One major difference between teen and adult romantic relationships is that abuse tends to happen in more public areas, like school or friends’ houses. Because of this, teachers and peers may witness abusive behaviour before parents.
When our clients come up against barriers to accessing safe and affordable housing, Chantel is there to help break those barriers down. As our Housing Partnership Coordinator at Interval House, Chantel is an expert at navigating the housing market. She is an essential team member in the Building Economic Self-Sufficiency Program (BESS), which supports women survivors of intimate partner violence living at the shelter or in the community as they rebuild their lives. We sat down with Chantel to talk about her role at Interval House and to get her insight on the barriers that survivors can face when seeking safe, affordable, and sustainable housing after abuse.
Can you tell us a bit about what you do at Interval House?
I’m the Housing Partnership Coordinator, which represents half of a two-person housing team that makes connections in the community to help women, along with their children, find housing and relocate after experiencing intimate partner violence.
Each day is spent connecting with private landlords and community agencies to advocate on behalf of women and children and assist them in their abuse-recovery journeys and relocation goals.
Can you talk about the housing support offered by Interval House?
Interval House offers housing support to women who have left abusive relationships, whether they are living in the shelter or in the community. We do private market searches and housing advocacy to private landlords, community agencies, and social services. The staff help clients organize their financial documentation and apply for any available income or housing supports in the city. Women are accompanied to viewings for apartments and interviews for transitional housing, and we follow-up with agencies that clients may have already applied to. We provide referrals to programs such as the Furniture Bank, where clients can get furniture if they’ve left everything behind, and referrals to moving/storage programs that can help collect valuable items left at the home of an abuser. We provide one-on-one housing counselling for dealing with landlords, information and assistance with the landlord and tenant board process, and eviction prevention. BESS offers workshops on how to navigate looking for a new apartment and managing expectations when getting back out in the housing market. We also provide resettlement support for women who have moved into the community, connecting them with additional BESS services such as employment and counseling service to break down their isolation and work towards the most important goal—building economic self-sufficiency.
What is your favourite part of your job?
My favourite part of the job is witnessing the transformation of our clients. Going through abuse and making it out to the other side, finding your footing and standing strong to create a life of safety and security for yourself and your children is a hard, emotionally charged battle. Each woman who comes to Interval House is strong and passionate about the safety they want to create in their lives. I’m glad to be a conduit of resources and I’m passionate to be of service. Women do a lot of hard work transforming their lives after abuse and sometimes I feel like a coach on the sidelines always there strategizing and re-strategizing. When the way forward is found, and it’s different for each person, it’s a great feeling and it’s an incredibly powerful thing to witness.
What are the biggest challenges that your clients face?
The biggest challenges they face are structural and systemic issues—like the lack of affordable housing in Toronto. Toronto is a huge city with millions of people and millions of jobs and it’s hard to narrow down to somewhere that’s affordable and stable. Renting in this city is an incredibly complicated situation financially. For people who have fluctuating financial and life circumstances, it’s even more difficult to navigate. There are some supports, like special priority housing, for survivors of intimate partner violence but there can be a lot of red tape. Sometimes a person who was in an abusive environment doesn’t have access to the necessary documentation, or they’ve had elements of their lives destroyed such as their credit, their employment history, or the unit they lived in. This all serves to further complicate the referential-based relationship with their previous landlord and their future landlord. Maybe they had two incomes before and now they have one, maybe they were forced to stay home and care for children and have been out of the job market for a long time. Don’t get me started on the price of rent again; it’s hard to break down a brick wall. We try our hardest for our clients here at Interval House, but there are systemic issues at play that negatively impact the most marginalized in our society. When situations change abruptly after fleeing violence, a lot of clients struggle to understand, why them? The step-by-step process of rebuilding a life can look so daunting. Thank god for our women’s counsellors.
Is there a specific client and story that sticks out in your mind?
