VAW Client Finds a New Lease on Life: A GivingTuesday Story

30 November 2020 / Uncategorized / 0 Comment

Support from Abrigo Assists Family Facing Violence

For many, our home brings us a sense of safety and security. It gives us comfort and leaves pleasant memories. Home is where the heart is, as they say. Yet, for others, a home can be a frightening and dangerous place.

Grace moved from Brazil to Canada with her family when she was two and grew up in a highly structured and disciplined home with very religious but loving and giving parents. John, her future husband, grew up in Ontario in a troubled family home that saw alcohol abuse relentlessly erode any fabric of stability.

When Grace found herself in Toronto at the age of 20 and out from under her parent’s watchful eye, clubs and parties were a nightly activity and that was how she met John.

“I knew right away that his personality and background was completely different than mine. The alcohol and drug use being prime examples,” says Grace, an outgoing, petite woman in her early 30s. “But I thought I could influence him in the right direction. Instead, he influenced me.”

The early days of their relationship were tumultuous. His excessive alcohol use took centre-stage. Disagreements lead to arguments that often escalated further. On a few occasions, household objects would fly furiously across a room searching for the intended target. A television took a direct hit once smashing the glass, doors were broken and walls damaged. Grace admits that as a strong, outspoken woman, when provoked she often returned his fury with her own.

After becoming pregnant with their first daughter, the couple decided to marry in part because of her religious background. After the baby’s birth, John’s alcohol use increased as did the verbal assaults, belittling and his controlling nature. Soon, the assaults became physical. Twice her size, he would slap her across the face, push her across the room, choke and spit on her and grab her wrists so strongly he would leave bruises.

“The next morning he would say that he didn’t remember what he did the night before. Each time he promised that he would stop drinking, that it wouldn’t happen again. He would cry and plead for my forgiveness,” says Grace.

“We never had a healthy relationship, but I never thought of myself as a victim of domestic violence because I swore at him too and hit back defending myself. I didn’t know the signs of abuse.”

A second daughter followed rather quickly and the drinking seemingly never ended. Grace was essentially a single parent as her husband was regularly out until four o’clock in the morning or passed out drunk on the couch.

Grace grew tired of continually apologizing to him to keep him from lashing out. A sense of hopelessness silently followed her everywhere. After yet another night of violence, Grace summoned the courage to call the police. “I decided I couldn’t continue to have my children grow up in that terrible environment at home.”

There have been a number of challenges with her husband since that evening but it was the first step in turning her life around. Her older sister knew about Abrigo and suggested that she also contact the agency to find additional support.

“That’s when everything changed. I didn’t know what to expect when I came to Abrigo for the first time, but immediately I felt very comfortable and safe,” says Grace. Sometimes talking to a stranger is easier than talking to your family or friends, especially my family. There is no sense of shame talking about yourself with someone you don’t know. ”

With initial knowledge of the situation, Abrigo counsellor Marta Santos quickly identified the steps they needed to take together. Marta needed to develop a safety plan for Grace and the children, get the family financial support through the Ontario Works program, refer Grace to Legal Aid to secure an experienced lawyer for what was facing her in the future, and the most difficult challenge, and find new subsidized housing for the family.

“I was honoured to be part of the process,” states Marta, who has worked extensively with domestic abuse clients during her three years with Abrigo. “Reassuring clients that they are not alone is an important component of the work we do here.”

Finding priority housing continues to be a difficult challenge for social workers across the city. “It took a significant amount of persistence and determination, many months in fact, but thankfully Grace and her children now have a wonderful, safe new apartment they can call home,” remarks Marta.

Grace is glad her daughters now have a safe and loving environment in which to learn and grow. She encourages other women who are currently experiencing domestic violence or abuse to call Abrigo and get the help they need. Knowledge is power and for the thousands of women living in Toronto and beyond, there is no time like the present to take back that power.

“Marta did so much for me, she was incredible. Marta fought for me every step of the way and I am forever grateful,” beams Grace. “I lost my confidence for three years, but I am more sure of myself today, more confident than ever before because of my association with Abrigo. What happened didn’t break me, it made me stronger and for the first time in my entire life, I’m making all the decisions. I am going to start my life again and do it right this time!”

(Names in this story were changed to protect client confidentiality)

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