Charity Spotlight: This post was provided by Sandra Hawken, Director, Engagement & Partnership at Interval House as part of our ongoing charity spotlight series.
Everywhere you turn, there seems to be another story about domestic violence in the news. From celebrities like Ray Rice, Jian Ghomeshi, and Bill Cosby, to everyday stories of violence against women—domestic violence is a worldwide epidemic.
At Interval House, Toronto’s first domestic violence shelter, we believe victims of violence need “alternate endings,” so they can live happy, peaceful, and successful lives. Through our advocacy programs, we created a viral video with this message in response to the prominent domestic violence cases in the media. We want to empower women, so that survivors of domestic violence can create those alternate endings.
But there’s a lot of work to do. With a Canadian Women’s Foundation survey showing that 67 percent of Canadians personally know a woman who has experienced physical or sexual abuse, you may feel there’s nothing you can do to assist someone you know living with domestic violence. But you can help.
What can I do?
Here are some steps you can take to help create an alternate ending for a friend or family member living in a violent situation:
Be there for her. As a friend or family member, one of the best things you can do is to listen non-judgmentally if she wants to talk about the violence, and provide support. Offer your help, but take cues from her and don’t do anything that makes her uncomfortable. If she chooses not to talk about it, let her know that you are concerned for her safety and reassure her that she doesn’t deserve to be treated this way. Most of all, believe her—this is one of the most important steps to helping her.
Don’t judge. It’s extremely difficult, and possibly dangerous, to leave an abusive situation. So, if your friend or family member chooses to stay with her abuser, it’s important not to be judgmental, and continue to support her by being willing to listen.
Help her connect. You can help her connect with her community agency or local women’s shelter. But it’s critical to always keep her safety top-of-mind. This means never talking about the abuse in front of the abuser. If you can speak up safely, then possibly try to do so. But refrain from giving her materials about abuse, where the abuser can find them. Also, do not leave voicemails or emails, because they may be discovered by the abuser—potentially putting her in danger.
Be aware of her safety. If you suspect she is in immediate danger, call 911 or your community’s emergency number. You can also call your local women’s shelter or crisis centre (see the front pages of your telephone book), and talk confidentially with an emergency counsellor. In Toronto, contact the Assaulted Women’s Helpline at 416-863-0511, or Interval House at 416-924-1491.
Prepare yourself. Get prepared by learning about the resources in your community—including emergency services, women’s shelters, crisis hotlines, and sexual assault centres—by searching the front pages of your telephone directory or online.
Creating Alternate Endings at Interval House
Interval House helps promote alternate endings through our residential programs, advocacy and leadership, and community programs such as Building Economic Self-Sufficiency (BESS). When a woman joins BESS, she receives training and skills to rebuild and transform her life, such as performing a job search, writing a resume and cover letter, and getting ready for a job interview. Through our Career Boutique, she can begin to build her professional wardrobe; choosing clothes to wear at work or to job interviews that make her feel confident.
The BESS program helps to change lives by setting women on the path to success. Just ask Gessell.
Gessell, a BESS graduate, is a domestic violence survivor and mother of a teenaged son. She dreamed of having her own cleaning business. Although she had a business license, she lacked the tools to successfully jumpstart her company. A friend told her about the BESS program, and she signed up.
Through BESS, Gessell learned fundamental skills to help her professionally and personally. She says BESS has helped her to become a better parent, and motivated her to secure her future business success.
Like all of our BESS graduates, Gessell continued to work with our Job Developer after completing the program, to create a customized career plan. She received help with branding, mission/vision statements, her website, and marketing and business plans. In the future, Gessell sees her business expanding through franchise opportunities, and thriving in a market with million dollar potential.
At Interval House, we’ve been working to help many women like Gessell create alternate endings. Learn more about Interval House on its charity profile page»