I had a client who started coming to the BESS program after ending an on-again/off-again relationship with an abusive partner. She was dealing with trauma from that relationship, as well as issues with substance abuse, which had been a huge aspect of her life with her ex. When she found BESS, she was happy and ready to commit herself to breaking the cycle of abuse and rebuilding her life. She accessed counselling to start to look at the long-term trauma she had experienced, she got employment advice, and she attended group sessions to build connections with other women in similar situations. She took advantage of every possible program in BESS. I, along with my coworkers, became hopeful for her. Because she was no longer with her abusive ex, we couldn’t offer her respite at the shelter—Interval House’s Residential Program is an Emergency Shelter available only to those leaving an abusive home. She was finishing up her stay at a detox centre and was facing the very real and unsettling possibility of being homeless. We were able to find her transitional housing, but unfortunately it was located a far distance from the school that she had planned to attend, far from social support services that she had come to rely on, and it was an area that was triggering for her sobriety. Due to the state of the housing market, she felt she had little choice but to accept the unit, despite the fact that it put her in danger of relapsing and isolated her from her support network. In that unit she did struggle and stopped attending BESS for a while however she is resilient, as survivors are, and reached out to us again when she had regained her footing. Eventually, we were able to move her into more stable and healthy housing and she began to thrive. To me, this story represents so much of what we stand for. We don’t give up on people. We understand that healing from abuse isn’t a simple, linear task. Set-backs may happen but it doesn’t mean your life will always be this way. We still work with her and still maintain hope.
Do you think there is a housing crisis in Toronto?
100%. Absolutely. No doubt about it.
What do you think the government should be doing to support housing for survivors of intimate partner violence?
In regards to housing, I believe the solution is to build more affordable units. There are tens of thousands of people living in this city who are waiting on an affordable housing unit. They are waiting for years and that’s just not acceptable. I think that it’s imperative to be innovative and create new possibilities for affordable housing and to also fix the housing that already exists. We find money for so many things in this city. Housing is a critical issue. We need more efficient bureaucracy to push affordable housing projects and initiatives forward. We need a transit system that extends to the furthest reaches of the GTA and it needs to be accessible and affordable. We need it so that people who choose to move outside of the core can still affordably access the city to find work and connect with support services. I think it’s important that we get the cost of rental units in Toronto under control. Buildings that are the exact same as they were 20 years ago are now double and triple the price for rent. Is an updated refrigerator and floor worth that much? There are women and children in abusive situations that are afraid to leave because they cannot financially afford to live alone in a safe, stable environment. They need a place to call home, a place that allows them to get to and from work and allows them access to a surrounding community that’s healthy, diverse and thriving. In many cases, like the client story I mentioned previously, the places that may be affordable may not be safe. That’s not fair to survivors and the children of survivors of violence in the community. Every survivor deserves to resettle into a safe and affordable environment.
Abuse doesn’t just affect the people directly involved. When someone you love and care about is being abused, it can leave you feeling angry, scared, and helpless. Victims of abuse often need the help and the support of others to break the cycle of violence. But it’s more complicated than just telling them to leave. Here are 5 ways to support someone experiencing abuse.
When you donate to Interval House, your investment goes directly towards bettering the lives of women and children escaping abuse. It’s an amazing thing you do, showing survivors of intimate partner violence and their children that there is a light at the end of the dark, long tunnel of abuse. And sometimes, your involvement with Interval House gives you the opportunity to meet and interact with the people you support as they heal and grow.
It’s a privilege for donors and clients to meet face-to-face, seeing common values in one another’s eyes. It’s a unique and paradoxical connection. The two parties are simultaneously closely linked, while also being complete strangers most of the time. And there’s inherently a power dynamic between supporters and their beneficiaries. What’s the best way to navigate such a relationship? We suggest following these three golden rules when it comes to donor-client relationships. They serve to help both donors and clients maintain their privacy and boundaries, so that they can comfortably socialize and share space.
Golden Rule 1 – Respect Boundaries
At Interval House events, we often invite clients to share their personal stories to demonstrate the impact supporters have on the lives of those escaping violence at home. It takes great courage to share these stories and often, clients will work with a staff member to compose the speeches they make. When interacting with clients, we urge you to be careful about asking for more detailed information about their circumstances and situation. Of course you can thank them for sharing and congratulate them but asking for more personal details could make a client feel uncomfortable and vulnerable. It’s best to keep topics of conversation light and to pay close attention to any physical or verbal cues that the client is feeling ‘over-exposed’.
Please don’t invite clients to connect privately with you for any reason. Sharing contact information can be a slippery slope that has the potential of eroding a client’s right to privacy and a donor’s right to offer and withdraw their support from an organization at any time. This ‘distance or boundary’ protects both the client as well as the donor from unwanted contact.
Drawing boundaries can be very challenging for survivors of intimate partner violence. Learning to navigate new relationships is particularly difficult and a client may not feel comfortable articulating what she really feels or needs. Keep that in mind when engaging with Interval House beneficiaries.
Golden Rule 2 – Want to do More? Talk to a Staff Member!
If you connect with a client in a way that inspires you to do more to help, or to follow-up for any reason, please touch base with an Interval House employee. Any staff member will be happy to answer questions and take suggestions, or direct you to someone who can.
