The Calgary Journal
The Calgary Journal

One woman 's battle with domestic violence who lived to talk about it

The story of abuse

Nancy Milton lived through domestic violence for 20 years and knows what it's like to be made to feel at fault.

Now a mother of three, Milton said for the majority of her marriage she walked on eggshells trying not to upset her husband and keep the peace in their family.

abuseAccording to The Calgary Womens Emergency Shelter fact-sheet, "In 2008, 68 per cent of women wanted to escape situations of psychological abuse."

Photo by: Gina Iaquinta

"Since he was always so upset, I thought it was probably something I was doing to make him that way," she said. "I had this fairy tale idea of what a family and home should be like and for some reason it wasn't working out - so I adapted to try to make it so."

Milton said that as the years went on she stayed because her husband had come to make her believe no one else would want her.

Milton said the abuse began soon after their engagement in the couple's short courtship.

She said the jealousy started closer to their wedding day, when she was going out with a girlfriend. Her partner pinned her against the wall with his hand around her neck, threatening the pregnant Milton.

One night, after they were married, Milton said her partner was very drunk and started to really throw her around.

"That night I decided that I could no longer stay in this relationship and I filed for a legal separation," she said, adding that was when she called the police, who charged her partner with assault.

Eight months later Milton said she took her husband back.

And soon after that he slowly started abusing her again.

It wasn't until six years later that Milton divorced her husband, after one last shot with a marriage counselor who advised her to get out.

Getting out

Cathy Carter-Snell has been an emergency nurse for 34-years and said she has seen many victims of domestic violence.

For the past seven year she has done research in the area of post-traumatic stress and depression in victims of violence.

Currently, she's working comprehensively with victims of assault and abuse, and provides tips for exiting a violent relationship.

There are certain circumstances where a woman must leave immediately even if she hasn't made a plan — like forced sex, choking or weapons in the home. According to Carter-Snell there's a high risk of death when those factors come into the relationship.

But if none of those things are happening, she said a woman has more time to make a plan and get out quietly without a big blow up.

If you are living with an abuser, The Calgary Womens Emergency Shelter recommends the following advice:

  • Call the Family Violence Helpline counselors to talk over your safety plan
  • Set up an Emergency Escape Plan
  • Set up a Children's Safety Plan if you have children / teens
  • Make arrangements to stay with trusted friends or family just in case
  • Hide the phone numbers you call by dialing another number to prevent your abuser from pushing redial
  • Use a payphone instead of your cell phone so he can't check the call history

First, make a safety plan and have a support system of family, friends or a church group Cater-Snell said.

She added that it is important to have a bag of clothes ready for you and your kids, copies of important documents, emergency cash, and an extra set of car keys hidden in a safe place, so that you are ready to go when the violence escalates.

If you do not have a support system Carter-Snell suggests contacting Connect Family Services in Calgary and Alberta, at (403) 237-5888 or toll free at (1-877-237-5888).

She said this service will provide victims with a network of counselors, nurses and police officers, and help them get a plan together.

IMPORTANT: The danger increases for many women once they decide to leave their abusive relationship. Many women keep their safety plan secret and only tell people they absolutely trust.

Source: Calgary Womens Emergency Shelter: Day to Day Plan

Mental recovery

The effects of domestic violence don't end once the relationship is over.

Although she was never hit with a closed fist, Milton said her spouse was very verbally and psychologically abusive.

"Forty to 50 per cent of women who have been abused will suffer from post-traumatic stress."

According to her, "emotional abuse effects are more long lasting and harder to get over because of the put-downs and physically eroding of self esteem — it leaves scars for years and some women never get over that."

Milton agreed, saying her self-esteem was totally destroyed.

Before her marriage everyone knew her as an active, confident and out-going woman, who later became very withdrawn and not very social.

"Forty to 50 per cent of women who have been abused will suffer from post-traumatic stress"

-  Cathy Carter-Snell

Milton added she saw three different counselors, read every self-help book she could get her hands on and started seeing a naturopath to help with health issues caused by the stress of what she'd gone through.

Thankfully, she said she had a great support system of family and friends who have helped to her overcome many obstacles — something not every woman has.

Registered psychologist, Patricia Kostourous said it's important that after leaving an abusive relationship that immediate intervention is obtained to help get over the trauma.

"Depending when the persons gets intervention will depend of whether or not the mental health issues related to the domestic violence remain.

"If somebody a year later is still struggling, they haven't received the right support."

Fast facts on abuse

  • "In 2008, 68% of women wanted to escape situations of psychological abuse." - Family Violence in Canada: A Statistical Profile (2011)
  • "Only 36% of female victims of spousal violence called the police." -Little Eyes, Little Ears – How Violence Against a Mother Shapes Children as They Grow (2007)
  • "On average, every six days a woman in Canada is killed by her intimate partner." - Ending Violence Against Women: Fact Sheet (2011)
  • "Research shows that children see or hear 40% to 80% of domestic violence assaults." -Ending Violence Against Women: Fact Sheet (2011)
  • "More than three quarters of the women in emergency shelters and more than 90% of women in second stage shelters were at serious risk of danger in their intimate partner relationship." - Keeping Women Alive – Assessing the Danger: Executive Summary (2009)
  • "61% of all Canadians say they personally know at least one woman who has been sexually or physically assaulted." - Ending Violence Against Women: Fact Sheet (2011)

Source: Calgary Womens Emergency Shelter

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