00:00:02 Nana aba
Hi. This podcast includes stories of intimate partner abuse and gender-based violence. Please listen with care.
Welcome to Signal for Help, I’m Nana aba Duncan.
In every episode of this podcast, through hearing stories, we learn what we can do when we get a Signal for Help. Why?
Two-thirds of people in Canada know a woman who’s experienced physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. That’s most of us. And I know you want to support survivors. I do too. But a lot of us don’t feel confident or prepared enough to help. And that’s exactly why we made this podcast with the Canadian Women’s Foundation. Together, we’re going to learn how everyday people, like us, can better support the survivors in our lives.
Today you’re going to meet Ruby. She’s from a loving family with strong ties to her South Asian community, and she lives in Toronto. When Ruby went to university and met her first boyfriend, her family supported her when she decided to take the next step.
Years later, Ruby is in court. She gives a victim impact statement, which is over Zoom because of the pandemic.
“You’re ready.” “Thank you.” “You’re welcome.” “OK.”
And she’s speaking to everyone gathered in the court proceeding, but she’s addressing her statement directly to her abusive former partner, and Ruby is able to say so much in just 8 minutes. She’s given us permission to share some of that statement with you.
The biggest pain I carry is that I couldn’t shelter our daughter from the abuse and walk away from you sooner. It saddens me that in our daughters earlier years she has seen her mother being thrown to the ground and punched in the head multiple times. She would get terrified, causing her to run and seek help to members of your own family who turned a blind eye.
It’s difficult for me to stand here today and have to relive all the sad and painful memories. You would call me crazy and tell me I was too sensitive. At one point I started hating myself. You made me believe that I wasn’t good enough and that there was something wrong with me. That was the problem. You controlled where I went and for how long I was out of the house. You would watch the video cameras as if I was doing something wrong. You controlled what I wore and made me change my clothes, refusing o go anywhere if I was wearing something you didn’t like.
I was never allowed to have my own opinion, and if I did, it led to a physical altercation. That was my life for many years, my hands were tied because you know what to say every single time the last altercation took place on July 29th 2020. I was left bruised on both of my arms. I tried to leave the house with our daughter, to which you tried to stop me and snatched our daughter out of my hands, out of my arms because you knew I would never leave her behind.
You were right. I went back inside. Looking at the horror on my daughter’s face when you forcefully pulled her out of my arms, left an image I’ll never be able to shake. I made this decision to leave you quietly for the sake of my daughter while you were at work. I do live in fear because of your anger. Because you have no control over it. I look over my shoulder when I go out. This type of abuse never leaves a person.
00:03:47 Nana aba
Ruby’s story isn’t easy to hear, but it is real. It involves families, people who were all around her during this time she was experiencing abuse. And the story is also about her fierce love for her daughter. And by listening, there are lessons for all of us on how to go from being a bystander to a responder when someone gives you a signal for help. So Ruby, thank you so much for giving us your time and talking to us, it means a lot.
Of course. I’m really happy to be here.
00:04:28 Nana aba
So, let’s start by getting to know you. You’re a working mom of a young child. What brings you joy?
What brings me joy would definitely have to be my daughter. Just watching her grow into the beautiful person that she is, she is only 5, but she has such a big personality. She’s such a creative person, so she loves music, she loves art and that brings me a lot of joy, just to see the personality that she’s falling into. It’s just beautiful.
00:05:00 Nana aba
What about you? What did you imagine your life would be like as an adult when you were young?
I thought, and it’s funny that I say that I thought I would have been married, would have had kids, would have had a great career, in my own home. Just the perfect, picture family with the nice life, but I guess that’s just not how it turned out. I grew up in a South Asian community. We grew up speaking Punjabi, so that was actually our first language that we were taught. Even though I was born here my parents did immigrate from India. In our culture, we were expected that, you know, there’s a time for everything, so there’s a time when you complete your education. There’s a time when you get married, there is just a time when you should be settled in your career. But it’s not that my parents placed those timelines on me. It was just more so the whole community, you know, it was kind of expected, but your parents never said it.
But here I am in my 30s. I’m 33 now. I have a daughter, 5 year old. I’m divorced trying to follow that timeline of having everything so perfect and just with all the chaos that happened, I do feel that I did get left behind because I didn’t put an importance at that time on myself and what I wanted.
00:06:27 Nana aba
You mentioned your marriage. Today, the main story that you want to tell is about how you escaped an abusive partner. You were married and you lived in the same household as his parents. But let’s start at the very beginning of the story. How did you two meet?
We met in college. He had approached me. He was a great guy. I feel when I reflect back, there were a few signs that I should have paid a lot more attention to. Where I felt that he was being protective, very loving. It’s just certain things that he did which I should have taken those proper steps of questioning more. Which would have helped me and the relationship a lot sooner. But, however, I didn’t because I was so invested in this person and he was my first boyfriend. He was my first relationship. He was my first for everything and in my mind I wanted, you know, the high school sweetheart type of story. Where, you know, we meet and he’s the perfect guy and that’s it. Like I marry him, have children with him and we settle and everything’s just so perfect.
