Edmonton pastor Emmanuel Adewusi is used to speaking from the pulpit at his church in south Edmonton.
But this summer, he’s been spending time with a group of women at a house in the city singing songs, discussing Bible lessons, shedding tears and sharing hugs.
The seven-week program at Adeara, a centre for women struggling with addiction, poverty, trauma and abuse, is part of Adewusi’s mission to reshape the conversation about domestic violence in communities where there’s been little recognition of it in the past.
“Within the African community it’s seen as a taboo, you know to be able to ‘out your dirty linen,’ as it were,” Adewusi said in an interview on CBC Edmonton’s Radio Active on Wednesday.
In religious communities, some see talking about abuse as a sign of failure in their marriage, Adewusi said.
“So they’d rather just keep it within their families or try their best to solve that problem, which is fine. But I think there should come a time when you’ve tried your best and should then reach out. But sadly, some of those cases we never hear about it because it becomes fatal.
“I want to draw awareness to the fact that it’s not wrong asking for help.”
At least one in four women have experienced some form of domestic violence, Ian Wheeliker, director of programs at the Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters (ACWS) said, a statistic that has remained fairly steady across Canada over the last three decades.
“So it’s very prevalent,” Wheeliker said.
Domestic violence affects women from all cultural backgrounds, religions, race and income levels, Wheeliker said. Indigenous women, women living in rural and remote communities, and new Canadian status and non-status immigrant women are the most vulnerable to serious violence and or domestic violence homicide, he added.
But it is still stigmatized across the board.
“There is historically and continues even today to be a lot of stigma and a lot of silence about domestic violence,” Wheeliker said. “So we’re trying to get the message out there that you know this is a significant community problem.”
Immigrant, refugee and human-trafficked women often have increased barriers to resources and access to support because of language barriers, Canadian status barriers, and sponsorship barriers when there is a breakdown in a relationship or domestic abuse involved,” Tess Gordey, executive director of WIN House said.
Carol’s House, a WIN House shelter for immigrant, refugee and human-trafficked women, offers longer stays and specialized service needs including supports around spirituality, language, and legal services.
Adewusi, who is lead pastor of Cornerstone Christian Church Of God, hopes to take part in more programs helping women struggling with domestic violence across the city.
“I suffered bullying so I think I have a very soft spot for people that have been abused,” he said
He hopes the fact that he is a pastor talking about abuse, and that he’s also Canadian with an African background, will help victims feel comfortable speaking with him, Adewusi said.
“Sometimes people feel more comfortable speaking to people that they think can reason with them, people that they think look like them,” Adewusi said. “And I’m hoping that I can be that person for them.”