"I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation.
We must always take sides.Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.
Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented."
~ Elie Wiesel (Political Activist)
In the mid 1980’s I was working in the senior’s department of a small inner-city community centre. At that time, fresh out of school with limited experience outside my middle class, suburban white world, I was unfamiliar how much classism, racism and inequalities that were present in the world.
When I began my career, working with low income seniors, it never dawned upon me that that experience would shape my life.
Going into people’s homes and assessing them for health and social services, I was exposed to countless individuals who were not only victims of society but more often victimized by others. I was faced on an ongoing basis with individual’s reaching out to me for assistance, to deal with the abuses that they were facing not only by strangers but by people in positions of trust, family members, friends, and neighbors. I was amazed, horrified but at the same time spellbound by the stories they were telling me. I was exposed to one woman in her 70’s that was paying her son $500.00 a month to see her grandchildren. I was appalled by the disclosure of an 82 year old woman who was raped by her son-in-law. I was heartbroken when I met the malnutritioned dying 75 year old man whose apartment was taken over by a group of drug dealers and prostitutes.
But nobody touched me as deeply as Norma. Norma was a 76 year old Indigenous woman living in poverty. Being homebound with no telephone, her only link to the outside world was her abusive husband of 50+ years. Norma was a meek and frightened woman when I met her to arrange a shopping service. The moment I walked into her apartment unit I sensed her fear and uneasiness. We chatted briefly about the shopping service, I also explained how I assisted people with a variety of problems including abuse. I left her apartment never expecting to hear from Norma again.
Although only having a grade four education, Norma was a very resourceful woman and when she was in trouble or needed my help would secretly pass a note to the volunteer shopper to give to me. The note would simply say “help me”. Shortly after receiving weekly notes from Norma I began to check in on her on a daily basis. Nine times out of ten when I would visit her she would have been raped or beaten by her husband with in the last 24 hours. Several times I went to the police to get assistance but they told me that I could not make a report and that Norma had to come forward on her own behalf.
When I spoke to Norma about getting out of the situation, calling the police, or going to a safe house such as a shelter, she would simply tell me, “I was raped and beaten as a young child. I was raped and beaten as a young woman. I am raped and beaten as an old lady. This is my life.” I worked with Norma for four years and she always seemed grateful that I cared enough to visit her and be concerned about her well being. Towards the end of her life she was diagnosed with terminal cancer and was still having to contend with daily beatings.
After she was hospitalized because her husband broke her arm by beating her with her walker, Norma had finally had enough and wanted her husband charged with assault and made accountable for years of abusing her. Norma also decided to leave her husband and move into a long term care facility so she could live her last days in peace. Norma’s husband was arrested and charged with assault, but upon being released from police custody went to the hospital, apologized to Norma and begged her to come home to him. Her husband convinced Norma that things would be different and would change for the better. Norma was discharged from the hospital and went home. I was called the next day by the police to come and identify her body. Norma’s husband had beaten her to death when she returned home from the hospital. Norma had died at the hands of her bully and I felt helpless. In order to give Norma some dignity in death that she did not get in life I then decided to dedicate my life to ensuring that people knew Norma’s story and would help to protect those vulnerable people in our world from abuse.
As my career evolved from a front-line worker, to a manager at a health centre, to an independent consultant, I met more and more young, middle aged and older people who had experienced first hand bullying or abuse. My work is also dedicated to all the people who I have met through my work who have openly and honestly shared with me their stories and experiences of being bullied, not only in their home but also in their workplace. Some of these individuals have been survivors and fought for their right to live and work in a dignified manner, and some individuals, like Norma, were not as fortunate.
It is my hope that particularly my work on bullying sheds some light on a topic that is generally associated with children but is just or even more deadly when it makes its way into the adult world. It is also my hope that any one who has knowledge or an association with a young child who is being bullied, that they reach out to that child. It is also my hope that the children who are the bullies in the playground, don’t have people turn against them but rather reach out to them and give them the one thing that may impact the rest of their lives … a hug and the belief that they do not need to hurt or demean others in order to feel validated or important.
We need to stop the cycle of violence before it begins. We need to stop the violence in the playground, so those children do not grow up and end up in our homes or in our workplaces, continuing to destroy the lives around them.
Rest in Peace Norma ….