The Beautiful and Damned
You may not see the bruises, the broken bones or the abused self-esteem hidden beneath layers of made-to-measure garments and forced smiles on put-together faces, but seven per cent of Canadian women are assaulted by their spouses every year.
At the end of this dark tunnel that drips with dread and fright is a shining light – the Yellow Brick House – which cocoons women in protection and much-needed counselling . “I hope to put control on this situation, to help women and children build their self-esteem,” says Vivian Risi, chair of Yellow Brick House’s Second Shelter, Second Chances capital campaign. Risi, along with other individuals fittingly dubbed ‘Angels of Influence,’ are committed to supporting this project, which will pave the way to an additional shelter.
In 2008, 4,000 women and children received help from YBH’s shelter and outreach services. “Unfortunately, over 547 women and children were turned away due to lack of space. Most of these women and children remained in their abusive homes,” says Lorris Herenda, YBH’s executive director. “Fifty-one per cent of Canadian women have experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence since the age of 16,” says Angel Caterina Cerilli, quoting from the Status of Women Canada organization. “These statistics alone are the reason we must step up and help.”
Samantha* is just one woman who rose above her fear and approached YBH, and her life changed completely as a result.
“I had it all: the big house with six bedrooms, the beautiful furniture, the pool and the hot tub, the parties. But now, I have a home.” At 19, Samantha lived a high-society lifestyle. She was a statuesque beauty, always gorgeously dressed, a popular cheerleader, a daddy’s girl if you will. At 19, Samantha met John*, a dark-haired man who swept her off her feet like a fairytale. Out she went from her family’s sprawling mansion and into another big house where her heart pounded with love for her dashing young husband.
The happy couple was soon expecting, and while Samantha felt the beautiful feeling of a life growing inside her, her own existence was shattered. “The verbal abuse started once I got pregnant. It stopped after I had my first baby. Then it escaladed again and it would stop-go, stop-go, stop-go. I would think he was just frustrated by work,” says 37-year-old Samantha. “Then I found myself walking on eggshells. I would wait until I heard how the door closed when he arrived home – that’s how I could tell what mood he was in.”
“No one is free from domestic violence; it has no boundaries to culture, age, race or economic status,” says Risi, who is owner and Broker of Record of Royal LePage – Your Community Realty and a member of the Royal LePage Shelter Foundation. As a successful entrepreneur, Risi will put the spotlight on women and abuse at the Power Within conference on Nov. 30, 2009.
Samantha maintained appearances with family and friends, keeping her dark secret confined to the walls of their house as she continued to share her life with John. Onlookers peering at Samantha’s exterior life envied her. “Everyone thought we were the perfect couple. To the outside world, he was the perfect father, the perfect husband, the perfect business owner, the perfect friend. He knew a lot about sports, he was well-rounded, he was well-spoken. He wore a thousand faces.”
Their second son was born seven years later yet Samantha plummeted into depression as John continued to abuse her, and their children, both psychologically and physically. “I didn’t know how to get out, because my father wouldn’t hear of it. Coming from a European background in high society, it would look bad to all the neighbours and to family back home. My father told me: ‘You know, your husband was fine when you married him, what’s wrong with him now?’ More or less it was made to be my fault,” says Samantha.
“There’s nothing shameful about abuse,” says Risi. “Women need to step up and take the first step, to get help that will end the violence, because what it’s
doing is affecting children, which are the future.”
Desperate to protect her children, Samantha knew the only way was out. “When my daughter was born he had me off the ground by my throat because I called him out on having an affair,” she says. “It wasn’t until I jumped out of a moving car – because it was more scary to stay in the car than it was to jump – that I took my doctor’s advice. From that day forward, my life changed.”
Samantha left everything behind – her money, her clothes, her affluent lifestyle – and took her three children to Yellow Brick House, a woman and children’s shelter that gave her the strength, the guidance and the tools to begin her life violence-free. And for that she is overwhelmed with gratitude. “Do I miss being able to take my kids and spend umpteen amount of dollars? Sure. But what I have now, I have more. I walked away with nothing, except that I got my three babies, so I really got everything,” says Samantha with tears rolling down her face.
Angel Sandra Porretta says, “The type of abuse these women and children are experiencing is very crippling. It is the person that they trust and love the most that abuses them. As responsible individuals, it is our duty to take care of our communities, and it begins with women and children.” Will you be the next Angel of Influence?
*Names have been changed to protect victim identity