Shannon McCaughran’s ex looked good on paper. He said he was in his early 30s, he had a steady job as a software engineer and he saw his daughter every weekend. And to top it all off, man was he charming.
“The first time he hit me was the day after we moved in together,” she said.
After that she slowly discovered the lies. It was only when she found his SIN card that she learned that he hadn’t actually told her his real first name, he went by his middle name. He lived off of welfare and was working on starting a business of his own, but as far as she could tell it wasn’t going anywhere. And he wasn’t seeing his daughter every weekend. In fact he wasn’t allowed to see her.
On top of all of that, when they started dating he was still on probation for his last assault.
Though the physical abuse was a few times a month, the psychological abuse was 24/7. McCaughran said while she was still working he would walk her to the train station and as soon as he left her there he would call her, because he knew that was when she usually called her mom.
McCaughran is not alone. The Campbell River Women’s Centre sees 400 visitors a month. Marnie McLachlan, a peer counsellor at the centre, said that for around 30 per cent of them, family violence is an issue. The problem extends throughout the world as well. Nov. 25 was the International Day for Elimination of Violence against women.
McCaughran wasn’t allowed to have any male friends and she was rarely allowed to see any of her friends at all. She took to walking with her head down because she was called a slut if she looked at any man other than him.
Half an hour into a night out with a friend McCaughran said he started texting her to come home. Her friend, who was unaware of the extent of the abuse, was taking her time with dinner unknowingly causing more stress and fear on McCaughran’s part.
“Slowly but surely he took everything away from me,” she said. “You just get so worn down mentally.”
She said that ‘the straw that broke the camel’s back’ was when he hit her with one hand while holding their two-month-old son with the other hand. She put the baby in the stroller and ran.
From a park bench she called three friends before she finally called her parents. It was her dad who called the police. One police unit stayed with her in the park, while another arrested her ex.
The next day she was on a flight to Campbell River to stay with her family. And then the healing process began.
McCaughran said she was lucky. Most women try to leave more than five times before getting out for good.
Six months later, after winning sole custody and changing her son’s last name to her own, she faced her ex in court.
Even then he showed no remorse and tried to intimidate her.
“That has been something that I have had to heal from the most,” she said.
At the end of the trial he was found guilty for only one of the assaults and sentenced to 45 days in jail and 1.5 years probation. McCaughran has a do not contact order against him.
After counselling, going through the Transition Society and doing the Bridges women employment program, she started volunteering and then working at the Women’s Centre.
Though she didn’t initially access the Women’s Centre, she said her recovery would have been a lot different if she had. Part of her recovery was stopping the self blame and realizing that she was strong. She figures she would have come to that conclusion sooner had she gone to the Women’s Centre.
McLachlan said that women will come to the centre in crisis and they will leave with the next step, whether it be a safety plan for when they return home or a referral to the Transition Society.
“Each woman has to find her own path,” she said.