By Emily Stonehouse
While the holidays can be a festive time for some, they can also be a dangerous time for others. “There is a spike around the holidays in violence,” said Darlene Smith-Harrison, director of client services for YWCA Peterborough and Haliburton. “Many women try to just get through Christmas at home with the kids, and then right after, they may try to leave.”
In 2021, there were 127,082 victims of violence committed by spouses or family members across Canada, with 173 women killed in acts of domestic abuse. This is the fifth year that these numbers are steadily increasing across the country.
In Haliburton County, the YWCA is dedicated to creating spaces and support for women who are fleeing these dangerous situations. “In rural communities, we recognize that many of the issues are more compounded,” said Smith-Harrison. “It is so much more isolating, there could be longer response times from police based on location, there is no public transportation, and a lack of connectivity.”
The YWCA offers Haliburton Emergency Rural Safespace (HERS), which are a series of designated apartments where a woman and her children can stay while they distance themselves from domestic violence. Since HERS opened up in 2006, there have been over 10,000 bed nights utilized. Between Apr. 1, 2021 to Mar. 31, 2022, HERS has housed eight women and eight children, with an average stay of 66 days.
While the safespace exists, Smith-Harrison notes that the process of leaving an abusive relationship is not always linear. “Leaving a relationship is a process and on average, women leave seven times. It can also be one of the most dangerous times. Women don’t have to do this alone,” she said.
Beyond offering a safe space for women and children to temporarily reside, the YWCA also offers practical support; such as safety planning, information about healthy relationships, connections to local services, and court support. All services are completely free and confidential.
Rural domestic abuse is often harder to identify, as there are weighted factors, such as distant neighbours, or the concern about reputation in a small town. Yet, Smith-Harrison noted that this year, all four lower-tier municipalities in Haliburton County flew the Wrapped in Courage flags at their township sites, raising awareness for gender-based violence.
Over the holiday season, the YWCA is running a donation-matching program, meaning that any donation that is made will be matched by an anonymous donor. They are also seeking donations of gift cards that women and mothers can use over the holiday season if they are in a situation that requires support.
Domestic violence can come in the form of physical, emotional, or psychological, so if you feel unsafe, please reach out for help. You are never alone.
If you or someone you know is seeking any of the services from the YWCA, you can contact the centre at 705-286-6442 or 1-800-461-7656. HERS is located in Haliburton County, and can be accessed by calling the centre. For more information, you can visit www.ywcahaliburton.org.
By Emily Stonehouse