00:07:31 Nana aba
What were some of those signs as you reflect back?
Just when I had an opinion or when we had differences, his word had to matter more. What he said would go. And you know, I mistook that for, oh, he’s such a loving individual. Like he’s so invested in this relationship. Like, obviously he loves me so much and so I didn’t take it into consideration that was more so of a power thing. There was this one instance where he went through my whole entire phone list and messaged, all the guys in my list and had asked them, “Who are you?” “Who are you to Ruby?” And they’re so completely caught off guard. They didn’t want to have any involvement in that and they kind of just all took a step back. So, I was kind of left with no male friends. And I thought it was OK because I didn’t see it as a jealousy kind of aspect. Instead, I saw it as of, you know, he’s so loving like he just wants me to be the only person that he’s talking to. I’m talking to. It’s completely fine by me.
I also took a step in terms of not talking to any guys after that. I strictly just cut off any guy interaction like I just didn’t want to disappoint him or make him feel uncomfortable or make him feel like I didn’t love him.
00:08:56 Nana aba
What were your early days of being married like?
Very difficult because I was moving into a family that didn’t really know me. I am an introvert. And I got ripped apart for my personality, for being quiet. It was always a conflict in the household that I needed to put in more effort. Like it would be simple things like I didn’t ask his father what he had ate that day. Or how his mom was feeling after work, after me coming home from an 8 hour day. You know, he would say “Make sure you take care of my parents, make sure you take care of my parents.” And that was always stressed. So, there was nothing more so about us personally or how we could improve our relationship. It was such an emphasis that I needed to put his parents first and everything. After that first incident, when they said that I wasn’t caring enough for his parents by asking them had they eaten that day, had they not, I started asking them all the time. Have you guys eaten? Do you guys need me to make you something? I feel like I put in a lot of effort, but still it wasn’t good enough.
00:10:29 Nana aba
You left many times, what made you leave that first time?
The first time I left was, it was two months into my marriage. It was the first time that he had shoved me against the wall. It was the first time that he was very aggressive towards me, like physically. And it was over the simplest thing like it was over pots and pans, if I look back at it now. If I couldn’t find something, his mom wasn’t a fan of me, and so I was just really hesitant on asking her, “Hey, could you please help me find this?” Because I was throwing my ex-husband at that time on his birthday, a birthday party. I thought I really wanted to do something nice for him, just to show him that I was putting in effort. And then I asked him, “Hey, do you think you can please go help me find this?” He said “Why don’t you just ask my mom?” I said “I just don’t feel comfortable,” he said “No problem.”
He was completely fine. But at that time, his mom had made a comment to him that she was just annoyed that he was asking her. And why wasn’t it me and that kind of set him off. In a way that, “Oh, you’re not putting in more effort with my family.” I was in the room getting ready, he came in and closed the door and you know he got really aggressive to a point where he shoved me against the wall. And was verbally abusive and told me “Just stop crying. There’s people coming over. Just clean yourself up and like, grow up.” And you know, it was always like you need to go up. You need to stop being a child.
But it sucks because I couldn’t leave at that point because I had people coming over to the home, so I had to still be the host of this birthday event that I planned for him. So I had to clean myself up dry with my tears, redo my makeup, and then put on a smile and welcome these people into my home. Like it was just really difficult, over a pan.
00:12:52 Nana aba
So you do clean yourself up. You go through the motions of having the party. And then at what point do you make the decision to leave?
I had called my parents and I had briefly told them the situation. I was really upset and I said “I just want to come home”. I molded it the way that “I just want to come home for a few days”. They said “Of course, you can always come back anytime.” And so that’s kind of what I did and what I continued to do, was go back and forth.
00:13:27 Nana aba
When you left, did he say something?
He would always say that he’s sorry. He would continuously call over and over again, over and over again. And just say like, “listen, just come back home, you know, just come back home now. Things will be OK. I’ll be a little more understanding. I’m so sorry.” And it would just end up that and it would just end up going back and just in the hopes that, OK, maybe things will change. Maybe this is just a one offset thing and things will be OK.
00:14:04 Nana aba
In stories like yours, shame has a role to play. What is the role of shame in your story?
I wasn’t able to see the signs in the beginning. I didn’t pay attention to them and now I’m going back to my parents house and saying that rather than an arranged marriage, I chose this person that I loved. I chose to marry him and I took all these steps to be with this person. And in turn he, you know, he abused me so much. And it’s like it was my decision and it was so difficult to open up to my parents because I carried that shame. That they supported me, when not a lot of people were able or courageous enough to have a love marriage. They’d always be kind of hesitant to open up to their parents about who they were seeing, but the way I was kind of raised and encouraged, it was a lot easier to talk to my parents, definitely. And so, it was just kind of shameful for me that I kind of screwed it up. They gave me such leniency. They gave me such openness, you know, freedom to just be myself. And I screwed it all up.
