It can happen to anyone: dispelling the myths around abuse

Please be advised: this story contains difficult and sensitive content and may be triggering for some readers.

It’s hard to admit, but I used to believe those who experienced domestic violence (DV) and intimate partner violence (IPV) were from a lower socioeconomic class, or struggled with substance abuse, or grew up as witnesses or victims of abuse. I took these preconceived notions as fact because growing up that’s what the people around me believed. But working in fund development for the domestic violence sector for the last 15 years has dispelled my assumptions and biases. I no longer have a limited view of who can experience abuse; let’s be clear, it can happen to anyone. 

My previous beliefs were solidified when I observed fights in public spaces (like parking lots) between those who appeared to reinstate my mistaken beliefs. Judgement reared its ugly head and before long I could only see the stereotypes I created. As I write this, I feel an overwhelming sense of embarrassment because I allowed judgement to cloud my vision. 

So, imagine my surprise when a donor of ours, who didn’t fit my version of a victim’s profile, told me she was abused. I could not reconcile how this was possible as she lived in an  affluent Calgary neighbourhood. She recounted  her husband’s alcoholism, and that the way he slammed the car door and the noise he made when entering the house, alerted her to his mood and the level of abuse she was going to endure. Knowing what I do now, I see how uneducated I was about DV and IPV and their complexities. 

Through my work, I notice people stigmatize educated women. I have observed remarks alluding to how educated women should be “smart enough” not to get themselves into such situations, and/or they would “know better” than to stay with someone who is physically and/or emotionally hurting them. These remarks blame the victims for the abuse and can leave them feeling isolated, which only serves to perpetuate the abuse. Victims may feel that they cannot share their experience of abuse lest they be shamed and judged, even by those closest to them. 

I remember the story of a Canadian woman—Dr. Elena Fric-Shamji, the mother of three children, a family physician and associate professor of medicine at the University of Toronto—who was brutally murdered by her husband, Dr. Mohammed Farid Shamji, a neurosurgeon. 

At the murder trial, the Court heard that Fric-Shamji served her husband with divorce papers two days before he attacked her. He broke her neck and ribs, and choked her to death as their three children slept nearby. This tragic act highlights the most dangerous time for victims of abuse is when they leave or have indicated they want to leave. It also highlights violence experienced by highly educated professionals in abusive relationships. Furthermore, DV and IPV, within the culture of affluence, takes on additional forms of abuse that are more covert, or invisible through coercive control— the manipulation of power, status, finances, institutional norms, and more. 

Affluent, educated, working individuals, may avoid disclosing incidents of abuse, fearing it could affect their careers. Some research has found women who make more money than their partner may also be at greater risk of abuse as the abuser attempts to regain power in the relationship. And that abusers can use financial control as part of the abuse. 

However, it’s important to note those of lower socioeconomic status may not have the financial resources to seek the help they need and they face additional barriers.  

No person of any age or background is immune to DV, IPV, and coercive control. The same goes for the abuser. DV and IPV thrive in environments of silence, shame, fear and isolation. We need to shine a light on the topic by talking about it, building awareness, educating ourselves, identifying abusive behaviors and taking action to prevent harm to our family, friends, neighbors and co-workers.

Victims are often manipulated and emotionally abused to believe that they are responsible for the abuse (they are not), they have no value (they do), and the abuser will not let them leave the relationship —ever (unfortunately, in some cases, this proves to be true). DV and IPV can happen to anyone, and in many cases, the only way victims will get out of their violent relationships is in a body bag. Too much, too graphic? The reality is, DV and IPV are just that—hard to listen to and graphic.



Need support or want to learn more about this topic? REAL Talk is a webinar on how to stop the cycle of domestic violence in just a few words. Jewish Family Services of Calgary has partnered with Sagesse to tailor the webinar to the Jewish Community. For more information contact Tanya at  

Header image design by Orly Zebak and Clarrie Feinstein.

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