Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Journal by a Transition House Women's Support Worker

Women's Support Workers are also referred to as front line workers.  This is because we work directly with individuals in need of advocacy and justice.  This work is on the front lines of the struggle against barriers experienced by some of the most marginalized people in our society.  It is passionate consuming work with profound rewards and difficult emotional stressors.  

Most of us are left at the end of the day with very little energy to think about issues of funding and the financial well being of the organizations we work for.  As a result we are particularly grateful when an organization, such as the Canadian Women's Foundation, takes on a fundraising campaign that raises money which we know will go directly to meet the needs of the women we serve.  

Today a community member made an anonymous donation.  It was just a small amount but the staff team immediately began discussing what we might put the money towards.  Despite the team's strong feelings that staff are inadequately compensated for the work we do, every suggestion put on the table was for something that would directly benefit the women we work with.  Just a small donation and our dedicated staff joyously directs it towards making a difference.  This is one of the profound rewards of the job that I wrote of earlier.  What a joy it is to witness so much passion to make a difference in a woman's life.

Fundraising is just one of the many essential levels of work that are needed in order to effectively do social change work.  Front line workers, legal aid workers, fundraisers, justice workers, volunteers, police, policy makers, lobbyists and many others make up the community of dedicated people who do anti-violence work in our communities, in our country and in our world.  Without them we would live in a world where there was much less hope and considerably more injustice.  These people need to be supported in their work and given the tools and funds to exceed at doing what they do best.  This means support at the financial but also the political level.  We need to be acknowledged and recognized as the essential services we are in order to end violence against women and children, violence in our communities and to create justice for the marginalized and the survivors.    

Friday, May 8, 2009

The normalization of violence

In the weeks after hip-hop artist Chris Brown allegedly beat and strangled singer Rihanna, a stomach-turning phenomenon happened across North America: acceptance. U.S. reports showed that in Boston, 46% of teens surveyed said that Rhianna was responsible for the violence, and 44% said that physical violence is a normal part of a relationship.
Wrong. Beating a girlfriend is not a normal part of a relationship and is never justified by the victims “provocation”. However teen dating abuse is on the rise and violence in teen relationships have become common.
What can we do to stop violence in the next generation? What can we do to stop the normalization of violence in youth culture?

Monday, May 4, 2009

Journal by a Transition House Women's Support Worker

Attached to the Transition House is a garage we call the Boutique. Over the years dedicated staff have transformed this garage into a miniature thrift store, full of clothing, bedding and household items. We have such a generous community, we receive more donations than we know what to do with and if it weren't for three amazing volunteers it would be just a jumble. But these three fabulous women keep the space organized and welcoming.

Sometimes the donations go to the Transition House itself. All our bedding, pots and pans, kitchen items and pretty much all of our furniture has been donated over the years. As a result the bedding can be a little oddball but like everything else we make it work. When making up a room for a new resident, it is my little habit to try to make the bedding and linens look like a four star hotel. I hope that when the women to walk into their room for the first time and see it looking clean and bright, it makes the whole experience a little less stressful. So I try to match up the bedding, folding blankets so the small hole or rips don't show, folding the towels the way they do in a spa, leaving a pair of slippers and colour coordinating it all. All I am missing is a mint on the pillow and flowers by the bed. It is a challenge, not much matches and lots of the linens are in rough shape but it is fun and it brightens my day to imagine the women feeling welcomed into the room that first time.

Staff do most of the cleaning at the house. We are working on fitting a cleaner into the very tight budget but it might be months or years till it can happen. We ask that women clean and encourage them to do so, most of the women are great about it, but keeping a large house with up to twelve people in it is a big job. Again it is an example of how just that little extra money can soften the corners and free up needed staff time for advocacy and counselling.

The boutique is even more useful for the residents. Often when they leave the abuser the women can take very little with them. The most dangerous time for a women in an abusive relationship is when she leaves; going back to get her things can be scary and impossible. Police will provide an escort but usually only for personal items. As well they can only stay until they get another call which often leaves a woman five to fifteen minutes to gather her things and/or her children's things. As a result, when the women find out about the Boutique they are delighted and once in the space the look on their face just brightens. For some women it means they will have a second pair of clothing to wear the next day.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

British advert on domestic violence

Have you had the chance to watch actress Keira Knightley’s advert about domestic violence for the British charity Women’s Aid? It is a powerful two-minute video that portrays the actress's return home after a day's filming to be confronted and attacked by her violent partner, who slaps her to the ground before kicking her. The film ends with the message: "Isn't it time someone called 'Cut!'?”

