Nathalie Godbout's letter on domestic violence sparks dialogue

A Saint John lawyer's account of witnessing intimate partner violence has struck a chord on social media.

'I'm worried about you': Nathalie Godbout hopes letter reaches woman she encountered on New Year's Day

Saint John lawyer Nathalie Godbout's account of witnessing intimate partner violence was shared over 2,300 times, with an estimated reach of 250,000 people. (Sarah Trainor/CBC)

A Saint John lawyer's account of witnessing intimate partner violence has struck a chord on social media.

Earlier this week, Nathalie Godbout wrote an open letter to a woman she encountered at a hotel in New Brunswick on New Year's Day.

As she and her family were packing to check out, there were alerted to yelling across the hall in Room 805.

"There were loud sounds and then muffled sounds, all telling for both a verbal and physical violence," Godbout wrote in her post on Facebook, which has been shared over 2,300 times.

"He was getting more and more agitated, and we quickly figured out that he was directing his rage at someone. At you."

Godbout says she ushered her children to another corner of her suite and called the front desk, instructing them to phone the police.

She was left speechless and shaken to learn police were not called. Instead "a boyish young manager" from the hotel appeared and knocked on the door of a neighbouring room where housekeeping was cleaning.

When the couple emerged, Godbout made eye contact with the woman for a brief moment, and asked if she was OK.

I can only begin to imagine how you were feeling in that moment. Scared. Trapped.- Nathalie Godbout

"I can only begin to imagine how you were feeling in that moment. Scared. Trapped. Exhausted from all the emotional blackmail you were enduring," Godbout wrote.

"I want you to know I saw you that day.You have not left my thoughts since. I'm worried about you, and I want to help in anyway I can."

Godbout set about writing her letter shortly after her return home when she had time to think about their chance meeting.

She said she was compelled to get out the message that intimate partner violence needs to be confronted.

"This is an epidemic. It doesn't get shared to [a reach of] 250,000 people because it doesn't sound familiar. It sounds too familiar," Godbout said Friday in an interview on Information Morning Saint John.

"These women are essentially being held either as physical or psychological hostages in their own homes and we are not sending in a SWAT team. And that bothers me."

Bystander guilt

Godbout said she had a long talk with the manager, who admitted he would have phoned police had he been told someone was trying to break into room 805.

She says she has also been challenged by critics for not calling for assistance herself. She says she accepts that response and vows to do better next time.

Lawyer Nathalie Godbout still thinks about the woman in hotel room 805, and has learned more about the prevalence of intimate partner violence. 17:27
"That moment in time when you think you're going to be a hero and you're not is a very humbling experience," Godbout said.

"It was at least in part due to the fact that the manager was hesitating. He's looking at me going, `Well wait, what did you hear?' As if there had to be some sort of massive investigation before we determined it was OK to call police."

Godbout says since the encounter, she's been educating herself on how bystanders can help victims of intimate partner violence.

And she's received hundreds of emails from women who have shared their own experiences with family violence.

"[They're] sharing some of the most incredible stories I've ever read, stories of courage and fear and vulnerability," said Godbout.

Reaching out is a very impactful thing, it'll make a difference in that person's life. So if it's not the woman in Room 805, it's someone just like her.- Nathalie Godbout

"[It] isn't about 'Oh, what happened to me,' it's a story of everything I'm doing to survive it and be the person I am today with this story as part of my narrative."

Several others have reached out with stories about failing to confront situations of domestic violence.

"You see something and you can't unsee it," she said.

"My husband expressed it best, he said, 'You and I were scared for five minutes … and that person in Room 805 feels like that all time time.'"

Statistics Canada reported that there were 1,426 victims of police-reported family violence in New Brunswick in 2013, which was a rate of 190.1 victims per 100,000 people. The Canadian average was 195.6 victims per 100,000.

In 2012, a Statistics Canada report indicated the family violence rate in Saint John was 420 victims for every 100,000 people compared to the national average of 294.

Godbout says she can't "close the book" on the New Year's Day experience until she hears directly from the woman in Room 805. She has corresponded with some people who think they know her.

"So I've been having these conversations over and over with people who now feel a more intense need to look in on someone that they maybe just only wondered about before, so that is progress," she said.

"Reaching out is a very impactful thing, it'll make a difference in that person's life. So if it's not the woman in Room 805, it's someone just like her."

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