00:15:26 Nana aba
What makes you say that you screwed it up?
I just feel like I could have seen, I should have paid a lot more attention to the signs and should have walked away a lot sooner. But do I carry any regret? No, I can’t say that I regret anything just because I wouldn’t have my daughter. So, I had to go through all this to receive the best gift of my life, is my daughter and she is the best gift because her being in such a traumatic household with me at that time, it encouraged me to leave.
00:16:03 Nana aba
Ruby, I just want to say you know, I so appreciate you telling us your story and thank you. I’m really sorry that this happened to you. I’m sorry that you had to go through this.
Well, thank you for letting me voice my opinion and my story.
00:16:35 Nana aba
Can we talk about family roles for a second? There are ideas of what a mother-in-law should do, what a father-in-law should do, and you know your husband’s siblings. What could they have done for you in the time that these things were happening?
It’s difficult to say just because it was their family dynamic. They didn’t think that their son was doing anything wrong. It was just their family dynamic that was enabling his behavior and not allowing him to take responsibility for his action. I don’t see that they could have supported me in any way because I had approached them multiple times about it and you know.
00:17:26 Nana aba
What did they say?
It’s OK, it won’t happen again. You know, it’s OK. Just don’t tell your parents. Just don’t tell anyone about it. Just keep it quiet. This is what’s happening in our home and nobody needs to know outside of this home.
00:17:44 Nana aba
Why were they saying that?
They said that if it got out into the community, people would laugh at us and say, well, they have problems. She chose to marry him. This is a love marriage. And now all of a sudden, you know things are going wrong. And so, they said that if you open up, then you’re not only going to make our son look bad, you’re also going to look bad. And so, I just thought, OK, well if they’re saying that they’re going to speak to him, then sure, I guess I can lean on that and trust that they will help sort the problems out.
00:18:24 Nana aba
Did you ever witness that they did talk to him?
There was a time when he was choking me and he had me held up against the wall. My daughter was in the room. My mother-in-law came and broke him off of me. And she had at that time begged me not to call the police or report anything or go to my parents about anything because that’s all they kind of cared about. They didn’t care about my well-being. They didn’t care about my daughter’s well-being. It was more so how do we protect our son at this time? And to a point where she took me down to the living room because she was so fearful that I was going to call my parents about the incident that she made me sit in the living room and said I’m not leaving until you put on a smile and tell me that everything is OK. And I remember he just came back normally and sat next to me. And started acting like everything was OK. It’s a really difficult time because then you’re just made out to think that you’re crazy, that you think that this isn’t right. You know, how does a person get away with all this and not have any repercussions? How does this family think it’s OK? Where they can just sit and go resume their normal activities? And I’m sitting here just shattered and being asked to smile like it was just a really difficult time.
00:20:01 Nana aba
What was going through your mind after that incident?
If I could grab my daughter right now, I would run, but I can’t because I’m surrounded by these people that think that their son’s not doing anything wrong.
00:20:16 Nana aba
You know how when you first meet somebody and like, you just, you fall in love and you love them so much and you like everything about them and then that sort of wears off. When this was happening, like where were your levels of love for him? Around the time when he choked you.
I had a lot of anger, but then they would cry to me. And he would apologize. It would take me back because he would just be so kind. After he would be abusive, he would do such nice things like he would grab me coffee. He would just randomly show up with coffee while I was at work. Or you know, he would give me flowers like there was those little things that he would do for me which would make me really happy. Like, I guess it just didn’t take a lot to make me feel appreciated or loved and he knew this. And so, I would think, Oh my God. OK, things will get better. Things will be OK. It got a lot more difficult and I think I started losing a lot more love when I became a mother. And just knowing that I had to protect my daughter from this person.
There was an instance when she went crying, when he raised his voice at me. She automatically knew something’s about to happen, so she ran downstairs to get my mother-in-law, and she said “My mom needs help. My mom needs help.” And she kept talking that my mother in law’s arm. “Please get up. My mother needs help.” She found it amusing that my daughter, who was two at the time saying Mama needs help. Mama needs help. And she was like, “What’s going on?” And he just brushed it off and said, “We’re just talking.” But a child doesn’t react like that where they’re, like, seeking help for their mom. And so that’s when I knew it’s really impacting my daughter and I really need to get out.
00:22:32 Nana aba
This whole podcast is about helping people respond to others in their lives who are experiencing abuse. What would have helped you at the time?
