by Ronda Payne/Special to the Langley Advance
In the current housing situation, where reasonable rent is hard to come by, the usual topic of discussion is how to ensure affordable places to live for young people, single parents or seniors. Seldom does anyone talk about one of the groups most in need of affordable, available housing – those escaping domestic violence.
Laurie Parsons, executive director of Ishtar Society (an organization dedicated to eliminating violence against women) knows all too well how difficult it can be to leave a domestic abuse situation. She sees it every single day, right here in Langley.
Add to the problem the current housing shortage and it’s a recipe for disaster. One of Ishtar’s clients, Jane [not her real name] experienced the push/pull of needing to leave a violent situation but facing uncertainty around where to get the support she required.
“Honestly, we were homeless and I even phoned [the Ministry of Children and Family Development]… to see if they’d be able to help me… and they weren’t able to help me,” she said.
Adding insult to injury, Jane says the ministry opened a file “against me, because I asked for help… now I’m dealing with an open file against me.”
Through Union Gospel Mission (UGM) Jane managed to get into Ishtar.
She has four kids. The first three are children of a partner who was abusive to Jane, including physical, verbal and emotional abuse.
“I went through the worst physical, emotional abuse that anyone can go through,” she explained of that situation. “I almost died from three brutal beatings. I escaped.”
But, for Jane, the issue she fought to escape began to reveal itself again in the father of her fourth child, who is now 18 months old.
“I’m so glad I took domestic violence classes,” she said. “I left before it could get physical this time.”
She knew she had to leave, but she had nowhere to go. She was lucky to find Ishtar.
“Intimate partner violence increases in both frequency and severity over time,” said Parsons. “Yet we provide very few real alternatives for women, especially in this critical housing shortage.”
Unfortunately, some women are forced to return to abusive partners because there is no choice, except perhaps living in a car or tent, said Parsons.
“Violence against women is the same issue everywhere,” she noted. “The differences come in the resources that are available to women and children whether in terms of housing, financial supports, access to school or jobs that pay enough to support children, etc.”
Jane was going to college, but had to quit in order to leave her situation. She’s currently unemployed and grateful for the support she’s getting through Ishtar.
“I am dealing with them on my own now,” she said of her children. “I’m trying to get them into counselling. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to go to Ishtar. The three older [children] from the first relationship witnessed a lot of abuse.”
Parsons explained situations like Jane’s are part of a critical social issue because it is common and can lead to serious injuries as well as death.
“Each week, six Canadian women are killed as a result of partner violence,” she said. “More women don’t report it than those who do because reporting the violence can, and often does, lead to increased threats and more violence.”
The Canadian Women’s Foundation (CWF), which has provided some small project-based grants to Ishtar, reported that Canadians collectively spend $7.4 billion to deal with the aftermath of spousal violence alone, according to the Department of Justice. CWF also stated that, “on any given night in Canada, about 300 women and children are turned away because shelters are already full.”
People like Jane and her young family are caught in the middle.
“I believe that the general level of awareness about the prevalence of domestic violence and sexual assault have increased significantly in Langley and that those living in Langley are committed to a violence-free community,” Parsons said. “We see this in the way in which the community supports our work. What continues to need work is the incidents of male violence.”
Parsons feels violence against women will continue to occur until non-violent men insist that men who use violence stop doing so. Until then, organizations like Ishtar will continue to face a lack of space.
“I’m so glad I went there,” Jane said of Ishtar. “They accommodated us. They gave me space. It was awesome. There was not judgment at all. They just kept making sure I was okay. Now we’re just focused on finding housing.”
Parsons offered Dr. Jackson Katz’s list of 10 things men can do to end gender violence as a starting point for those who want to be a positive change.