A screenshot from an animated video. The shot shows four women and one man. One of the women is in a wheelchair
A screenshot from the Neighbours, Friends, and Family public awareness campaign video.

A new public awareness campaign recently released by the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women aims to teach Nova Scotians about the ways in which they can help anyone who might be experiencing domestic violence. 

The campaign called Neighbours, Friends, and Family consists of four educational videos and three downloadable brochures. Using colourful animation and voiceovers, the short videos teach viewers about how we can all help end domestic violence, the warning signs of domestic violence, services and supports, and the signs of high risk.

The three brochures include information on how to help someone who has an abusive partner, safety planning for women who are abused, and how to talk with someone who is abusive

The campaign is part of Standing Together, a provincial action plan whose goal is to work with community organizations, groups, and experts to build a coordinated approach to disrupt the harmful cycles of domestic violence.*

A screenshot from a video about identifying the signs of high risk. Photo: Neighbours, Friends, and Family/NS Advisory Council on the Status of Women

Barb MacQuarrie is the community director at the Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children at Western University in Ontario, which created the first Neighbours, Friends, and Family campaign more than a decade ago. MacQuarrie said while the centre creates its own resources, many provinces use the centre’s templates to create similar programs, including links to their own referral agencies and resources. She said she thinks the new Nova Scotia campaign is important because people are still reluctant to talk about domestic violence. 

“They still see it as a private matter, which completely isolates victim/survivors and that puts them at higher risk and makes it much more difficult to get out of these situations,” MacQuarrie said. “Domestic violence is not a problem that can be solved by individuals. It requires the care, the support of family members, of community, of friends to be able to make changes.”

MacQuarrie said the campaign could help someone leave an abusive relationship or help a perpetrator understand that their behaviour is abusive and commit to change. She said with the Neighbours, Friends, and Family campaign, many people are starting to see that domestic violence is not just a problem for professionals to solve.  

“You don’t need to be a counsellor, a social worker, a police officer, a doctor, or a nurse to be able to help someone,” MacQuarrie said. “Just to be able to stand with our own eyes, and nothing more than our sense of empathy and caring for somebody, we can help. We may be the critical link for somebody to getting the help they most need to be able to change what’s happening in their life.”  

MacQuarrie said the most useful part of the campaign is that it can help break down the isolation someone who is experiencing domestic violence often faces and the isolation that surrounds someone who uses abusive behaviour.  

“As long as people are isolated in situations and in those dynamics, there’s very little hope for change,” MacQuarrie said. “You really have to break through that. Someone from the outside who sees how concerning that behaviour is. That’s what it takes.” 

While there are professionals and resources such as shelters that help support those experiencing violence, MacQuarrie said people may not feel comfortable reaching out directly to those services or resources. She says it’s neighbours, friends, and families who have the eyes and ears on situations of violence. 

“This is about empowering ordinary people, everyday people, and people from all walks of life with a real simple set of rules,” MacQuarrie said. “Enabling them to recognize warning signs that something might be going on in a relationship. Being able to recognize when a situation is becoming more dangerous. And being able to talk about that. We can learn how to talk about what we see, what we hear, and what concerns us. And then the next step is simple. Let people know what help is available.”

MacQuarrie said people don’t step in to help because of social norms and ignore what we consider private problems, but because also of fear.

“They’re afraid they will make things worse. They’re afraid they don’t know what to say. They’re afraid they will get a bad reaction,” MacQuarrie said. “Maybe they’re afraid they’ll get so involved it will take over their life. I think from the point of view of victim/survivors, they don’t want to talk about it because they don’t want to be judged. Maybe there’s a sense of shame around this happening. The same thing around those using abusive behaviour. They don’t want to talk about it because I think there’s a sense of shame there as well. There can be a sense of if this is out in the open, I will lose a bit of control of the situation. And that’s why the violence happens because somebody wants to control.” 

“This isn’t complicated. We’re showing you have to keep it simple. The one thing we can’t guarantee you is that it will be comfortable. We’re challenging ourselves to step out of our comfort zone and have these conversations.” 

MacQuarrie said she hopes people watching the campaign videos and reading the brochures will understand how a small action can make a big difference in someone’s life. She said the centre often hears from survivors about how the campaign has changed their life, but the person who first supported them doesn’t often know what happened after they reached out to help. 

“Those stories over the years come back to us, but they didn’t always get back to the people who initially did the reach out,” MacQuarrie said/ “It’s a leap of faith to express your concern. If we really come to these conversations from a place of concern, we’re not going to break the relationship. Relationships can survive through an uncomfortable conversation.”

The Halifax Examiner reached out to Status of Women to learn more about the campaign. No one was available for an interview, but spokesperson Christina Deveau sent along this statement:

Domestic violence affects many Nova Scotians and can happen in any relationship. It is important for those living in situations of domestic violence to know that they are not alone, and educating the community is an important way to support survivors.

Originally, the campaign was developed by the Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children out of Western University in Ontario. Over the past year, Status of Women and Legal Information Services of Nova Scotia have worked together to refresh the materials and customize them for Nova Scotians, using focus groups and engagement to better reflect the diversity of our province.

Public opinion polling completed in March 2019 on perceptions of domestic violence in Nova Scotia played a major role in shaping the adapted material. One of the insights from this polling was that many Nova Scotians can recognize the signs of domestic violence and know where to go for help, but one in four people did not know where to turn for help or support for themselves, a family member, or a friend.

 For more information on the Neighbours, Friends, and Family campaign, visit the website here.

*Disclosure: Suzanne Rent is working on another project as part of Standing Together.

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Suzanne Rent

Suzanne Rent is a writer, editor, and researcher. You can follow her on Twitter @Suzanne_Rent

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