Ottawa Citizen
Wednesday, December 05, 2001

Burying the ghosts of a violent past

Husband in wheelchair became focus of wife's rage

Dave Brown
The Ottawa Citizen

When her anger turned to a rage she could neither understand nor control, Linda Kinsella became physically violent and had an easy target in her husband, Kevin, whom she could control by tipping over his wheelchair.

She says she's embarrassed by her past behaviour, which locked Kevin into her private hell for four years, but can no longer stand back and watch society shape itself into a belief system in which only men abuse their partners.

"If women are able to do all the good things that men can do in professions like medicine and law and in all other fields, then why is it that we, as a society, deny that women can do the bad too? It is my fondest hope that someday there will be true equality in our society and that domestic violence will be seen not as a gender issue but as a societal one that will end when we work together to stop it."

We're in their home in the Hunt Club area. It's sparsely furnished to allow Kevin easy mobility. He has cerebral palsy. Linda, tall and lithe, often paces as she talks. She frequently pauses in her speech and her pacing to collect her thoughts. Almost always she does this while standing behind Kevin, and unthinkingly puts her hands over his chest under his bright red suspenders. She works the suspenders as if exercising her wrists. Sometimes, as she struggles to find the right words, he places his hands over hers.

This isn't easy for Linda. She's making amends. She's telling her story to bury her ghosts, and to try to help other couples.

"I love this guy," she says, gently slapping his chest. "I think back over those four years and I wonder why he's still here. Well, I know why. He couldn't get away. Tipping his wheelchair was like taking a hammer to another man's knees."

She doesn't miss much. I was guessing at Kevin's obvious upper body strength and wondering if she would have the power to control him. "I lost weight," she says, as if reading my mind. "I used to weigh 200 pounds."

She believes the current war against violence against women is distorted and dangerous. "I remember thinking when I was in a rage that I had full control. In the back of my mind there was always the thought of the telephone. All I had to do was dial those three digits (911) and claim I was the one abused, and I would win. If it was in my mind, I'm sure it's in others' too.

"One night I did it. I had hurt Kevin physically and he had had enough and he wanted out. When he tried to get to the door I tipped his chair. Then I made the call. It was pure anger. I'll show you who's in charge. While I waited I calmed down and realized what I had done. I didn't want to lose him. I want this marriage to work. That's why we got married the way we did." (On Nov. 29, nine years ago, they were married before the start of a Senators' game at centre ice with a full house roaring its approval.)

"When police arrived they told Kevin he was under arrest. I told them to look at the evidence. I was the one who committed assault. They said they were sorry, but it was policy. The man goes to jail. By pointing out how difficult that was going to be for a man in a wheelchair, they decided to leave him at home. But it stuck with me. An officer told him he was under arrest because of a policy and it had nothing to do with evidence. That's just plain wrong."

The 1994 Ontario Solicitor General's Policing Standards Manual spells it out on page 10, item (h). "When there are reasonable grounds, police will lay charges in all incidents of wife assault. In determining reasonable grounds, officers should consider all relevant factors which include, but are not limited to: verbal statements from the victim, physical injuries or other physical evidence of an offence. The absence of a statement may not preclude the laying of a charge."

Problems: It doesn't say anything about husband assault, and "reasonable grounds" is a minefield. Shouting and finger wagging are now listed as abusive behaviour.

That night of the 911 call was the turning point. "Every time it happened, that I lost control, I swore that would be the last time. I knew it wasn't Kevin I was angry at, but he took the brunt of it. The abuse was verbal and physical. I said terrible things, ugly things. But after that night I knew I needed outside help and I went looking for it."

She couldn't find any. Now she had a whole belief system to be angry at. "I went to a therapist who listened to my confession about my physical abuse of my husband, and she responded with an observation: she said he must be doing things to deserve that kind of treatment. I went looking for women's groups that might offer some kind of self-help for anger problems. If there are any I still can't find them."

Eventually she found help through a therapist who ignored Kevin and helped her find the source of the anger. "Mainly things lingering from my childhood. Once I understood that, I found ways to channel and control. I found it helpful to talk about my problem, and met other women who admitted they too were using the telephone threat to win quarrels that had turned into fights.

"Men have no place to turn when a situation like ours happens. We have no resources to help men in these situations. Kevin had no place to go, either to live or to get help."

Life isn't perfect and she still has flare-ups. Recently she lost her temper in a public place and wants witnesses to know she's aware she was behaving badly. What they saw was a woman fighting for control of her own emotions while aiming anger at the person she loves most. "It only lasted a couple of minutes."

Kevin has new reasons to fear those outbursts. They are no longer physical. "I guess my biggest fear now is that I don't want to lose her, or her to lose me."

The Kinsellas are in their mid 30s and both on disability pensions. She has fibromyalgia. They are active members of the New Democratic Party and telephone calls to their home are greeted with the news that you have reached the Coalition for Social Action. She hopes to be a writer and he's a fan of politics. His dream job would be working for pay for the political left.

Linda hopes to hear from women who are experiencing what she has been through. "I don't want to start a club, but I think I can help."

© Copyright 2001 The Ottawa Citizen