The resources are there. It’s not to say that the resources aren’t available. I think it’s more so educating people that there is a way out. It’s hard to say because I had to actually get comfortable with the fact of the situation and accepting it and getting out of the denial and learning that there was no hope of change. To open up to my parents, open up to my family about what was going on. And then from there is when I connected with resources and thought there has to be so many other people that are probably stuck in my situation and they’re probably being told that if they do speak up, the community is going to shame them. And that is true. People always have something to say. But more so, life is so short, and especially when a child is involved, it’s traumatizing. I know I really wanted to keep it as a two parent home, but it was more detrimental for me to stay in that environment as opposed to raising my daughter in a single parent home because I see the difference. I see her thriving. And so, I think the first step is just accepting the situation on knowing that you’re not stuck and I know it’s difficult to do, but taking the first step to a better life. Like I’m happy where I am at now as compared to there. I don’t wake up in fear. I don’t wake up anxious. Thinking about, Oh my gosh, what is he going to be upset about today?
00:24:23 Nana aba
Was there anyone in your life who ended up being a good listener who was ready to hear your story?
I would have to give credit to my entire family. They were very accepting. They were very supportive. They listened to me when I opened up and they said no problem and just knowing that they had my back the entire time. The one thing I will say is the last time that I had walked away from my husband. It’s a call that I had with my cousin. She said “Listen, Ruby, now that we’re all aware of what’s happening at the end of the day, it’s your decision. But if you go back, is this something that you’re going to keep doing for the 10, 20 years. For the rest of your life? Like, there’s just so many years that we have to go. We’re so young still. Can you see yourself going up until all the way to 60-70? Just doing the same thing back and forth?”
And that really hit me because I thought, no, I can’t. I can’t do this anymore. And at that time, my mother-in-law was calling me because I had told her, Ok, I’ll try and I’ll come back. But I didn’t show up. I didn’t go back, and that was the last day that I ever spoke to them.
00:25:50 Nana aba
It sounds like your family was a great refuge in that time. It really sounds like a loving place for you.
Oh 100%. And I’m glad that my daughter gets a glimpse of that too.
00:26:10 Nana aba
Absolutely, absolutely. Is there anything left that you want to share?
I do. I want to just make a point that, me sharing my story isn’t me looking for attention. It’s me knowing that at that time, that dreadful feeling, of just feeling stuck. And having the fear that like I was brainwashed by it. And I just want people to know that if they’re in this situation similar to mine, that there’s hope for them to leave. It doesn’t mean that they have to leave their situation right away, but if they could just tell somebody what’s going on, it could help them take the first step of just changing their perspective and knowing that they’re not crazy for everything that’s going on.
00:26:52 Nana aba
What is keeping you going now?
It would definitely have to be my daughter. She deserves the world. And she deserves a mom that’s strong and not in a situation where she’s fearful of someone. Or so traumatized, or depressed, or it’s difficult to be a parent when you’re in that situation. It’s my daughter that gives me joy and gives me the drive to continue. And then just knowing that there’s other people that are probably in this situation like this, like even if it’s just one person, I just want to be able to help people because I know that feeling. I know how hard it was and I never thought it was possible for me to ever leave. I just never thought it was possible.
00:25:53 Nana aba
And it was.
00:27:55 Nana aba
Thank you for sharing your story. Thank you so much Ruby.
Thank you so much for having me.
00:28:08 Nana aba
I’m grateful to Ruby for telling her story, and I know she wants to help, even if it’s just one person who’s been in her situation. But you know, while this podcast is for everyone, mostly I want to talk to the kinds of people who would have been around Ruby at the time that she needed it. How can we help? Ruby said her family was there for her unconditionally and overtime, and that is absolutely the right thing to do. Focus on the person who’s being hurt and our job is to support that person. We need to make sure that we’re not putting our own anger, shock, sadness, fear or judgement first in the conversation.
I learned some of this by taking a mini course on the website that’s been built for us to learn how to respond to signs of abuse. It’s signalforhelpresponder.ca. You can sign up to be a signal for Help responder and join the learning. Journey and take that mini course I just mentioned. Again, go to signalforhelpresponder.ca. You can change the story when you know what to do.
Signal for help is a podcast from the Canadian Women’s Foundation, made by Media Girlfriends.
Producers of this show are Garvia Bailey and Hannah Sung.
Associate editor is Elena Hudgens Lyle.
Post-production is by David Morrell.
I’m Nana aba Duncan.
Please take care of yourself as you listen to these episodes, if you need support go to signalforhelpresponder.ca and click on ‘Get Help’ for links to services and information.
Thank you for listening.
If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 911 or your local emergency services (police, fire, ambulance). For a list of shelters, other services, and information that may be helpful to you, go to SignalForHelpResponder.ca and click on “Get Help”.
When you know how to respond to the signs of abuse, you can change the story. Take action at SignalForHelpResponder.ca.
This project has been funded by Women and Gender Equality Canada.