It’s difficult to hear as a reporter, and no doubt far more as a victim, a counsellor say that there is often no great escape plan for people dealing with spousal abuse, especially for those in remote communities with few alternative housing options.

Creating those escape routes for victims is necessary, if not always easily done. Unfortunately, escape options alone are not enough.

Neither are education and public awareness campaigns about acceptable treatment of partners and others in our lives, as necessary and helpful as those are too.

At some level, violence and bad acting will never be stamped out. It’s part of life.

But another layer we can add to fostering healthy relationships free from abuse is through the values and ideas we spread in our society at large.

This is why the concepts of personal autonomy, freedom of choice and freedom of expression are so important for their rippling effects through our lives, beyond politics.

A culture that does not value a person’s right to their own body will see less issue in individuals violating that right. A culture that stifles speech will ingrain the idea that unpleasant speech should be kept quiet.

Much of the critical perspective on Covid-19 measures comes from this angle, not as a rejection that action must be taken to mitigate damage caused by the virus, but that extra caution should be considered when we steer core values of our society in another direction.

At its best, government ensures stability, fair treatment and the rule of law among the people, while holding a uniquely powerful and encompassing position where it can address needs, crises and externalities better than individual actors.

At its worst, it can resemble an abusive spouse: controlling where you can go, how many people you can see, what you have to wear and even physical actions you must perform on yourself.

There are all sorts of things that governments ask, some more egregious than others, some more debatable. Not all of those asks are bad, and the mechanism of democracy is about the best one we have to keep that power in line.

But during the pandemic, those asks have been large and they threaten to ingrain themselves in our general expectations as a society. That trickles down and feeds into our daily lives and personal interactions.

If we see people removed from social media because they questioned a dominant narrative, we will be less inclined to speak up ourselves. If we allow the government to form classes of citizens based on their medical history, we will more readily consider others less equal.

Both of these go beyond politics, even if they originate in that sphere.

Fear is often the weapon, with the threat that one must follow the authority or some sort of punishment or bad thing will ensue.

The public health measures Canada and Nunavut have taken during the pandemic are not necessarily wrong and are pursued with the best intentions. Voters will have the ultimate say in the end.

But there is reason for some sober second thoughts once the emotion of the moment dies down, about how these rules and society’s direction can have reverberating effects through our individual lives and relationships.

At best, we strike a balance where we perform the largely agreed-upon actions that are in the best interest of everyone, while retaining our fundamental commitment to nonviolence, respect for one another and the right to be our own person.

The counselling, awareness campaigns, shelter programs and education for new generations to respect our partners must continue. And to support it all, we also need a society that values that ethos.

What good is the advice to speak up about issues in our lives, if the evidence all around us shows consequences for rocking the boat?

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1 Comment

  1. Some valid points Steward. Yet the main failure in stamping out this behaviour is that it’s tolerated. Tolerated by the powers that have the authority and the imperative to put an end to it (the Governments through the courts and police departments as the hands of the courts) AND the communities who allow the perpetrators of violence to go unpunished. Until that tolerance and lack of will solidifies into a true “Zero Tolerance towards Violence” policy… the week will continue to be abused.

    I recently had a co-worker leave the community with her 2 children when her partner beat her up… I can’t wrap my head around that. SHE was the victim, yet for her protection, she had to leave her house, and run (in fear of her life) to another community for safety.

    This was not her fault, she should not have been the one running. It should have been him chased out of town… figuring out what to eat… and where to sleep so as not to freeze to death during a Nunavut December. Not her.

    But there is no willpower to put an end to it. No one willing to stand up for her. And when you walk through town, and you look at all the beautiful women who work, who provide for their families, who take care of their children, and do so after their teeth have been knocked out in a previous bout with some lousy partner, you start grasping the extent of this problem.

    Until we take care of the vulnerable among us, do we even have the right to call ourselves a community.

    In this case “Fear” should be the proper tool to use.

    Fear of being unwelcome in this community if you abuse another.
    Fear of losing your freedom should not be a possibility but a guarantee for an abuser.
    Fear of being branded as unworthy of “my company and friendship” to every abuser would sooner or later lead them to the proper conclusion that such action is never acceptable.

    You said that “Fear is often the weapon, with the threat that one must follow the authority or some sort of punishment or bad thing will ensue.” as if ‘fear’ of negative consequences is a bad thing.

    I fear putting a screw driver in an electrical socket might kill me. That’s a good, proper and healthy kind of fear. We need to recognize that fear of punishment and consequences is what can help society stamp out these evil deeds and improve lives of all in the community.

    But I totally disagree with you that we should be “Creating those escape routes for victims”. The escape routes should be for the perpetrators as the communities rally together and are ready to exact vengeance. For fear of being on the receiving end of a beating to within a hear breadth of death and a permanent maiming, anyone who attacks or who would commit violence toward other should be on the run… not the other way around.

    One can not deal with violence any other way. The fear of reprisal must be the force that prevents the violence in the first place. Without consequences to those willing to raise their hands to another… we will continue to raise more of these beautiful young women with toothless smiles.

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