When home is a terrible place to live

by Stephanie Sabourin

When I decided I wanted to do a radio documentary, I thought I’d do it on Niagara’s wine region. I imagined myself spending time with local vintners, learning about their culture and struggles while sipping a glass of chardonnay. But a meeting with my news director completely changed my direction.

At the time, the local women’s shelter was in the midst of developing a task force to draw attention to the issue of domestic violence. As my news director and I started talking about the task force, ideas started flowing, and I made a decision.  Instead of spending a large amount of time on a lighter feature, I would delve deeply into a serious issue affecting Niagara.

The two months that followed set me on a personal roller coaster of emotions.  Before reporting on this story, I had no exposure to domestic violence. What really opened my eyes was listening to the range of women — police officers, teachers, real estate agents, and court officers – who were all victims of abusive husbands.

As I learned from one domestic violence expert, many abused women never come forward: Imagine, for example, being a police officer, a person in a position of power and control, who would have to come forward admit she couldn’t control her own home life?

After speaking with experts and coming to terms with the complexities of the subject, I went to a local shelter. Staff at the shelter put me in touch with seven women — six former victims and a woman who grew up in an abusive home and had a unique perspective.

The women welcomed me into their homes, sat down with me over tea and told me about the worst time in their lives. They explained how they became prisoners in their own homes, trapped by the very men they vowed to love for better and for worse.

Our interviews began with small talk as I tried to establish a more intimate relationship before asking the deeply personal questions the documentary required.

The look in their eyes as they spoke about their husbands beating them has stayed with me. They still felt confusion over how the abuse began and how things got so bad. They agonized over how the situation affected their children. More often than not it was their children’s welfare that impelled them to leave. Once the violence went from them to their children, the women packed their bags.

Doing this documentary impacted me as a person, as a reporter, and as a woman.  I questioned myself, thinking about what I would have done if I were in their shoes?  Would I have made it out alive like they did?  As a journalist, I believed that I made a difference with this documentary. So did the women.

Initially, without even realizing it, the documentary shifted the balance of power within these women. No longer were they silent, helpless victims.  Now, they had been given a voice.  They were speaking out, telling their story, and helping others.  Most importantly, they were no longer living in fear.

Hear “Home is where the heart breaks”:
Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V