This is part of our Family Violence Prevention Month series. During this month, our activities, events, and resources aim to raise awareness about the impacts of domestic violence and abuse in a collective effort to prevent family violence.
YW Calgary’s Women’s Economic Prosperity team had the opportunity to meet with Charlotte, a resident in YW Calgary’s Transitional Housing Program who has experienced family violence. The Transitional Housing program is for single or lone women who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness due to domestic violence, mental health and addiction, and poverty/life experiences. This trauma-informed and client-centered supportive housing program incorporates a harm reduction approach to support women as they heal and become equipped to live independently and safely in the community. Read on to see Charlotte’s story of strength and resilience.
We are sharing this interview with Charlotte’s permission. For the purposes of anonymity, we have chosen a pseudonym to conceal her identity. No further information will be released about Charlotte or her story, even upon request.
Hi Charlotte, we understand that family violence can be an uncomfortable and difficult subject to talk about and we really appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us. As we acknowledge a month of family violence awareness and prevention, what is one thing you wish more people knew about domestic abuse in Calgary?
I’d like people to know that family violence can happen to anybody, anywhere and sometimes it’s often kept a secret. I know when I was growing up, it was kept quiet and I never told anybody what was happening “behind closed doors” so to speak. The outcome can be quite detrimental to all areas of your life. For myself, I haven’t had a healthy relationship in my life. I’ve chosen men a lot like my father, who were emotionally unavailable and emotionally distant. I also didn’t treat my son well and we had a volatile relationship. The whole picture is unhealthy which is why abuse needs to be stopped – there’s nothing good that comes out of it. Violence impacted me in so many ways and I didn’t even speak about it until just recently, to how bad it was.
I also think it’s really important that people speak to and trust a friend, family member, organization, or counsellor. I think we’re fortunate today that there are organizations and agencies for this, and even schools have counsellors for the youth. When I was growing up, there wasn’t really such a thing and it was kept quiet you know? There was a stigma for abuse and family violence, and there was a lot of shame around it. I think people need to be shown the signs of an abusive, volatile relationship at an early age as well. That way, they can feel better equipped to leave a relationship before it gets really bad. Because once you’re in it, it’s difficult to get out.
Thank you Charlotte, we know that domestic violence does not discriminate and is a global issue. Based on Calgary Police reports, family violence occurs in every quadrant of Calgary. Although some may think that family violence doesn’t occur in their neighbourhood, it does. What is one misconception about family violence that you want to shine truth on?
Family violence can occur in any neighbourhood. From all appearances, I came from a middle-class family with the white picket fence, I went to dance classes dressed really nice, and my father came across as quite charming. But behind closed doors, I was being severely abused. So you just never know what’s going on in someone’s home. It could be the child in school who’s acting aggressively, it could be the woman who’s hiding her face… it could be anybody. Violence can happen to anybody from any race, any religion, middle-class, low-class, high-class – it just doesn’t matter. It knows no boundaries.
I’m a survivor, but my life’s been ruined by abuse. Although I was abused both physically and emotionally, it’s the emotional abuse for me that’s stuck in my mind. I was always told I was stupid and I believed that all my life until I took a law course a couple of years ago. I was reaching a 96% average and I realized then that I wasn’t stupid, but that tape played in my mind all these years and there was a point where I felt there was no hope. A lot of people don’t understand that and think, “Oh that was years ago, just put it behind you.” It’s not like that. It’s only through recent years that I’m getting the help that I’ve been needing throughout my life thanks to my wonderful counsellor and my doctor.
The impact of abuse is certainly long lasting and I’m sure many will resonate with your experiences. Now that we have covered some of the realities about family violence, some may be unsure of how they can make a difference. How can Calgarians get involved?
They can make a difference by educating themselves on what agencies or facilities are out there to help and the resources they have available to offer. If they know a family member or someone who they suspect is being abused, they could suggest to them, “Look, you do not need to stay in this situation. There are places you can go to that can help you and if you don’t have the skills available, these places can help you. There’s places like the YW Calgary that have training. There’s other ways and you have a way out.” I know there’s people like my mother who felt stuck without any other options. My mom didn’t have a good education and she was afraid financially to make it out on her own. That’s really sad because women are staying in these situations. Not only are they affected, but their children are affected. Then if the children grow up in that environment, their children are affected.
In the end, we’re affecting generations and it’s not just this one person. Abuse snowballs into the community and it’s a never-ending cycle that needs to be broken. While I wish my mother had resources and there had been a place to go, I’m glad people today are talking about it. They’re seeking help and I think it’s wonderful there is an awareness month. And that’s the main thing – it all begins with awareness, talking about it, sharing on it, and reaching out for help.
Thank you again Charlotte for sitting down with us and sharing your story. We hope that those reading this interview will gain a glimpse into the lived experiences of those impacted by domestic violence and know that they can make a difference. By educating ourselves and normalizing these conversations, we can break the stigma that hinders help-seeking behaviors of women impacted by domestic violence and abuse.
For more information on how you can get involved, or support the YW’s Transitional Housing program, please visit Ways to Give. Together we can empower, intervene and lead when and where women need us most.