One in three women will experience sexual violence in their lifetime. ONE IN THREE. Women are three times more likely to be stalked, and 3.5 times more likely to be a victim of intimate partner violence. On top of that, Indigenous women are three times more likely to be victims of violent crimes and three times more likely to experience spousal violence than non-Indigenous women.
These facts, provided by the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Service office in November of this year, are startling. Today is National Day of Remembrance & Action on Violence Against Women, otherwise known as White Ribbon Day.
At Yorktown Family Services, our shelter for women is a safe space, where women and their children, who are fleeing abusive relationship can go. Our Transitional and Housing Support Program (THSP) offers support to women in the community who are experiencing abuse whether they have left abusive relationships, or are considering leaving. The service is free, confidential, and interpreters can be arranged, if needed. The objective of THSP is to enable women to leave lives of abuse and begin to heal from the trauma of violence by equipping them with skills and knowledge to access existing resources; gain confidence and self-esteem; and become self-reliant and independent. Support and services offered include safety planning and risk assessments, transitional planning for life after abuse, assistance with subsidized housing applications, trauma counselling/therapy, referrals to other resources (legal, financial, employment, etc.), advocacy and psychoeducation.
On average, a woman will leave an abusive relationship 7 times before she leaves for good, according to The National Domestic Violence Hotline.
“ALL THAT GLITTERS IS NOT GOLD,” was Cynthia’s* response to Joan*, an acquaintance who remarked on what a beautiful home she had. Joan quickly and accurately read between the lines.
“When someone has experienced abuse in their relationship, they pick up on it with others,” says Cynthia. “The next time I saw Joan, she discreetly provided me with Evelyn Skeete’s contact information. I mentioned that I was apprehensive about disclosing things about my personal life to anyone only to be left hanging, with no solution. Joan’s immediate response was, ‘I guarantee that will not happen. Go see Ms. Skeete,’ so I took her advice.”
It took Cynthia three months to make the decision to pick up the phone and call Evelyn Skeete, Transitional and Housing Support Worker at Yorktown. “When I called Evelyn, she didn’t get into trying to make an appointment with me; she just said, ‘You are welcome to come right away.’ I went that day and met with Evelyn who shared a lot of information with me. Evelyn never pried. I could tell she had a lot of experience working with women who have gone through similar experiences. She was extremely knowledgeable and she meant business; I knew she could help me,” says, Cynthia.
“Cynthia came to see me and asked a lot of questions at that first meeting, and then I didn’t hear from her for almost a year,” says Evelyn. Over the course of that year, Cynthia worked on creating a plan to ensure that when she left her husband with her two little girls, Jewel* age 9 and Beth* age 6 at the time, she would not be at risk of having to go back.
Cynthia’s plan included getting a job. However, this proved to be difficult Cynthia had been with her husband for 11 years. They had known each other previously in their home country and he convinced her to come to Canada. They built a travel business together over the years with Cynthia working from home. She couldn’t use this experience on her resume, and she didn’t have any references.
“I shouldn’t have stayed with him as long as I did. I excused the verbal, emotional and sometimes physical abuse thinking that he was just going through something. We had our two daughters and it became clear to me that this would be life as we know it if I stayed. I didn’t want this for me and certainly not for Jewel and Beth,” she reflects. A friend mentioned to her that the Personal Support Worker (PSW) training program was only six months and the role was in such high demand, she was pretty much guaranteed a job. Cynthia applied for a business credit card through the travel company as she didn’t have a credit rating. She use this credit card to finance the PSW course. When she was at school she forwarded the business line to her cell phone, picking up calls when she could and otherwise returning voice mails between classes.
During the year after her first visit to Evelyn, Cynthia completed the PSW course, and through sheer will and determination, got an internship at a nursing home down the street from where she lived. She would pick up her girls from school and bring them back with her to finish her shift, every day. Just before she graduated, Cynthia and her two daughters moved in with a friend and at this point, Cynthia went back to see Evelyn.
It was clear to me that Cynthia endured one more year with her husband so that she could become self sufficient. Cynthia didn’t want to rely on any external supports. I connected her to an excellent lawyer who works with many Violence Against Women (VAW) clients. The initial consultation was provided to her without charge. Subsequently, and in time, she paid all her own legal bills,” says Evelyn. She adds Cynthia was adamant about not utilizing any programs. Her intention was to never be dependent. She did relent to going on welfare for a brief time. It really wasn’t a choice. It was the stepping stone toward her independence. She used the funds to finance a small basement apartment for her and her two girls.” After 10 months, Cynthia gained employment with the nursing home that she had completed her internship with, part-time at first, then full time permanent. Within a year she was promoted to a role in the Recreations Department that she had been hoping for.
“I want to share my story because I want people to know about the services that Yorktown offers for people who are in need of help and don’t know where to turn. Evelyn made me feel like I could accomplish anything. I was determined, but even with that, and all the inner strength I could muster, it wouldn’t have been enough. Evelyn has a wealth of Information and experience. She has incredible contacts that she can call on. She knew what I needed and when. My daughters would have grown up oppressed, without a sense of self-worth or self-esteem. The damage from physical abuse was one thing; the emotional and psychological scars took much, much longer to heal. I couldn’t let my daughters live that way. Not if I could do anything to help it,” says Cynthia.
Cynthia’s determination was an incredible driving force for her,” says Evelyn. It was three and a half years ago that Cynthia first came to see me, and it is remarkable what she has managed to accomplish in that time. Things don’t happen overnight, but it doesn’t take forever, either.
*Names and some details have been changed to protect client privacy.
Evelyn Skeete has been working in Violence Against Women Services at Yorktown for the past 16 years. She holds an Assaulted Women and Children Counsellor Advocate diploma. By offering emotional support and helping women apply for subsidized housing, Evelyn enables clients to find a safe and violence-free place to call home. According to Evelyn, “I get to help women grow and move on with their lives in positive ways. We have had clients who have worked really hard to transition from being on welfare to having their own careers and being financially independent.”
If you would like to help Yorktown and Evelyn continue to help people like Cynthia please consider a donation to Yorktown’s Violence Against Women’s Services.