Death sparked launch of Barb’s Bench program
Denenia Baillie Dobbin sits on Barb’s Bench at the Long Lake Dam Park. It honours her mother, a victim of domestic abuse who inspired others to speak out.
Striking both in color and number, the life-size wooden silhouettes burn bright red in memory of Nova Scotia women who lost their lives in an act of domestic violence.
The figures are adorned with a gold medallion upon which their loved ones have engraved a description of a life taken far too soon.
The Silent Witness movement saw its inception in the United States during the early 1990s before spreading to Canada, where organizations such as Silent Witness Nova Scotia have been working to raise awareness about domestic violence.
Formed in 2004, Silent Witness Nova Scotia displays nine silhouettes, which represent some of the lives lost in the province since 1990 and are part of the organization's efforts to educate and inform.
The silhouettes represent the women who can be legally named under Canadian statute as having been affirmed as official cases of domestic violence. Other cases are being tracked but are pending adjudication. Once adjudicated and the charge confirmed against the offender, those may be added to the number of silhouettes.
Silent Witness Nova Scotia’s three provincial chapters, Pictou, Cumberland and Cape Breton, work together year-round to shed light on the topic of domestic violence. Each October, the coalition hosts its Remember Me Walk, which has as its slogan, “Domestic Violence: If we can’t talk about it, let’s walk about it.” Remembrance walks were held this past October in HRM, Pictou and Cape Breton.
It was during the 2016 walks that the coalition announced the Barb’s Bench Program. In partnership with the Nova Scotia Advisory Council and the Status of Women, the province and HRM, Barb’s Bench is a commemorative program that places benches in memory of women who have lost their lives as a result of domestic violence.
The idea for the benches, which are painted a bright purple, began with the children of Barbara Baillie, whose life was cut short by domestic violence on Oct. 19, 1990.
“She was a mother, grandmother, sister, daughter and loving friend,” said Silent Witness Nova Scotia co-chair Dolly Mosher, who serves as a police domestic violence caseworker.
“Her children wanted to commemorate the 25th anniversary of her death last year, so they created a bench to place in her favorite park at Long Lake, in her community of Spryfield. The local MLA and the minister of community services were so touched by the bench that they partnered with Silent Witness Nova Scotia to create the program.
“These benches stand to celebrate lives, raise awareness and encourage others at risk — and those who love them — to reach out and seek assistance,” Mosher said.
Although the topic of domestic violence has long been a taboo to speak about outside of the home, the past decade has seen considerable efforts made to affect a change, said Mosher, noting that a primary goal for Silent Witness Nova Scotia is to bring the realities of domestic homicide out of the shadows.
Volunteers from a number of agencies comprise Silent Witness Nova Scotia, whose mandate is to give voice to those women murdered in an act of domestic violence. They do so by educating the community about domestic violence and domestic homicide. As a result of their work, more than 5,000 students throughout the province have been reached through its programs and workshops, which are also presented to different groups, including Department of Justice workers, law enforcement, social service providers along with community entities.
One of Silent Witness Nova Scotia’s newer programs is SafePlace-SafeSpace, which was introduced this past year and provides guidance to businesses seeking ways in which to keep their employees safe. The workshop format incorporates two case studies out of Nova Scotia and teaches employers about domestic violence and how its effects on the workplace can extend to productivity and sick time.
An estimated one in five Canadian women either experiences domestic violence or knows a victim, said Mosher.
“Every day I do my job, I’m working with women to create safety places and doing what we can to keep them safe.”
The SafePlace-SafeSpace workshop saw its genesis when an employer approached Mosher to say he didn’t know how to keep a female employee safe from her ex-spouse. “They needed a safety plan to keep her safe,” Mosher said. “He was interested in keeping his employees safe, but he had no idea how to stop further violence from occurring. If he didn’t know, then maybe a whole lot of other employers don’t know how to deal with domestic violence.”
Silent Witness Nova Scotia assists employers with workplace layout and design, physical barriers, administrative and work practices, while advising them on how to create a safe place for employees who are experiencing safety concerns, either at work or coming to or leaving work. It also provides informational posters to place in work areas.
“Often when we are doing safety planning with a victim after a domestic violence incident, she has many concerns about safety at her workplace,” Mosher said.
“Creating a SafeSpace focuses on ways employers can talk to employees about what they are experiencing, whether they are the victim or if they are being abusive and looking for help. Having materials available in lunch rooms or a poster on the back of the stall in the women’s washroom with numbers to call for help goes a long way for someone who can’t safely access that from home.”
“The workshop is to let employers know, domestic violence can be stopped,” Mosher said.
For more information about Silent Witness Nova Scotia’s programs or to make a donation, visit the coalition’s website atwww.silentwitnessnovascotia.ca.
Domestic Homicide in Canada
Between 1991 and 2010 in Canada, 1,249 women were victims of intimate partner homicide.
Although each woman has her own unique story, their deaths, together, reveal many common factors:
Home is not a safe haven, nor is the workplace
Occurs in all parts of the province, both urban and rural;
In all ages, backgrounds and income levels;
Occurs at all levels of intimate involvement;
Ending a relationship does not end the risk of violence;
Women leaving a violent relationship are often stalked;
Younger women are more at risk of being killed by ex-partners;
Women in common-law relationships are at a greater risk of family violence and murder;
Drugs and alcohol can escalate the violence;
Homes with firearms can be deadly for women;
Previous history of domestic violence, past criminal record and mental illness are all risk factors.