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A safe haven: Chiwid Transition House helps victims of domestic violence

Domestic violence victims face obstacles in fleeing abusive situations, but there’s help

For women seeking shelter from domestic violence, Chiwid Transition House in Williams Lake is a safe, non-judgmental refuge.

In 2019, 358,244 people in the country reported violence to police, according to Statistics Canada. Of these, 30 per cent were abused by an intimate partner and 79 per cent of victims were women. Domestic violence has been identified as a public health issue in The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 2012.

Black Press Media sat down with Jenna Seymour, the social programs supervisor at the Cariboo Friendship Society (CFS), to learn about barriers women face when leaving domestic violence and what the transition house provides.

Housing affordability and availability are a problem within the Cariboo, with availability especially limited in rural communities, said Seymour. The Canadian Rental Housing Index ranked the Cariboo as being severely unaffordable, with basic rentals in 2021 ranging between $1,000-$1,249 a month.

With many Cariboo communities spread out, transportation is another obstacle. The further taxis travel, the more limited their availability, and busses only run in certain routes and communities. To help with this, a Chiwid vehicle is available to pick up women and their children in crisis.

Other barriers include the feelings a victim may have for their abuser, making it difficult for them to leave. This is due to abusers being significant people in the victims’ lives, including partners, parents, siblings, friends and roommates. Victims may also remain hopeful about the future, believing their abuser will change or the violence won’t happen again.

Many victims are embarrassed by their situation, causing them to remain quiet in an effort to protect their reputations. Seymour noted that domestic violence can happen to anyone.

“A lot of people that we deal with are embarrassed that they’re in this position. You always say it’s never going to be you.

“In a small community, we know or maybe have interacted with some of the clients that are coming to the house in our personal lives, so there is that worry that people will find out that they’re accessing it.”

To protect victims and maintain their anonymity, Chiwid staff members sign a confidentiality agreement and the transition house has extensive security measures. These include not sharing the location of the transition house, location services on technology devices turned off, screened phone calls, not confirming or denying if someone is at the house, cameras, locked doors and gates, high fencing, intercom systems and panic buttons to the RCMP.

Another obstacle for someone to leave an abusive relationship is a victim’s economic security, whether going from a two-income household to one or being a stay-at-home parent with no self-income. This includes individuals living with their parents. Additionally, the cost of living is high. To help alleviate these costs, the CFS works with individuals in setting up income assistance or social security.

The threat of harm – whether the abuser is threatening to harm themselves or the person seeking to leave the home – may prevent an individual from leaving domestic violence.

Women may also be afraid of losing custody of their children, a fear held especially among Indigenous women, Seymour said.

Currently, there’s a class-action lawsuit against the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) and its use of birth alerts. Hospitals were required to notify social workers when a baby was born to a parent deemed unfit, often without the parent’s consent. These birth alerts disproportionately affected Indigenous women, with data from the MCFD revealing that in 2018, 57.6 per cent of birth alerts were made about Indigenous mothers.

A statement put out by Katrine Conroy, the minister of child and family development, said this practice ended in 2019 and that going forward, birth alerts would only be given with the consent of the parents. Conroy’s statement admitted birth alerts were primarily issued for marginalized women, especially Indigenous women, causing trauma.

Seymour noted immigrant women face difficulties leaving domestic violence, whether due to language barriers or domestic violence not being as widely discussed in their culture. As such, CFS offers translation services.

The Chiwid Transition House is available to all women and their children and is set up as a home environment with a fully stocked kitchen, beds, private rooms for families and indoor and outdoor play areas for kids. The house is open 24-7.

“We are welcoming them into a home,” said Seymour, noting it is not a dormitory-style, sterile environment.

Along with housing, Chiwid provides childcare three days a week, offering victims respite or time to attend appointments. There is a clothing room with clean and free clothes and toys. There is no-cost counselling and transportation available.

Chiwid also has 24-hour support workers available to accompany victims to appointments, help them find housing or fill out paperwork for legal forms, new identification or switching bank accounts.

“People that come to us are so brave,” said Seymour, who also explained Chiwid serves women from everywhere, including out of province. She thanked the community for their support and all those who donate to the CFS.

“We wouldn’t be able to do this without them.”

Along with the transition house, CFS offers an emergency shelter for all genders.

Here are some numbers you can call if you are experiencing domestic violence or crisis.

Chiwid Transition House: 250-398-5658

The Cariboo Friendship Society: 250-398-6831

RCMP Victim Services: 250-392-8709

Canadian Mental Health Association: 250-398-8220

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