Before, During and After: Ending Violence is not Easy
by Samantha Kearney
According to research at the University of British Columbia, even after women have separated from an abusive partner, the violence still costs Canadians an estimated $6.9 billion a year. Led by UBC Nursing Professor, Colleen Varcoe, the study – published in a recent issue of Canadian Public Policy – is the first in Canada to comprehensively identify the spectrum of economic costs for services used by women who leave a violent partner.
Our work at Battered Women’s Support Services (BWSS) confirms that leaving abusive relationships and dealing with the devastating impact before, during, and after is not easy. “What our findings make clear is that ‘leaving’ is not a panacea,” says Varcoe in the UBC media release issued October 12, 2011, stressing that leaving decreases, but does not end the cost of violence to the system. This is along similar lines of women’s safety in abusive relationship. Leaving the abusive relationship does not end the threat and/or the actual violence by the abuser on the women. What we know is that risk of harm increases 6 times when a woman threatens or actually leaves the abusive relationship. So knowing that, at BWSS, the moment a woman calls our crisis line, we assess where she is at…
Does she need to get safe in the moment?
What risk and lethality factors are present?
Does she want to talk about what is going on for her in her relationship?
Has she left and is struggling in dealing with the daily challenges leaving entails?
Often women who decide to leave the abusive relationship have higher needs due to the abusers’ use of various power and control tactics. Such as, over much time many abusers isolate women from their family, friends, and community, not allow her to know or participate in the financial state of the family (e.g., not allowing her to work or know how much or where their money is or having all family assets in his name), or not allow her to be in charge of her own health or cause serious health conditions (like broken bones leading to a lifetime of chronic pain).
Living in an abusive relationship and deciding to leave an abusive relationship are hard decisions to make for sure and so is leaving it.
Once a woman decides to leave an abusive relationship she faces a multitude of often times overwhelming realities such as housing (the house is in his name so where will she live? how will she afford rent on her own?), finances (how will she come up with the money for security deposit on a place? how will she feed her children and herself when all the family money was hidden by the abuser?), health (how will she be able to move around when the pain in her back and whole body throbs from years of beatings? where is a good doctor she can trust? how will she be able to pay for her health medication with no coverage?), legal (how and where does she go to get the process of custody and access going? How can she afford a lawyer with no or very little income?), employment (how does she find work when she has her little ones home all day in order to support herself and them since it is really tough because the abuser is not honouring the child support agreement?), and safety (as mentioned above leaving the relationship does not mean automatically the abuser stops the power and control over the woman thus safety for many women is always an ongoing issue and frightening one).
At BWSS we recognize the difficulties living, surviving, and leaving an abusive relationship all entail. We recognize it is more than getting women safe and in our work we do more than that. Throughout our work, a woman’s safety is always at the forefront whether she is in the abusive relationship or out of it. Unfortunately, for women violence is an ongoing daily personal and social threat.
The moment a woman calls our crisis line we assess where she is at and hear her requests. Through our crisis line and short-term support (victim service team) women are given support in where they are at, help in creating a personal safety plan, contacts and resources out in the community to deal with issues such as health, housing, and finances, and support in dealing with systems such as police, criminal justice system, and MCFD.
Further on in her media release, Varcoe states, “As a society, we must do a better job of prevention, early detection and support for women at risk to violence.”. At BWSS we recognize the importance of intervention and prevention work and we do and continue to be strongly committed to both.
On our crisis line and short term support there is a lot of intervention work. However, our work does not stop there. We recognize the impact of violence on women and their children is not a “short-term” issue. We recognize the critical and essential need for prevention work. Therefore, we offer women long-term counselling that allows them to fully understand where they were at, what brought them there, and where they want to be and offer women the belief, the hope, and support in reaching where they want to be. Women as many know are often the “hub”, the “connectors” of families, communities, and groups thus when we work with a woman we are working with a whole community because as we see and know women go off and pass on what they know to their children, friends, future partners, to their communities.
We support women through the transition and challenges relating to economic independence and the impact of financial abuse through our Economic Empowerment Strategies program.
Prevention work is done in our Aboriginal and Immigrant Women’s Employment programs in which woman who have experienced violence come together and get the support in envisioning themselves as being and building their financial independence and sufficiency .
Prevention work gets done in our ongoing Prevention and Intervention Training progra
m in which around 50 women each year receive an intense, complete, and relevant training regarding working with women who have experienced violence to then be able to support women on our crisis line. Women learn what violence looks like, what power and control in a relationship looks like, the impact of violence, safety planning, history and impact of colonization, working with women who cope with the impact of violence through breaking from reality through perhaps illicit and/or licit substances or by their mind…and so much more.
Prevention is at the heart of our Youth Engagement in Violence Prevention program, that sees us working with a dynamic youth advisory council to develop and deliver violence prevention workshops to young women and men in BC high schools.
Prevention work gets done in all our support groups…even our legal advocacy workshops…in which participants talk about the real issues, what creates such issues, their rights, their power, their community and so forth. When we do public speaks, workshops, groups, and training out in the community, we do prevention work.
The UBC research, as Varcoe stated in her media release, “signals an urgent need for better coordination of responses that integrate health, social services, justice, education, and corporate sectors, and services oriented long beyond the immediate crisis of “leaving.” At BWSS we recognize the importance of ensuring our response and support of women is holistic (meaning working with all the issues and impact the women is experiencing not dissecting her self, the impact ,and the issues in to pieces) and coordinated because the impact and the issues she faces is all interdependent and interconnected thus our response needs to address each of those connections to be the most effective.
At BWSS we have our crisis line, short term support, long term counselling, legal advocacy, employment programs, a spectrum of support groups that go from crisis support to a deeper self/social awareness and empowerment building specializing in supporting women who are experiencing serious distressful emotional impact from past abuse.
At BWSS we work with where women are at and where they want to be. Our response and support goes well beyond the immediate crisis of leaving…we work with women and support them to create and build the life they envision, desire, and deserve.
Read more about What is Economic Abuse?
BWSS’ Economic Empowerment Strategies for Women is funded by: