Domestic abuse, more than just fiction

Big Little Lies, a miniseries that aired on HBO, won a slew of awards at this year’s Emmy awards. The show is a whodunit, in the aftermath of a murder. Throughout the series, we learn secrets each family is hiding, leading up to the opening scene. One of the biggest and most horrific secrets is when Nicole Kidman’s character, Celeste Wright, is enduring domestic abuse at the hands of her husband, Perry Wright.

At the Emmy awards, Kidman used her acceptance speech to speak on domestic violence, saying, “It is a complicated, insidious disease. It exists far more than we allow ourselves to know. It is for with shame and secrecy.”

Secrecy was something Kelsey Forer (name has been changed for reasons of safety), a 20-something university student, knew all too well. Her father abused her family for years when she was a young child. Forer recalls a regular occurrence in the family household. “If my mom cooked something for dinner that he didn’t like, the plate would be across the room. He would throw it into the wall or at her.”

“I was being watched in the emergency room because I dislocated my collar bone three times before I was even five,” she says. Although, no one will tell her if her earlier injuries were due to her father, she adds, “I do remember he pulled my arm so aggressively once that I dislocated my shoulder.”

The secret of the abuse was kept so well that Forer says the only people who knew about the violence were her, her siblings, her mother and her dad, who had put them all through hell. Only when it got really bad did the family retreat to Forer’s mom’s cousins, the only other person who knew about what was going. It wasn’t until a year ago that Forer told her grandmother the real reason her mom wanted to leave her father so badly the summer when Forer was six.

Much like in the miniseries, Big Little Lies, Forer’s mother moved out of the family house behind her husband’s back. Forer’s mother gathered her friends and her father to help move all her things into a new house, while Forer’s father was at work. It was during an extended summer trip to the small town their grandparents grew up in, that Forer took with her grandmother and siblings when their mother created away to leave their abusive father. Forer remembers the summer, saying, “We were there way longer and my grandpa stayed in the city with my mom to help get the house sorted. Me and all my siblings were with my grandmother and then they drove us back to the city and instead of going home we just pulled up to this random house.”

Nicole Kidman uses the word shame to describe domestic abuse. That’s the feeling Forer’s mother felt after she left her husband. Forer says all of her mother’s mutual friends with her husband had disowned her because of the divorce, which Forer blames on the social norms of Saskatchewan and the fact that her mother was too ashamed to admit or tell anyone about the abuse, even to this day.

Laura Klubben, a clinical psychologist, says that through her research with street prostitution she would see domestic abuse in various forms.

“It’s a slow process…the abuser has a bit of a charm and leads up to the abuse,” she says.

Citing an recent conversation she had, Klubben says the person told her her relationship was “wonderful, then there were these small pieces that would come into play like controlling behaviours or an emotional snap.”

There is a honeymoon phase after an abusive incident where the abuser will treat the victim fantastically, Klubben says the research shows, leading the victim to believe the abuser has changed and so the victim lets their guard down and that’s when the abuse would re-occur.

“If the victim has previously been abused, generally [they] choose partners that mimic past experiences,” Klubben says.

Forer admits she jumps into relationships with red flags, something she is trying to work on so as to not fall into the same patterns. Klubben mentions vulnerabilities some victims face such as children and financial dependency that cause victims to stay in an abusive cycle. Forer says her mother was financially dependent on their father despite having a part-time job working at the hospital. It was Forer’s grandparents’ generosity and relaxed repayment plan that allowed Forer’s mom to leave her dad.

Klubben says there are some victims you would never suspect of being abused and some victims who are so traumatized they’re shaking. These descriptions are familiar to Forer. She says her eldest sister keeps to herself and has severe anxiety. Forer’s younger brother is the opposite: he doesn’t exhibit any signs of abuse. While Forer doesn’t go into her second eldest sister, she does see similarities between her father and eldest sister saying they spend the most time together because they’re the most alike. Forer’s mother, on the other hand, developed a severe eating disorder to cope with the abuse she endured, a lasting effect that she still uses to deal with stressful situations.

Klubben suggests two warning signs to think critically about if you suspect someone you know might be in an abusive relationship: “Who has the voice in this relationship If one member is never speaking, you wonder if they’re just shy or if they’re being silenced in some way. Financial control, some just choose who handles the finances. Whoever is doing the abuse will have the financial control.”

Options BC has a list online about signs of abuse to look for in your partner, if they try to keep you away from family or friends, blame you for their behaviour, check up on you, hurts or threatens to hurt you. According to Options BC, if you feel, afraid of your partner, sad, isolated, ashamed or afraid to talk about certain topics the relationship might be abusive.

If you or someone you know is need of support or help you can find it at or by calling the multilingual, confidential number, 1-800-563-0808 free of charge.

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