SHEDIAC • Nadine Duguay-Lemay said the "Me too" movement helped her stop being ashamed and find the courage to share her story of domestic abuse.
"My mom was a victim of spousal abuse and even though I don't have much memory of it, I have seen the long-lasting impact it has had on her," said Duguay-Lemay, CEO of Dialogue N.B. "I myself have been the victim of sexual abuse numerous times in my life and only started recently to be open about it."
Duguay-Lemay was speaking at an International Women's Day event in Shediac to discuss the challenges faced by women, and the Beausejour Family Crisis Resource Centre, during the pandemic. It was the first in-person event of its kind in months because of pandemic restrictions.
Duguay-Lemay told the Times & Transcript that while she may have looked confident while speaking, she was shaking internally. "I'm doing it for my mom so we break the cycle of intergenerational trauma," she said.
Duguay-Lemay, who grew up in Tracadie, also spoke about the taboo of talking about domestic abuse, especially in smaller communities like those along the Acadian cost.
"In smaller communities everyone knows one another, so it's easier to get marginalized," she said, noting she received unwelcome comments just about the fact her mother was divorced, so to talk about domestic violence seemed that much harder.
"At eight years old I was already understanding I was supposed to be ashamed," she said.
Duguay-Lemay said she was a victim of sexual violence in her teens and early adulthood on more than one occasion, and thought that it was her fault, that she had somehow been attracting it.
"It's easier for me to talk to strangers about it than peers or friends from back home," she said, noting that the more we talk about the issue, the more resources available, the better we can address the issue going forward.
During the pandemic, women have been disproportionately impacted by mental health issues and increases in family violence, said Lieutenant Governor Brenda Murphy, speaking via Zoom to the politicians, staff and social service-providers gathered in Shediac for the event.
"It was extremely difficult for women who were victims of domestic violence to reach out," said Lise Cormier, president of the board of the Beauséjour centre.
Early in the pandemic, crisis centres were getting lower than normal calls - a real cause for concern, Cormier said, noting women were staying in dangerous situations because in many cases their abuser was monitoring their every move including their devices, so they couldn't reach out for help.
Abusers have used the threat of the virus in chilling ways to control their victims, she said. In one case, an abuser told his partner that he would purposely try to contract COVID-19 to pass it on to her children if she didn't do what he wanted.
The severity of violence has also dramatically increased, Cormier said, pointing to increases in isolation, limited access to outside support and increased sexual violence, all further compounding an issue that was already significant in the province. New Brunswick has the highest rate of murder by a domestic partner in Atlantic Canada, she said.
The event was also the launch for the 2021 Run for Women, a fundraising event in support of the resource centre. Duguay-Lemay is calling on politicians to take action. Long-term systemic change is needed to ensure organizations have the funding they need to do this work, she said.
"The work the Beausejour is doing is really saving lives," said Ginette Petitpas Taylor, MP for Moncton-Riverview-Dieppe and a social worker before becoming a politician.
Jacques LeBlanc, MLA for Shediac-Beaubassin-Cap-Pelé, said he is sometimes contacted by people in need of support he can't offer himself, but is grateful to be able to point them to Beausejour. He emphasized the need for men to support resources like this.
"They [Beausejour] are helping people in their time of need, at times when you can't fathom the situations they are going through," said Shediac Mayor Roger Caissie.
Clara Pasieka, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal