by Sherri Inouye, BWSS Women’s Counsellor
The transition from adolescence to adulthood presents many challenges for young women. Expectations felt from peers, family, school, media, culture and society all add up to create enormous pressure for young women to look, act and think in particular ways. Girls and women are immersed in these gender role expectations and experience gender oppression on a variety of levels every day. Amidst this, the task is huge for young women to figure out who they are and what they want as individuals, let alone negotiate who they are within intimate relationships. When young women first begin dating it can be a confusing and vulnerable time. With few or no previous relationships to compare with, it can be difficult for young women to know and recognize the kind of relationships they deserve and want. In our society, messages that minimize, trivialize and even condone violence against women in relationship are everywhere and work both explicitly and subtly to disempower women. When violence is normalized and women are objectified it is no wonder that young women may begin to doubt themselves, their perceptions and their right to have respectful and caring relationships.
BWSS Women’s Counsellor Sherri & Daniela
I believe my role, as young women’s counsellor is vital for the emotional, physical, sexual and psychological health of young women. The young women I see may have experienced all or some of the following: childhood physical/emotional/sexual abuse, violence against women in relationship, rape/sexual assaults. Abuse can negatively impact all dimensions of a woman’s life in both the short and long term. Therefore, it is crucial there are services to support women when they feel ready to heal and make changes. In my work, I support young women to better understand the dynamics of abuse, the violence they experienced, and the larger social context in which that violence occurs. Young women I work with already possess many capabilities and competencies that have helped them to resist and survive the abuse. However, they often have not had the opportunity to appreciate and build on these skills and strengths, to make sense of their experience and responses to violence, or to define for them selves what a healthy and satisfying relationship looks like. With information and support young women are better able to explore available options and take steps to: increase current safety, leave an abusive relationship, not return to the abusive relationship, and make empowered choices for future relationships based on their needs and wants. In this way, I believe the collaborative work I do with young women both reduces current violence in their lives and helps to prevent future violence as they learn to recognize abuse and take more control over their dating relationships now and in relationships to come.
Thinking back on my own transition from adolescence to adulthood, I am aware that myself, as well as many of my girlfriends experienced abusive relationships. We never spoke about it with each other until many years later. I wish we had known then and understood the many subtle and confusing aspects of abuse that kept us stuck in those relationships long after we sensed something was wrong. I wish we had known that abuse takes many forms, that it is a pattern of controlling behaviours not isolated moments, that violence escalates over time, and that we did not cause it. I wish it hadn’t been a secret because it left us with few perspectives, supports and options for change. Sadly, violence against women in relationship, incest and sexual abuse continue to be a secret in many women’s lives.
I know it is hard to speak up. I also know how hard it is to face abuse alone. I want all young women to know there is a confidential and safe place to talk and learn more about their experience of abuse.
You deserve to feel safe, cared for and respected in your relationships. By speaking up you are taking a stand against violence in your life.
If you could do something to end violence against girls and women, wouldn’t you?