Better support needed for victims of domestic violence

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November is Women Abuse Prevention Month in Ontario and there are several campaigns going on throughout the province to raise money and awareness for violence against women.

The Ontario Association of Interval and Transition houses has launched a campaign called Wrapped in Courage, encouraging people to buy a special purple scarf or tie in support of their local shelter. Scarves and ties can be purchased locally at Geronimo, in downtown Kemptville, supplied by Leeds and Grenville Interval House in Brockville. “The purple scarf is a symbol of the courage it takes a woman to leave her abuser,” it says on the Wrapped in Courage website. “However, courage is not enough. It takes the strength of an entire community to end violence against women.”

As a woman who endured a 15-year abusive relationship, KC agrees that it takes much more than courage for a woman to leave her abuser. In fact, it takes a lot of support, which she says many women don’t have.

Throughout her relationship, which was physically, emotionally, and sexually abusive, KC says she tried to leave many times. Each time she reached out for help, she was met with road block after road block, forcing her to return to her abuser in the end. “I have been in shelters, dealt with the police and Victim Services,” she says. “It’s like running around on a hamster wheel.”

KC was finally able to leave the relationship for good after her mother provided her with a house where she and her three children could live. KC says that, without that leg up, she would not have been able to escape her abuser using the services that are currently available in the community. “When you call, you get nowhere,” she says. “You’re like a rat in a maze that never ends.”

While domestic violence can happen to anyone, there is a serious problem with the system that is meant to help lower income women. KC says that organizations like Victim Services have nice brochures, but don’t give women any concrete help when it comes to actually leaving their abusive relationship. While shelters are a first step, they are by no means a permanent solution, and, if there are kids involved, it can be a legal nightmare if they are outside of the district where their father resides. KC says low income women are often given a legal aid to help thenm gain distance from their abusive partner. Unfortunately legal aid cases are low priority for lawyers and often if the case is not straightforward time runs out before anything is resolved. This sets them up for failure when it comes to getting restraining orders, or custody of their children. “It happens to poor uneducated women frequently who are not able to speak for themselves properly,” she says. “There is nothing to lift them up and actually help them.”

KC doesn’t think that women trying to leave an abusive relationship need to be coddled. The issue is often that they lack the confidence they need to escape their abuser, and need someone to take control of the situation and give them the concrete steps they need to take to make a change. “They need to be told directly how they can help themselves, and why they are feeling the way they are,” she says. “They need someone to give them a ladder to climb, and make sure they climb it.”

Unfortunately, the current system often victimizes women. KC says she has a friend who is afraid of the authorities who should be helping her, because of the experience she has had with them. Women are put in charge of doing everything, while their abuser sits back and often gets off scot free. “They don’t need sympathy, they need a concrete way out,” KC says. “They need to be pushed. It may seem counterintuitive, but honestly, that’s what they need.”

KC also sees a lot of issues with social movements like #MeToo, which took social media by storm last fall. She believes it only had an impact for the more affluent portion of the population and did little to affect change in the services offered to the people who need it most. She says it is also dangerous, because the popularity of the movement might cause certain women to be dishonest about their experiences, invalidating women like herself. “I have issue with movements, because anyone out there can throw down,” she says. “I’ve stayed far away from it.”

KC believes that many people don’t understand all the moving parts that are involved in leaving an abusive relationship. There is a lot of fear involved. Women in these situations are fearful of losing their children, having nowhere to live, and even for their life. “People think you are stupid if you stay in that situation,” she says. “There is no way to understand, unless you have been through it.”

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