It has been four weeks since allegations of sexual harassment, assault and rape surfaced against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, and the ensuing uproar shows no signs of weakening. Conversations about harassment and assault against women have become increasingly urgent. As we listen to the harrowing testimonies of an ever-growing group of abused women – one that extends beyond Hollywood and into our own communities – we are reminded of why we must tackle sexual abuse head-on. We should thank the women who have come forward for having the courage to speak up.
Elisa Wells is one of those brave women. In this week’s Canadian Jewish News, she recounts her life in an abusive relationship. “I never knew when, or why, his anger would erupt,” she writes. “It could be something I said, or how I looked at him. It could be the way I prepared a meal, how I dressed or what music I listened to. I tried to make everything perfect for him, just to avoid his criticism, his scolding and his fists. When something did happen, I would cover it up.”
Wells’ story is filled with distressing and shocking details, like this one: “In 1997, I was pregnant with our fourth child. My eldest daughter was six years old then and wanted to come home for lunch. When I told my husband that I had picked her up, he was furious because he had not been consulted and wanted to spend lunchtime alone with me. He pushed me violently against the front door, so I quickly walked outside to get away from him. But he followed me and shoved me so forcefully from behind that I fell off our front balcony, down the concrete steps and onto the walkway below. My foot had twisted so badly that all the ligaments on both sides of my ankle had torn. I noticed that my pants were ripped and that I was bleeding from my knees and hands.
“My young daughter was looking at me and crying. My son had run out onto our snowy balcony to witness the violence that had just unfolded. My leg began to swell and I had to cut off my sock and jeans, in order to wrap my ankle. My husband was neither remorseful, or concerned, and we all went out for dinner that evening, even though I could barely walk.”
Thankfully, she was eventually able to escape her abuser. And although the scars remain, Wells hopes she can use those experiences to stop the cycle of abuse and violence against women. “I tell my daughter not to overlook it when her boyfriend shoves her rudely aside when he’s drunk, or pressures her to feel guilty for going on vacation,” she writes. “I tell (my children) that continually being berated and criticized is not part of a healthy relationship.”
As for her own journey, Wells says that, “I have had to re-learn that I can trust my own instincts, and that I have control over my decisions.” This powerful, life-saving message is being sounded like never before. We would do well to listen closely.