will have. I also have a keepsake of memories to help him remember the loving and fun moments we had. I also kept his milestones in sports and the special CD he made in his Grade 1 piano class.
Hope for a change of Systems and Agencies when it comes to domestic violence.
We can change state agencies and state systems; however, the challenge I have for all of you is how? The Community of families is our politics. And if there is violence within the community, the very political platforms that allow violence because it’s riskier not to what does that say about our laws? What does that say about MCFD and the Courts?
The truth of what matters is that Cecile did the right thing. She did everything she could legally and within the system to protect herself and her son. The structure failed her son, but as a mother, she did not.
“The state structures failed us. My ex-husband who hurt us, has my son. The very structure and laws silenced my son and I,” Cecile said.
Here is a piece of Cecile’s writing that she wrote in one of her classes:
(Dialogue between a mother and her son)
I tried to write a dialogue with you, little one—but I erased it. Too much emotion flooded my heart. I had your toys and boxes of memories in my car, sitting in the front seat. You always wanted to sit in the front seat. In the box are toys that made you smile; I can still hear giggling. It’s the joy of Christmas lying inside the box, your favourite toy Sheriff Woody beside the other toy Jessie from Toy Story. I parked my car at Value Village—me and my box of memories.
The sign read: OPEN AT 11:00 AM. It was 10:30 AM
It took courage to go to Value Village, little one.
I sat in front of the closed doors—it was hard to drive there.
I even took a picture of our memories,
A story to be told
You warned me that you would be going far, far away.
That I would be alone
I didn’t understand
You told me so
Yet, I did not know
I held you, caressed your forehead.
“Mommy, I’m afraid you will be on the street with no money. What will happen to you?”
Oh, dear, my little one.
“Mommy has God, and He will take care of me.”
“I’m not ready to be a saint, aren’t I too little?”
I take one of your finger puppets.
“Let go of everything, take the picture and then let go,” I remember my friend Anne saying that to me.
There were five finger puppets.
I kept one. It was the little chicken because it had a loose string.
“Can you fix it, mommy?”
“I can fix anything.”
The little chicken said the sky is falling.
The sky fell for us, when you were taken.
I kept the little chicken.
Stein, Edith, translated by Sawicki, Marianne. “An Investigation Concerning the State.” Edith Stein. An Investigation Concerning the State. Washington Province of Discalced Carmelites, Inc.: 2006. SBN 0-935216-39-1. Book.
Cecile, (remains anonymous) is a mature student at Okanagan College who was willing to share her experiences living with domestic violence.