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Home News ‘It’s a global pandemic’: advocate urges churches and residents to offer better care to domestic violence victims

‘It’s a global pandemic’: advocate urges churches and residents to offer better care to domestic violence victims

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‘It’s a global pandemic’: advocate urges churches and residents to offer better care to domestic violence victims
Mandy Marshall, the Director for Gender Justice with the Anglican Communion, poses for a photo in front of St. Alban’s Cathedral during a trip to Prince Albert. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

Mandy Marshall grew up in council flats in the north of England, and while many of her experiences in Canada are new ones, the topic that brought her here is sadly familiar.

Marshall is an advocate for woman harmed by domestic and gender-based violence, and on Nov. 8 she was in Prince Albert to discuss the issue with local leaders and fellow advocates. She’s travelled all over the world, first as program advisor with a Christian development agency in England, and later in her role as Director for Gender Justice with the Anglican Communion Office. She says domestic abuse is unfortunately a universal problem.

“It’s no respecter of age. It’s no respecter of wealth. It’s no respecter of culture,” Marshall says during an interview at St. Alban’s Cathedral. “Sadly, domestic abuse is a truly democratic issue, and what we need to do as a church is to break the silence and the shame and the stigma around abuse so that survivors can access the health and support that they need.”

Helping the church care for survivors and confront abusers is a big focus on Marshall’s mission, but so is her desire to understand the problem. She was invited to Canada at the request of Anglican Primate Linda Nichols, and began holding two-a-day seminars for church leaders and the general public in Toronto.

She later came to Prince Albert to get a better understanding of how domestic violence affects Indigenous communities, something she says she couldn’t get in Toronto.

Regardless of where she travels, Marshall said she sees the same thing: churches who struggle to care for survivors, and societies that stigmatize the victims rather than the perpetrators.

“I never think there’s enough funding allocated to this (issue) because, for me, gender-based violence is so prolific,” she explains. “It is a global pandemic in essence, but we’re not taking it seriously enough. I think as a church we need to really take this issue seriously and wake up and see that actually gender-based violence undermines everything.”

Marshall’s trip to Prince Albert included a visit with leaders and advocates on James Smith Cree Nation. Bishop Michael Hawkins of the Anglican Diocese of Saskatchewan said the recent tragedy in the community highlighted the importance of confronting domestic abuse and properly caring for victims. He’s hopeful Marshall’s visit to churches in the area will help gives them the tools to recognize the problem, then act on it.

“Those are real issues for all people in northern Saskatchewan, both Indigenous and settler,” Hawkins says. “I think (the) two main things are for the churches to be a safe place for people who are suffering from domestic violence and abuse, to be a safe place for all people. That’s what a sanctuary is meant to be: a safe place. Secondly, it’s to raise these issues in the community, and to support the people who are doing fine work, like the Prince Albert Grand Council women’s commission, (and) the women’s shelter in town.”

Canada is an outlier when it comes to domestic abuse because men suffer from rates almost as high as women. However, women experience more severe forms of domestic violence, and suffer significantly higher rates of injury.

Things are even worse for Indigenous women, who are killed at seven times the rate of the non-Indigenous counterparts.

Hawkins says Saskatchewan has some of the highest domestic violence rates in the country, a statistic that shows just how important it is to get local churches providing proper care.

“It was providential when we had the offer to host Mandy for the weekend,” he says.

For Marshall, her quest to end domestic violence is a personal one. As a child, she remembers hearing the man who lived next door abuse his wife. Some days, the abuse was so severe they could hear it happening through the walls of their home.

Then one day, the man left his wife for dead. The incident still affects Marshall to this day.

“I remember it so well because we heard windows smashing,” she says. “He beat her up and left her in the alleyway…. My mom came back white as a sheet. She said to my dad, ‘she’s in a really bad way. He’s left her for dead.’ You don’t forget that as a kid.”

It’s tempting to ask why women like the won Marshall grew up next door to don’t leave their abusive partners. In fact, that’s one of the most common questions Marshall hears, but she stressed it’s not that easy.

Women in abusive relationships have practical matters to consider, especially if they have children. Where will they stay? What will they eat? Where will the children go to school?

There’s also the question of danger. In her experience as an advocate, Marshall says women suffering from domestic violence are never more in danger than when they’re about to leave.

“If you’ve not lived in that sort of situation, then how can you understand why a person doesn’t leave? That’s the common question: ‘if it’s that bad, why don’t you just walk out the door?’ But actually, a woman is most at risk of death at the point of leaving, because the perpetrator is losing control over her.”

Marshall says women need support from the community if they’re going to leave abusive partners, but that’s not all the community can do. Part of her work in Canada involves teaching churches and communities how to recognize the signs of domestic violence, something that’s not as simple as most think.

“Often physical or sexual violence is the last resort,” she says. “That’s often what people see, but there’s usually a whole host of stuff that’s gone on before that happens.”

Part of Marshall’s trip involves educating churches on how they can be safe churches, and how they can provide a trauma informed response to survivors of abuse.

While she’s encouraged by the work she sees in places like Prince Albert, Marshall says every country has a long way to go.

“Hopefully (the trip) highlights the importance of the church in walking along with and aside survivors of abuse,” she says.