The impact of the pandemic on women experiencing violence

By Melanie Ng

She moved to Canada on a work visa, met a charming man, fell in love and had a baby.  What sounds like a beautiful story was anything but.  Sarah (as she will be referred to here to protect her identity) knew that something was not right in her common-law relationship.

“This anger that was coming out… irrational decisions…it became lots of little, subtle things that became scarier”, she recalls about her partner.  Sarah saw what she refers to as “red signs” with him, leading her to end the relationship, but being pregnant and told she could no longer work in her physically demanding job, she felt vulnerable.  Sarah returned to her partner where he “promised everything that (she) wanted”, including counselling, getting his addictions under control and starting a new life.

However, Sarah says that promise was quickly broken and her partner’s aggressive behaviour escalated.  He threatened to leave her at the side of the road in frigid temperatures and even kept an axe in the car, near the baby seat.  She recalls a time when she feared for her life as he pulled over to the side of the road, waving the axe.  Sarah was afraid that if she said anything, it would be turned on her.

The moment Sarah knew something had to change:  while out for a walk with their newborn baby, her partner nearly flipped the stroller over.  At the time, he was carrying what she thought was a bottle of water but learned it was filled with alcohol.  She couldn’t trust him and feared for her and her son.  Sarah waited until her partner was out of town before finding the courage to escape to a place where she could get the help she so desperately needed.

“I was nervous to take the step to go into a transition house … that was partly due to the stigma of what you would think of a transition house”, says Sarah.  “Knowing that this is really the end of the road.  You’re doing it.”

Although ‘doing it’ for Sarah was a complicated process and leaving her partner was just the first step.  She wanted to leave Canada with her baby, but because she wasn’t a permanent resident, it wasn’t that simple.   For two years, she navigated immigration and family court, all while raising her young son and fearing her partner would find them… and he did.   They bounced around from transition house to transition house until finally, they ended up at one safe haven that she says changed her life.

“It’s such an empowering feeling because them taking me in was such a blessing….and them just actively listening….they really sit and listen to you…sometimes that’s just what you need when you’re doing this by yourself.”

Sarah’s advice to anyone experiencing what she went through and in need of help:  “Believe in you.  Just keep going step by step, even if it just means thinking of the next five minutes so you’re not so overwhelmed.  This is a journey.  Sometimes it might be tough and you might feel scared, but there is a community behind you. Be kind to yourself because you’re the one that’s going to push yourself to get through this.”

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