"When I left, I left for her. I didn't leave for me. It wasn't until probably a year later, after many, many hours of counselling that I finally realized that this was better for me as well as better for her."
A brave survivor of abuse came forward to share her story, years after working through the South Okanagan Women in Need Society’s programming, wanting to show others that they too can leave.
Sandra, who Castanet has given a pseudonym in order to protect her identity, walked through her story of the abuse and the trauma she endured. Her voice often shakes with emotion as she relives the experience.
She met her abuser when she was just 16 years old. He was 24.
“I just thought that, here's this 24 year old man, and he's interested in me. And at first things were awesome. He was everything I could have ever wanted in a partner. I ended up moving out of my parents' house and living with him.”
Shortly after Sandra moved in with him, she ended up pregnant with her first child.
“Then things started to get really bad. The emotional abuse was pretty much daily. There were situations where he would become physically abusive with me as well.”
She recalls one intense incident where her partner drove her and their newborn child to the top of a mountain, assaulting her the entire way.
“He parked the car, took a piece out of the car so that I couldn't drive it back down and threatened to commit suicide by jumping off of a cliff. I had my infant baby, what am I going to do, right? I'm in the middle of nowhere.
“This was before the time of cellphones. After that incident, when I finally convinced him to take me back down the mountain, I just agreed to everything that he said that I needed to do, not talk to my family and not have any friends. All of those things. I just agreed to everything.”
That night, Sandra called around to friends and family, finally connecting with someone to help her get to a transition home with SOWINS. She knew she needed to get out for her child.
The supportive atmosphere and assistance helped her move forward.
“To be with women who are going through something similar to what I was going through, and seeing all these women farther along in their healing then where I was, was just so empowering for me.”
While Sandra did return once to her abuser, she found her way back into SOWINS and was able to get the counselling she needed. Most women will return to their partners seven times before being able to leave, because of financial barriers and limited options for a place to live.
For a long time, her abuser would continue to show up at her apartment and contact her, badgering her daily.
“I just had to phone the police. Every time he phoned, every time he came around. Over and over and over again, it felt like Groundhog Day, it felt like every day was the same,” she said.
“I remember one night I was doing dishes and I looked up out of the kitchen window and he was standing right there watching me do dishes. And he was horrible to me, so horrible to me. It wasn't until he got arrested in a different situation that finally the calls and the coming by stopped.”
Sandra was later able to find a loving partner and father to her child, someone who showed her support.
“We will celebrate our 19th anniversary this year. He took on that child that wasn't his own and helped me to raise her.”
"Now I am so blessed and so fortunate that I can take my experience and what I went through, and now I can support women who are in the same situation."
The pandemic has only increased the need for a safe space for women to come to, as local agencies see an increase in domestic abuse and sexual violence calls.
SOWINS has seen its transition house and secondary overflow location completely filled, alongside a lengthy waitlist.
Executive Director Danielle Goulden explains that if they do have an open bed, it’s filled within an hour to two.
"Our phone is ringing off the hook, I've never seen anything like it, to be honest. And I've been in this field of work for a really long time. The amount of crisis calls we are receiving is almost unmanageable, right now,” she said.
“I don't think people really understand the level of need right now, with how many families, women and families, their vulnerabilities have just really been exasperated during the pandemic.”
Stay at home orders and pandemic restriction have placed further barriers for women and children to access outside support services.
“A lot of times women can't see past where they are. And they can't see that life can get better. And I'm living proof that with the right support, and the right people in your life, not only can you heal from what you've been through, but you can also have an amazing life,” Sandra added.
Now, more than ever, is an important time to support SOWINS and their work helping women, children, youth, and families facing abuse and violence.
Their largest annual giving campaign, Share the Spirit, has launched as of Nov. 1.
“We are so thrilled to have a couple of private donors along with the Penticton Foundry who have come together to match the next $30,000 donated to the Share the Spirit of Giving campaign,” Goulden said.
If you want to double your donation to SOWINS and double the difference you can make in the life of a woman, youth or child in need in our community, go to www.sowins.com/sharethespirit or give them a call at 250-493-4366.
For more information on this match donation program, please contact Marni Adams at [email protected]