November is always hard. The days are shorter, the weather colder, the occasions often about sadness. In our household, November 11th is a time for Peter and myself to remember our fathers, who both served in World War II and felt that every day we should be fighting for peace. I always remember at this time the wise words of my friend Ursula Franklin, who said that peace is not just the absence of war, but it is the presence of social justice and the absence of fear.
November 25th is International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and in Canada it also marks the beginning of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, which ends on December 10th with International Human Rights Day. These 16 Days also include December 6th, the day on which we commemorate the 14 women who died at École Polytechnique only because they were women.
Throughout St. Paul’s we remember those we have lost and those whose lives have been forever changed because of trauma and violence.
Last year, a study was released that showed many of the soldiers returning with PTSD had previously been victims of childhood abuse.
We recognize that those who have suffered violence and trauma need our help and understanding. From the transitional housing for women fleeing violence that the YWCA Toronto tucks into our quiet neighbourhoods, to NaMeRes and Sagatay on Vaughan Road, which house Indigenous men who are putting their lives back onto a good path, we in St. Paul’s should be proud of the best practices and trauma-informed care that makes our communities healthier and stronger every day.
It is, however, time that we increase the civic and health literacy of all citizens so that every one of us can better understand what “trauma-informed” means. From homeless veterans, to survivors of child abuse or domestic violence, we all need to be asking better questions as we try to help them on their healing journeys.
“Trauma-informed” means that we need to ask a different question. No longer should we be asking “What’s the matter with him/her?” Instead, we need to ask “What happened to him/her?” Over 80 per cent of addictions and incarcerations follow a history of childhood trauma. There is a direct link between childhood trauma and anger and shame. There is a direct link between anger and shame and the desire to numb the pain with drugs and alcohol. There is a direct link to suicide. A direct link to violence and incarceration. Often, survivors describe the need for forgiveness in order to exit the negative cycle.
We have learned – through the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the gatherings on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls – that “hurt people hurt people.” Childhood trauma was a common thread in the history of the victims of violence, but also of the perpetrators.
We will not be able to stop the cycles of violence unless we can equip our children with the knowledge and efficacy that will protect them. Peter and I believe strongly that families have a responsibility to have these difficult conversations with their children. But if they are not prepared to talk about these things, then the schools must. When children don’t know even what sex is, they are totally vulnerable to “trusted” adults – teachers, coaches, clergy – who can prey upon their ignorance. Children need to know – What are “private parts”? What is “affectionate”? What is sexual? What is consent? They need to know that they have a voice, and that adults will listen if they experience inappropriate behaviours from a “trusted” adult.
On Sunday, November 25th, as we gather with Minister Blair for our Toronto-St. Paul’s Summit on Community Safety, we need to understand that the police have been clear: “We can’t arrest our way out of this.”
Safe communities require all of us to work together on tackling the root causes of violence. #NotOK and #MeToo are effecting real change. In this bleak and dreary November, every one of us can shine a little light by speaking openly about this “secret of shame” that still rests in the shadows.
*Published in the November 2018 issue of Streeter Newspaper (formerly the Town Crier).