Beginning to Heal
It is widely recognized that violence against women in their intimate relationships is a serious, widespread, costly, and sometimes deadly problem for women, their children, the men who abuse them, and for society as a whole. Keeping Women Safe, 2008
Kate moved into Harrison Place on April 1, 2007, one of the first residents to occupy the brand new facility.
Only a month earlier, Kate’s situation had been desperate. She had left an abusive relationship in another province three years before. “It was the first time I had tasted freedom,” Kate says. But then the stress of dealing with her ex-partner and working three jobs to make ends meet affected her health, and she couldn’t work anymore. She moved to Campbell River to stay with her sister, but the house was being sold and she was soon going to have to move on. There was no subsidized housing for people in her situation.
The turnaround began with a single question from the only outreach worker who responded to Kate out of the long list of services included in the Income Assistance application package: Would Kate be willing to relocate? Kate said she was.
The worker got back to her with more information. Kate met the three criteria for becoming a resident at Harrison Place: she was between 45 and 65, she had left an abusive relationship, and she was starting over.
When the first residents of Harrison Place celebrated their first anniversary of moving into the facility, Kate had a lot to celebrate. Her medical condition has been properly diagnosed and she now receives a disability pension. She has a part-time job as a nanny and volunteers at a local seniors home.
“I feel like my life is just starting,” says Kate. “But I’ve had a lot of help – especially from Transition House and the staff at Harrison Place. I really don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t found this place.”
Above all, Harrison Place is safe. It provides a sense of belonging, of being among familiar faces; it’s a comfort zone. “We are all here for the same reason,” Kate says, “so we have a lot in common.”
The camaraderie is uplifting. “We all respect each other and hold each other in the highest regard,” she adds. “We’re depressed and down when we arrive here, but we soon recognize that things really aren’t so bad after all.” When her three years at Harrison Place are finished, Kate knows she will be ready to move on with confidence.
Kate believes that Harrison Place is important for the community as a whole and not just because there are few or no other services available for women in this age group who are working to start over in the face of a range of personal challenges. “Supporting women like me who otherwise have no opportunities gives us a second chance,” Kate says. “It gives us a chance to give back to the community and that benefits everyone in the community.”
DID YOU KNOW?
In 2005, assault offences associated with incidents of spouse assault accounted for 26% of all police-reported assaults in British Columbia
(Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General, 2006)
In the eyes of the community, M, age 55, was the picture of success: attractive, living in a lovely home, a gregarious husband. But behind closed doors, M’s life was misery. Her partner was controlling of her activities and finances. The constant verbal attacks felt worse than the hits. She always felt like she was walking on eggshells. Nothing she did seemed to be good enough. Somehow he always made her feel that she was the source of their problems. When she was younger, she had thought of leaving, but was uncertain about how that would be for the children. Now that her son and daughter are adults, they are mirroring what they had been exposed to. Their angry put-downs make her feel hurt and humiliated.
She had clipped an article from the newspaper about a woman, age 60, who had lived with abuse and had been to Victoria Women’s Transition House Society (VWTHS) programs and was now living happily on her own. She had re-read the article dozens of times. It seemed that this woman’s experiences were much like her own. It was somehow affirming that she wasn’t the only one who had experienced abuse at the hands of loved ones.
She had picked up the phone to call the Crisis Line several times, but put it down. One time she did call, only to hang up quickly when she heard a voice. But one night her husband had been so cruel in his comments that she felt a desperate need to talk and she called. The counsellor treated her with respect and affirmed this was verbal abuse and it was very damaging to self-esteem. The counsellor explained the potential danger she was in. M didn’t feel ready to leave, but she learned that she could call the Crisis Line any time she needed to, attend individual counselling and participate in a support and education group through VWTH.
One night her husband attacked her in a rage, shouting and striking her hard. The rest of the evening was a blur of flashing lights, police, and being taken to the hospital. After she was treated by hospital staff, M decided to call Transition House to arrange for safe shelter.
The counsellor was at the door to greet her when she arrived. Her tears flowed, releasing years of tension. The counsellor made tea and they sat and talked. Her time at the Shelter was memorable; she met other women who had similar experiences and they would talk late into the night. Sleeping was difficult; there was so much to think about and it seemed at night her mind raced with fears of being on her own. A counsellor was always available to lend a listening ear and help her find her way through the myriad of questions and concerns. Where was she going to get money? Where would she live? She had never been to a lawyer – what did she need to do? Would it be easier to just return home? She felt so emotionally fragile and confused and now wonders where she would be if she had not had the help of the VWTH staff and volunteers. She remembers the relief she felt when the outreach worker helped her find a lovely apartment in a seniors complex.
M found tremendous support from other women in the VWTH support group for seniors. Each week she learned tools that helped her slowly rebuild her life. She went through the Bridges for Women program and is now working. She feels fully alive now and is grateful to VWTH.
Her biggest regret is that her children were exposed to violence. As part of her healing she has chosen to volunteer at the VWTH Children who Witness Abuse Program. She speaks to community groups and is an enthusiastic advocate of VWTH programs.
Promises of a Better Life for Sylvie and her Young Daughter, Sarah
I felt hopeless, with no one to turn to. The counsellors at the Shelter helped me to see that I did have a chance for a new life in Canada, and there are resources… Such wonderful people; without their help I wouldn’t have been able to do much. They really listened.
Imagine a young woman arriving in our country with her young child. She doesn’t know the language or culture, but she is thrilled because of the opportunities that have been promised to her.
Sylvie and her future husband met through the internet. After many months of correspondence and visits by her fiancé to her country, she was promised a beautiful life with a man who said he loved her. With only three weeks of English classes, she accepted her partner’s proposal and commenced her journey, looking forward to life in a new country full of happiness and opportunity. Sylvie moved to Canada confident about her future.
Six months later Sylvie found herself walking the streets of Victoria searching for work and a place to live with her daughter, Sarah. The partner she thought would be the love of her life had “turned out to be a different person.” He denied her basic needs such as medical care and grocery shopping. He gained access to her finances including her child tax benefit and then allowed her only a small living allowance. The daily verbal abuse, isolation and neglect were heartbreaking and the tension and threats of physical abuse were traumatic.
As in society generally, some immigrant women are developing relationships over the internet and additionally may meet partners through overseas marriage “brokers.” Some, like Sylvie, may be lured to Canada with the promise of a better life, but find themselves isolated, alone and in an abusive relationship.
Thankfully, Sylvie’s story has a positive ending. Sylvie overheard a family speaking her language at a bus stop. Feeling very alone and scared, she introduced herself. The family immediately helped her to contact the Intercultural Association who helped her call the Crisis Line at Victoria Women’s Transition House Society. Sylvie and her daughter came to the Shelter where she learned she had other options; she did not have to live a life of abuse.
As a result of their Shelter stay and the ongoing support of Shelter counsellors, this family has secured safe, affordable housing, learned to access basic needs such as medical care and education, and has achieved simple but essential life skills. New supportive relationships in the community will ensure successful integration and achievement of those early dreams of happiness and opportunity.