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It took “Sarah” a dozen years to recognize that her then-partner had deliberately isolated her from her friends and family. It took that dozen years to finally recognize the verbal, emotional, financial and physical abuse as just that… abuse.
Having been with her partner since her teens, Sarah didn’t know anything else.
“I thought it was normal. I just accepted it. I even had myself convinced that it was my fault when he got angry with me, that I wasn’t being a good enough partner.”
Sarah tried to “go along to get along” and not create conflict. When he insisted on having passwords to her cell phone and social media accounts, she complied, even though she knew it was controlling. He listened to her voicemails and checked her emails. When he forced her to change from a job where she interacted with the public to a ‘desk job’ because he believed men were flirting with her, she complied. When he complained about invitations from friends and refused to go, she also stayed in to avoid the interrogation and fight when she got home later.
At first, Sarah thought it was normal in a relationship to go over expenses together, even for small purchases. Over time, she realized that it was only her spending that was under scrutiny, even though most of it was on shared household items, while he spent their money without any consultation.
To avoid the yelling and criticism, Sarah worked hard to keep the household running smoothly, did the bulk of the domestic labour and gave in during disagreements. She focused on their three small children, held on to the sweet moments of family harmony when those happened and pretended not to notice the abuse escalating. Sarah grew accustomed to her partner’s “rages”, complete with pushing and shoving matches. Her focus was protecting the kids.
It is remarkable what you can get used to.
Sarah became great at hiding. She hid what she was experiencing from her kids, as much as she could. She hid it from her family who felt pushed aside and disconnected. She hid it from her few remaining friends. She wasn’t close with any neighbours. Sarah hid and shrank and dimmed her light until she started to worry about how her kids would see her. Would her kids be proud she was their mom?
“I used a phone on my break at work and contacted the Rural Women’s Support Program office in the town where my job was at the time. Working out of town made me feel safer that I wouldn’t be seen going in. I went through Intake and was paired with a counsellor. I knew I was lonely and feeling low and partially recognized that I was suffering abuse, but also was still trying to explain away a lot of my then-partner’s behaviour. Talking about the state of everything with my counsellor helped remove the blinders from my eyes. I started to see myself as my friends and family must have been seeing me, as an abused woman under the thumb of her partner.”
Sarah’s skill at hiding helped her to hide her growing awareness of her situation from her partner. She played her part just as before, while slowly planning how to leave her relationship and prepare for stability for her children.
“I knew I had to leave. I didn’t believe in myself at first, that I could independently make a home for my kids that would be free of abuse, but I also couldn’t stay any longer. I worked with my counsellor on a safety plan and waited for room to open at Marianne’s Place. I am so grateful that I lived in a city with an emergency shelter. Working out in the County made me think about how far a rural woman would need to travel for this help. How her kids would have to leave their school.”
Leaving was complicated, messy and hard and took “more strength than I knew I had.” Once settled into Marianne’s Place, she could keep her kids in the same school, keep up with her job and begin the search for housing with our help.
Eventually, Sarah transitioned from the shelter but continued with THSP (Transitional and Housing Support Program) and later was also helped through the Family Court Support Program. She attended group therapy and worked on recovering. WIC counsellors referred the children to their own therapy and helped Sarah with applications for funding for arts and sports activities for the kids.
“My mental health, through leaving my relationship with three small children, deteriorated exponentially in the first year and I would not have had the strength to continue on without my counsellor supporting and guiding me. Women in Crisis changed every aspect of my and my children’s lives for the better. I will never effectively be able to put into words the lifelong positive impact WIC has had on my family.”
Currently, Sarah and her children live in a rental townhome enjoying many household supplies, bedding and furnishings supplied by donors to WIC. The kids were supplied with new backpacks, school supplies, books and toys. She has reconnected with her family and old friends. She and her kids have forged a new community of supportive neighbours. Co-parenting with an abuser is challenging and draining, but Sarah is managing.
“Reaching out to Women in Crisis saved us. Throughout my experience with WIC, I have gained a sense of identity and worth I never knew I was lacking. WIC helped me become someone I and my children could be proud of.”
We want to help even more Sarahs. With your help, we can continue to offer the level of service this community needs from us. It is donations, like yours, that mean we can extend our reach and wrap support around those experiencing gender-based violence (GBV). Please consider us among your charitable giving this year.
Sly Castaldi, Executive Director on behalf of the entire team of Guelph-Wellington Women in Crisis
P.S. – We help over a thousand survivors a year – survivors of sexual assault, intimate partner violence and/or human trafficking. A thousand “Sarahs” who are possibly your family members, your neighbours or the friendly receptionist at your dentist’s office. You know these women. Can you help us to be here for them?
P.P.S. – The Ontario Association of Interval & Transition Houses’ annual femicide list is out. This past year, femicides happened more than once a week affecting 33 unique communities, including Guelph. We lose another life to GBV every 48 hours. The youngest femicide victim was 6 years old and the oldest was 90 years old. Please help us keep our clients off of this list.