“He’s not abusive; he just hits me sometimes.”
“He didn’t assault me; he just slapped me.”
“He didn’t punch very hard; it’s only fractured here and here.”
These lines sound like the kind of dialogue you’d expect to read in a bad novel, but they’re all things that I’ve heard from real people – and not just any real people, but teenage girls. The one who claimed not to have been punched very hard? A 15-year-old describing fractures to her jaw.
When I became a prosecutor, I knew I’d be working with a lot of battered women. I didn’t realize, though, just how young some of those “women” would be. Teenage girls fall prey to dating violence at distressingly high rates, and often don’t know where to go for help.
“What’ll you do if he hits you again?” I asked one young mother-to-be, hoping she’d say “leave him,” or at least “tell the police.” She thought about it carefully and replied “I’ll cover my stomach.” I was taken aback at the time, but later I wondered how different my answer would have been at her age. I remember an earlier conversation, equally disturbing, in which a 16-year-old explained to her friends why “twice isn’t a big deal,” but three assaults by a boyfriend would be reason for serious concern. That was me in 1993 – a long time ago, yes, but sometimes I wonder how far we’ve come. When I hear teenage girls sighing over how Chris Brown and Rihanna are meant to be, or singing along to songs with blatantly offensive lyrics about women, I realize that the girls begging me to drop the charges against their boyfriends aren’t throwbacks to the past. They reflect the world in which they live – a world which Guiders have the opportunity to shape.
As we commemorate Canada’s Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women, keep in mind that such violence isn’t just something that Girl Members might learn of second-hand or experience when they grow up. Some may be facing it right now, or may face it within a few years. Stay alert and approachable, and try to make your girls aware of age-appropriate community resources.
It might be the most important thing you do as a Guider.
By guest blogger Amy Porteous. Amy was Deputy Chief Commissioner-Governance and is currently a Pathfinder Guider in Iqaluit, Nunavut (“Ee-hal-oo-eet, Noo-na-voot,” please!). Read Amy’s past guest piece on our blog: A Guider’s Unique Perspective: Why Some Girls (Really) Need Guides
It’s not just our girl members that can be victims of violence against women. As Guiders, we too are at risk of becoming victims of such acts. Speaking from experience it is a scary, heartbreaking thing to go through when all you feel is shame, loneliness, pain; and we must stand up strong to face those who threaten us and be there for each other. The best person to help a victim is another victim. We need a way to make this happen.
Thanks for this post Amy – it is much needed. A number of years ago one of our Guides spent the latter half of the year in a women’s shelter. She eventually dropped out (as it was too hard to get to meetings from the shelter) and the family moved away. We found it very hard as Guiders – especially the “not knowing” what happened to her and if she’s OK. Although it was some time ago, I still think of her and hope that in the time she was in our unit, we made some difference to her. This topic is relevant to ALL girls and ALL Guiders, and I applaud GGC for being proactive with challenges, badges and activities that encourage dialogue and change.