By Manon Brière,
Housing Services Coordinator at YWCA Montreal

I have been working at the YWCA Montreal with the Residential Services team for more than 20 years now. I can confirm that the phenomenon of violence is something we encounter every day when the participants tell us their life stories, whether they’re taking part in our reintegration program, living at The Residence, in employability programs, our legal information clinic—I could go on.

Violence wears several different masks; it’s not just physical or psychological. By definition, violence, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), is the “intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment or deprivation.”

For example, a woman who is fully financially supported by her partner could suffer from financial violence if he decided to prevent her from living freely by totally controlling family income and expenses. If she wishes to leave this relationship, she runs the risk—more often than not—of finding herself on the street, without a cent, and financially illiterate. Another example might be that of a young woman forced by her parents to stay at home to do household work, though she might want to work or study outside of the home to determine her own life path. Here, we’re talking about family violence.

The biggest victims of violences are women

Unfortunatly, the biggest victims of relation and sexual violences are women. More than 80% of domestic or sexual violence victims are women and girls and one woman on five reported being sexually assaulted before the age of 18.

Over time, I’ve noticed that women lose out on a lot when they’re in a violent situation. We see this daily in the stories of the women we welcome. The effects of violence in the life of victims are:

  • Loss of confidence in themselves and their abilities;
  • The feeling of being broken, of no longer being themselves, and of not being to go back to the person they were before;
  • The impression that all other facets of their life can crumble if they’re not well supported. If incidents of violence repeat, all their reference points collapse, over and over again;
  • The accumulation of obstacles, whether real or imaginary, that rise up before them, frighten them, and prevent them from seeking help.

A whole team for them

That is why our team of counsellors has been adequately trained, so we can support the participants through this long process of healing. I’m emphasizing the term “support” because we advocate for the autonomy of our participants. They do the bulk of the work themselves, while counting on us to support them while they pick up the pieces and rebuild a future for themselves. Through one-on-one meetings with our psycho-social counsellors, hands-on, practical workshops and group discussion sessions, our participants come to the realization that they’re not alone and that they can hope for a better future for themselves and their family.

Sacha*, a participant at The Residence, shared with us how far she’s come since arriving at the YWCA:

It takes a lot of courage to leave these men. Lots of strength, too, and especially, patience. You have to do it for good, because if not, the trade-off is pretty brutal. You leave alone, leave everything behind, and … hide. I’d tried everything before finding myself backed into a corner, telling myself that today, I’ll be leaving this man, because if I don‘t, I’ll be leaving this world.

Luck was with me, because my daughters had understood for a long time and they stood up for me, helped me and supported me. The found a home for women victims of domestic violence, they advocated for me, set things up for me, and drove me there. I was no longer able to do a thing, like an exhausted boxer collapsed in the ring.

I met people who were really kind to me, and who were very sensitive to my needs, and I let go. With kindness, empathy and respect, I was able to start to get to know myself and to sympathize with the person I had the right to be.

But the process to get re-established is long, difficult, and has its highs and lows. To come out on the other side stronger than before, you have to be extremely patient to reach this state of resilience. And without the help of social organizations, different psychological approaches, legal and social help and back-to-work programs, I don’t know where I’d be, because the will to live wasn’t really something I felt every day. So, participating in workshops about emotions, domestic violence, and so on, allowed me to reconnect with what is normal, to see that I wasn’t alone, and that I wasn’t guilty.

The magic of empathy might be what helps us understand our situation, feeling the shock and the pain in the stories told by women who were hurt and mistreated like we were.

Strong and brave women, like us.

The YWCA Plan for the future will let us help even more women like Sacha, as it will increase our capacity to accommodate them in spaces like The Residence. In addition, the new 360 support hub and the navigators who will be working there will allow us to better guide and support women coming to consult with us for different reasons, including violence, whether or not they’re participating in our different programs.

*fictive name