Clearcast, the organization that is responsible for approving ads for British television, has reportedly decided that the PSA is not suitable for television.

What is your response to this PSA? Is it effective? Does it make you want to support the organization?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Journal by a Transition House Women's Support Worker

I was just putting together a proposal for an awareness campaign I would like to hold for the first time in my community. It is called the Clothesline Project and I encourage anyone to check out what it is all about through the website The project raises awareness around violence against women and provides a healing experience for the women. Anyone can hold a Clothesline Project in their community, it doesn't require a lot of resource or funds and has a profound impact.

To prepare the proposal I had to put together some statistics. They still shock me and tears come to my eyes. I am reminded of the Robert Pickton trial, and the still unsolved attacks on BC's northern Highway of Tears: Highway 16 which runs from Prince Rupert to Prince George, where more than 32 aboriginal women have disappeared; some found murdered and assaulted.

I find myself quoting Statistics Canada, "Every minute of every day, a Canadian woman or child is being sexually assaulted". "One to two women are murdered by a current or former partner each week in Canada" and I am overcome with sadness. When you work in a Transition House these statistics have faces. They are mothers, daughters, children, sisters and grandmothers. They are the women I have tea with, chat with and sit with while they cry. The statistics represent people, with stories and hopes and dreams. They represent a little girl playing barbies on the carpet. They say that when this work stops breaking your heart is when it is time to stop doing it and so I am grateful for the emotion. I still feel driven to be a part of providing these women with safety.

It brings to mind a picture I saw in the newspaper yesterday. It was of one of our former residents, standing in a group, as a part of a volunteer program. I was overjoyed to see her and I stared at the picture for a long time. In her face, her clothes, her posture, I searched for clues, insights into her story. Trying to piece out how she might now be doing from this static image. I wondered is she well, is she safe, has she gone back to him or she on her own, is she lonely or is she building a life for herself out of the isolation he imposed on her? She was a woman who had lived in this small community all her life and yet lost contact with so many because of his terrifying violence and intimidation.

Her particular situation made it very difficult for her to be safe or to leave, her home of more then 20 years. A home she had herself bought and worked hard to pay the mortgage on, despite being a single mother. So while successfully raising her daughter to adulthood, by herself, she made every mortgage payment until twenty something years alter she owned her very own home. Her whole life is tied up in that house and yet, due to a short term - yet very violent relationship - she is no longer safe there.

Her ex-boyfriend is a frightening man. She is not the only women we have had seek safety from this particular abuser. Previously a police officer in another country, so trained with firearms, and viciously violent, we are frightened for her safety. Our service was essential for this particular woman. We worked with her and her post traumatic stress disorder and other trauma and tried to build her self esteem. I do believe she is doing well now. I do hope so, and I will always think of her when I remember how valuable the work we do is.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The price of silence

The month of April started with the news of yet another domestic murder-suicide in Calgary. A man stabbed his ex-partner to death in her bed, before jumping out of the window to his death. The woman was a well respected member of the local Sudanese community. Nobody seemed to know she was experiencing serious problems with her ex-partner.

In the past few years Discovery House has seen a large increase of immigrant and refugee women among its clients. Underemployment, lack of language skills, lack of awareness of services and laws that protect women and children, are factors that contribute to the vulnerability to abuse for immigrant women. To address this population’s specific issues, Discovery House’s Immigrant and Refugee Counsellor works with each individual client, weaving a network of support around her and her family.

Often immigrant women that are leaving their violent partners are shunned by their own community, and face a thick wall of silence and hostility. Silence is our worst enemy. Martin Luther King said “Our life begins to end the day we become silent about things that matter”. For some women, silence becomes a death sentence.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Is it the economy that makes them do it?

At Discovery House we have been carefully watching the steady stream of news reports that have been implying a correlation between the economic downturn and an increase in episodes of domestic violence (ie.: We fear that the massive lay-offs, surge in unemployment rate, and overall anxiety over the future of our economy, will be used to justify abusive behavior in intimate relationships. Naomi Lakritz illustrates the point very poignantly in her article “It’s not the economy that makes them do it” published on the Calgary Herald on April 17, 2009 Alberta has been in the midst of a huge boom for the past few years, while also registering the highest rate of domestic violence in all of Canada. Do you believe there is a relationship between domestic violence and the downturn in the economy? We don’t. We believe that, as the world economy plunges deeper in its financial crisis, it will be even harder for women to find a way to support themselves and their children while moving out of an abusive relationship. We don’t believe that financial hardships justify abuse. We do not justify abuse.