Shelter Awareness  

Do I stay or leave?



What does a woman do when she realizes that her physical and emotional safety, or that of her children, is at risk, not on the streets, but within their own home? What does she do when the danger comes, not from a menacing stranger “out there”, but rather from an intimate partner, her partner, the one she believed would love, honour and cherish her? What does she do when she can't ignore the damage resulting from the vicious and unpredictable verbal and physical attacks he inflicts on her – and on their children? What does she do?

Every woman living in an abusive relationship, must answer this question and a host of related questions as she struggles to deal with her situation. “What do I do? Do I tell my family? Do I tell a friend? Should I call the police? If I call them, what will they do? If I ask for help will it make things worse? Do I give him another chance? Do I pretend it didn’t happen? Do I stay? Do I leave? If I go, where will I go? Will he really hunt me down? Will he really take the kids? How will I support myself? Could I really survive on my own?” And again and again, “how can I possibly stay, but how can I ever leave?”

Every woman living in an abusive relationship must deal with the questions, and every woman living with abuse must find the answers - her own answers.

Women stay in abusive relationships – or leave and return to them - for a variety of reasons. Most would say that they love their partner and that they don't want the relationship to end, they simply want the abuse to stop. And there is often hope that things can be better- his apologies after an incident, his promises that “things will be different” and “it won’t happen again”, the good times when he's caring and considerate and fun. Women often say, “When he's bad, there's no one worse, and when he's good, there's no one better! If we could just keep the good times, it could be great.” It's those extremes in the relationship and the dream of what could be that serve to keep a woman hooked in and hoping, often long after she knows deep down inside that it's never going to be okay and he just won't ever change – no matter how hard she tries, no matter how much she gives or how many times she gives him “just one more chance”.

When the abuse has finally destroyed all hope for the relationship, fear and damage to her self-esteem can keep her there, fear of him and what he will do, fear that he will follow through with his threats, fear of the unknown and of her ability to deal with all the practical challenges. If she leaves where will she go? How will she feed, clothe, house and provide for herself and the children?

When a woman decides to reach out for help, there is almost always a pivotal moment that finalizes the decision in her mind and leads her to take action. For some, it's knowing that she probably won't survive his next assault, for others, it's the terror in their children’s eyes as they cower before him, for others it’s simply the final loss of any remaining love or respect for him. For one woman, it was the day her four-year-old spit in her face and called her a filthy name – just like his daddy - and she saw in that instant the future man he would become if she stayed.

Whatever leads a woman to reach out for help and whenever it happens, it is essential that the help and support she and her children need are readily available. And help is available through the Kelowna Women’s Shelter.

A woman does not have to leave the relationship or involve police in order to access the continuum of services that the Kelowna Women’s Shelter offers. Generally, accessing service begins with a phone call and contact with an Outreach or in-house counsellor who can provide validation, support, information, referrals and help with decision-making and safety planning.

If a woman finds it necessary to leave the relationship, the Kelowna Women’s Shelter provides safe accommodation, including food, transportation and childcare as well as counseling, support, information, advocacy and referrals. Additionally, on-going follow-up supports are available to assist a woman and her children in transitioning to a new life free from abuse.

Abuse is never okay… asking for help is. If you need help or know someone who does, please call the Kelowna Women’s Shelter at 250-763-1040. All services are free of charge and confidential.

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About the Author

April, 2011 marks the 31st anniversary of the day the Kelowna Women’s Shelter opened its’ doors to offer counselling, support and a safe residence for women and children whose lives have been impacted by family violence, abuse and significant crisis. The Kelowna Women’s Shelter is a place of refuge for women who are not safe in their own homes, women who have been beaten, traumatized, threatened, and have fled in terror from a partner. Our staff and volunteers provide services to women and children in the area boundaried by Oyama to the North and Peachland to the South. For more information visit kelownawomensshelter.ca or call 250-763-1040

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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