It can start as simply as words. It can end in violence, even death.
Domestic abuse affects one of every two women in this country. And that doesn’t include children.
There are resources in Peterborough to help women to leave unhealthy relationships. However, navigating the system can often be an insurmountable challenge — especially in the face of a broken relationship, physical injury, emotional scarring, and limited financial resources and freedom.
“The sad truth about domestic and sexual violence is that it’s way more common than we think,” says Jennifer Martin, START and Family Court Support Co-ordinator with the YWCA Peterborough Haliburton.
Half of all women over the age of 16 will experience domestic or sexual violence. At the extreme, every six days a woman in Canada is murdered by her partner.
YWCA’s START (Support Team for Abuse Response Today) program was launched with the help of donors, government and Trillium funding in 2013 as a hub to bring services under one roof.
Martin explains the program evolved from a YWCA research project that found women fleeing violence were too often faced with a confusing web of services — so confusing, in fact, that they were sometimes too overwhelmed to seek help. They were left with questions like “How do I get started?”, “How do I even know if my relationship is abusive?”, “Who can help?”, and “How do I find them?”
“We recognized there were wonderful services in the community,” Martin says, “and the YWCA could help women navigate to those services by bringing representatives from each of them here, under one roof.”
Now, each Monday, representatives from eight local agencies convene at the YWCA’s office on Simcoe Street — located between the two bus stations in downtown Peterborough — ready to help any woman over the age of 16 who has questions or needs support.
“The beauty is that you may not know what help you need, but you can start at the YWCA on any Monday morning,” Martin says.
Help can look different for each woman. Some women have said they feel START helped them identify that their partner’s behaviour was indeed abusive. For others, Martin says, it did nothing short of saving their lives.
START continues to run as a donor-funded program at the YWCA on Simcoe Street every Monday, where on-site staff include a domestic violence specialist from the Children’s Aid Society, a YWCA court support worker, a YWCA outreach worker (to help with coaching and transitional housing), a nurse from Peterborough Regional Health Centre, a representative from victim services for the county and one from the victim witness assistance program, and a lawyer.
In addition to on-site staff, available by phone every Monday are representatives from The Elizabeth Fry Society, Legal Aid, Peterborough Lakefield Community Police Victim Services, and the City of Peterborough’s Social Services Department.
START staff can offer safety planning, nursing assessment, medical information, family court information, admission to safe shelter, information about making a police report, counselling, Children’s Aid support and advice, applying for social assistance, and more.
The growing number of visits since the program’s 2013 launch reveals how many women in the community need help escaping from domestic and sexual violence. In that first year, the program saw 128 visits. That number grew to 143 visits in 2014 and, last year, to 255 visits. This year, YWCA is projecting more than 450 visits.
The program’s growth, Martin says, speaks for itself.
“We are at least a couple of generations away from the end of domestic and sexual violence,” she says.
And the response she gets from women who access START indicates the service is invaluable.
“They say ‘I can’t tell you how much this helps, thank you!'” Martin says. “That’s confirmation that it matters that we’re all here together.”
For more information on the START program, visit ywcapeterborough.org/start.