At the clinic every day we see women who are badly hurt. Broken bones, broken thumbs, dislocated shoulders, black and swollen eyes, knife wounds, broken ribs. Who does this to them? Some stranger hiding in the bushes? A wild animal infected with rabies?

No. This is done by their husbands and boyfriends.

We have to stop it NOW. If not, soon somebody will be killed. How to stop it? First, imagine how you would feel if someone punched you in the face, twisted your thumb until it broke, pushed you around almost every day. Would you lay charges to the police? Would you appreciate some support from your family and friends? Or would you keep it a secret?

Women who are beat up by their partners suffer from “battered woman syndrome.” They are scared, have low self-esteem, feel they deserve to be hit. They are anxious, do not look at you in the eye. They often drink alcohol or take drugs to try and escape their tough reality. Their partners swear at them, push them, also drink alcohol and abuse other drugs.

They usually have a mental problem or are going through some problems. These men never learned to solve their problems in a mature way. They act like children. They are afraid to lose their woman. Instead of treating her well so that we will stay, they use any way available to make her wea and dependent on them. They start by insulting her, telling her that she is no-good, never praising her, never giving her credit for anything. Next they start pushing her around. Soon follow punches, kicks.

They are insanely jealous. They accuse her of being unfaithful; they don’t want her to go out. They start treating her like private property. If she wants to escape, they threaten to beat her up. If she still wants to leave, they say they will kill themselves, playing on her guilt. If that doesn’t work, they say they will kill her, playing on her fear.

Ninety per cent of the women killed in Canada are killed by their husbands or boyfriends or lovers. These women feel trapped and this is why they don’t leave. It is not because they like it and it is not their fault

If you are going through this, ask for help right now. Go to the clinic. Go to the Women’s Shelter. Go to Social Services. Go to the minister. Go to an Elder, to a friend, a neighbour, the police. Don’t wait, despite his promises. Things will only get worse.

If you know somebody is being beat up, don’t keep it a secret. You will be acting like an accomplice in this crime. Approach the woman, tell her you know it is happening, offer your help. Encourage her to go to get some help. Go with her if she agrees.

If someone is beat up, lay charges. It will only help the man to realize what he is doing, to find better ways to solve his problems. By keeping quiet we are not helping him. He is causing a lot of suffering, but he is suffering too. He also needs help. And facing the police, the courts, jail and a community that openly tells him that what he is doing is wrong, is the best way for him to seek some help.

So there it is. As a doctor I have a role to play. Now you know about the problem. Will you help solve it? Please don’t wait for the next black eye, the next bruise… or the next death.
—Robert Harris, MD, Chisasibi Hospital