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Recently, we introduced you to Shirin, one of our long-time Women’s Counsellor Advocates. Each month, we’ll be shadowing Shirin to give you an idea of what a day’s work is like as a counsellor at Interval House.
Today, Shirin is the counsellor on-shift, meaning that she’s the one monitoring our crisis phone line. Counsellors are always on shift 24/7, one in the daytime, one in the evening, and one overnight. This means that women in distress can call Interval House at any time, day or night, for help and advice. The on-call counsellor also helps new women to move in, and is available as a listening ear to any of the women already living in the shelter.
Shirin’s on the morning shift today and she receives her first call of the day: it’s a woman (we’ll call her Amy) who wants to leave her abuser, but she’s not sure yet. Amy needs help with safety planning – to make sure she can leave at a time that’s safe for her and her kids – but she also has some questions about what to expect at Interval House.
“Will we have to share a room?”
“Will you help with my kids? They need to go to school.”
“Will you help me find a job? I’ll need help finding housing afterwards too. Can you help with that?”
These are the questions Shirin often hears. “Especially for women who are coming to a shelter for the first time, they don’t know what to expect,” she says. “There’s a myth that shelters are bad places. They want to know what it will be like and that it’s the right choice. We help them understand that it’s the right choice for them and their children to come here, that we can help them.”
Sometimes, women who call aren’t in any state to ask these questions though. Shirin remembers a particularly hard call she received recently. The woman called from the hospital. Her abuser had stabbed her, over and over again, but she survived. She called Interval House, and just wanted to know that she and her young children could be safe at our shelter.
Shirin helped her to move in safely. “When she moved in, her injuries were even worse than we expected,” Shirin says. “But she didn’t want to report it to the police.” This is something that Shirin sees often: women don’t want to report their abuser to the police, because they think the danger will only intensify if he knows she reported the violence.
“Women think that is will make the abuse worse, that their partner will follow them more, if they report to the police,” Shirin says. “Sometimes, their partner has told them that he’ll kill her if she calls the police. That he’ll harm her children, or throw acid on her face.”
And, for newcomer women without status in Canada, she adds: “They’re scared they’ll be deported if they report. So they come to Interval House, but they don’t press charges. And we respect their wishes. We can’t force women to do anything.”
Now, on the call with Amy, Shirin begins to ask her the standard intake questions: Is the abuser an intimate partner? Does she live far from the shelter? How big is her family? What can she tell Shirin about the abuse she experienced? Shirin hopes that she can give Amy and her kids the help they need, so that they can make the move to start fresh and rebuild their lives. That’s her goal every day.
For the next few months, we’ll be giving you a glimpse into Shirin’s work, taking you step-by-step through a day in the life of a counsellor at Interval House. Stay tuned for the next part in our series, when we follow Shirin through the intake process with a new resident.