YWCA efforts challenge misconceptions about domestic abuse
Thursday, Mar 05, 2015 06:00 am
For Lorinda Stewart, being taken to a women’s shelter 30 years ago may have saved her life.
The now Canmore resident was living in Red Deer at the time as a single mom and working minimum wage paying jobs when she met a man who seemed extremely passionate and told her the things she wanted to hear.
But things went from passionate to extremely physically abusive very quickly and the situation became desperate when a concerned neighbour noticed something was wrong.
“He had locked me in my room and threatened to kill me and I was locked in there for three days,” Stewart said. “I was beaten beyond recognition and my neighbour knew something was going on, but she didn’t know what. She phoned the police and the police said they could not come unless (I) called them, or (I) was screaming for help and I couldn’t do either.
“So she called a social worker who came to the door and when she saw me she was, of course, mortified, so she immediately took me to the shelter.”
At the time, she was not aware of an emergency shelter in the city and it was through making that connection that she began the long process of leaving the abusive relationship, which she said likely saved her life.
“People need to understand that when a woman leaves, that is most often the most dangerous time for her. That is when most women are killed,” Stewart said.
It was not an easy journey either, Stewart said, as there was a lot of work to be done to change the abusive situation. Through counseling offered at the shelter, she said she began to realize the cycle of abuse and how it affected her own sense of self worth.
“People often have the misconception that just because you go to the shelter you are OK; well, it took me 30 years to get where I was,” she said. “It didn’t change overnight and I actually went back and forth a couple times.”
While Stewart’s experience involved extreme violence, she said there are many women who are not physically abused, but mentally and emotionally abused, and who would also benefit from being able to access emergency shelter space and transition housing.
Bow Valley Victims Service (BVVS) director Peter Quinn said there is a monumental range of situations people can experience that can be considered domestic abuse, so it is easy to oversimplify the problem as involving only physical violence.
“I think it is good to come at it from the perspective that it is so big and so prevalent in our society. That it is not one size fits all, there is not just one type of abuse,” Quinn said. “I think there is a massive range of abuse that occurs and there are many different types of circumstances.”
Different situations require different options to deal with abuse and having emergency shelter space and transition housing, for Quinn, would add to already existing programs and services available through the YWCA and victim services. Not everyone may need shelter space or transition housing, but for those who do, it can be an incredibly important part of leaving an abusive relationship that may be getting progressively worse.
For Quinn, a common misconception about domestic abuse is many people who are experiencing non-violent types of abuse don’t think they are affected or know there are resources to help.
“If you think about domestic abuse in terms of relationships, most people at times have difficulties in their relationships and I think at times most people will have some level of abuse toward their partner in that relationship,” he said, adding those behaviours can range in variety, but all show displeasure in a partner in a controlling way. “I think of it more as looking at dysfunctions in relationships.
“Healthy, functional relationships are important and give fulfillment to our lives. If you look at domestic violence in a very narrow framework, it is easy not to think how abuse in relationships and dysfunction in relationships can affect your life.”
While domestic abuse reports to victim services has increased over the last several years, Quinn said he attributes it to the fact society has come a long way and people are more willing to talk about the issue than when he started with BVVS in 1994.
Stewart said because of various misconceptions surrounding violence against women and domestic abuse she thinks it is better to talk about it and share her story to address the stigma and shame women who experience abuse feel. She worked closely with the shelter in Red Deer before moving to Canmore and her experience became better known locally through her daughter Amanda’s Lindhout’s book A House in the Sky.
The harrowing story of Lindhout’s kidnapping in Somalia in 2008 included her experiences growing up and reflected her mother’s journey of leaving an abusive relationship.
It was how Banff YWCA connected with Stewart and she became part of the upcoming VineArt gala fundraiser on March 14 at Silvertip in Canmore. It is the first big event in a campaign to develop emergency shelter and transition housing in the Bow Valley.
Executive director Connie MacDonald said being able to put a face and story to the issue locally helps provide a way for people to connect and provides a way to get involved.
“When I think about community and I think about the strength of our community in the Bow Valley, I often go back to the measure that a true sign of a healthy or caring community is how they treat the most vulnerable people,” MacDonald said.
“As we look to the future … the potential growth of our community and our vision for our community, I think it is essential that we look at how we can support women and children who are living in violent situations and as part of our safety net.”
She said events and discussions about domestic abuse include solutions and what those might look like. A shelter, she added, is an essential last resort, but it is education and knowledge that will change behaviours so one day there may no longer be a need for the space.
“As someone who has lived in the Bow Valley for 30 years, I know the strength of our community and the pride we have,” MacDonald said. “I know we can do a better job than we are doing right now; I know we can provide better services than we provide right now and part of that is understanding the problem.”