Golden Rule 3 – Be Discreet
Finally, Interval House staff are trained not to interact with clients publicly, so as to respect their privacy.
We ask you to abide by this rule as well. If you recognize a client outside of Interval House or an official Interval House event, please don’t greet them or act familiar. It may feel strange, ignoring someone you’ve met and interacted with before but there’s a good reason for doing it in this case.
Many clients don’t want it to be public knowledge that they have been in an abusive relationship, stayed in the shelter, or accessed services for survivors through BESS. Greeting clients in public when they are with others can put them at risk. They may be with their past abuser’s family or friends and may be forced to disclose or lie about how they know you.
Even if a client is alone when you see them in public, they may associate you with Interval House and their recovery from abuse. Interacting could bring up episodes of sadness and anxiety. So we encourage donors to treat our clients as strangers, unless they approach you first.
Hopefully these tips are helpful reminders of how to be respectful when interacting with clients, for their privacy and yours. Be kind, show your support, keep conversation light, and remember that whether they say it or not, Interval House clients are very grateful for the healing and growth you facilitate with your generosity. By supporting Interval House, you support countless families in ending the cycle of violence.
Often when people picture domestic abuse within a romantic relationship, they picture a man abusing a woman. And while it is most common for abuse to take shape as a man abusing a woman, it is also true that abuse exists in all types of relationships and abusers may be any gender or agender and may have any sexual orientation. Intimate partner violence (IPV) can affect anyone. There are, however, important differences in how we understand abuse in the LGBTQ+ community and problems with how we currently address it.
The fact is, queer, trans and non-binary people are at a higher risk of experiencing sexual and domestic violence than their heterosexual, cisgender counterparts. Unfortunately, they are also less likely to report such experiences and therefore less likely to access programs and services to help them heal. LGBTQ+ individuals are also at risk of a unique form of abuse where abusers may use victims’ sexuality and/or gender identity against them in order to isolate them, break down their self-confidence, and trap them in the relationship. This is something that an abuser in a heterosexual relationship could not use to coerce their partner. At Interval House, we are proud to be LGBTQ+ inclusive, and understand the need to talk more openly about the domestic abuse and sexual violence that exists in the community.
It’s Real and It’s a Problem
Studies have found that queer-identifying individuals and trans and non-binary folks have a high risk of experiencing sexual violence and intimate partner abuse in their lifetime. The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey of 27,715 Black respondents found that 53% of Black trans & non-binary individuals have experienced sexual violence and 56% have experienced domestic violence. Almost 50% of gay and lesbian individuals reported sexual and/or psychological abuse by a partner. Over 50% of bisexual people have experienced sexual violence and/or intimate partner violence. In fact, UK studies have found that bisexual women are five times more likely to be abused by a partner than heterosexual women. “Trans-feminine individuals, particularly those of colour, are additionally much more likely than other groups to be murdered by their partners.”
There are also barriers preventing LGBTQ+ people from disclosing abuse or seeking help. For example, if someone is not out as LGBTQ+ with their family, they may not be able to disclose to their family that they are in a relationship at all, let alone an abusive one. On the flip side, if coming out put strain on their familial relations, they may no longer have support within their family to be able to talk about abuse. An abuser can take advantage of past trauma to control their victim. Another barrier to seeking help is the number of myths surrounding intimate partner violence in LGBTQ+ relationships. These myths can discourage survivors from accepting that they are experiencing abuse in the first place and they serve to devalue and discredit survivors who are trying to escape abuse.
Myths about Abuse in LGBTQ+ relationships
The myths about abuse in queer relationships intersect to form the completely untrue view that abuse is strictly a heterosexual problem. The concept that abuse in queer relationships is not at as serious as heterosexual abuse can stem from the false perception that abusers are necessarily physically stronger than their victims, or that abuse is just physical violence. In reality, abuse isn’t about physical strength or the ability to physically dominate, but rather the ability to gain control and power over another person by any means. Of course this can be achieved with the use of physical violence, but other tactics can be employed such as verbal abuse, financial coercion, psychological violence, and more. Abuse of any form is damaging and traumatic, especially when it is carried out by an intimate partner.
Another myth that impacts how society perceives IPV in queer relationships is that women cannot perpetrate violence. In some heterosexual relationships, women are the abusers and this can be the case in some queer relationships as well.
People who identity as bisexual are at higher risk of sexual and domestic violence than people with any other sexuality. The stereotype that bisexuals are hyper-sexual and the fetishization of bisexual women by cisgender, straight men contribute to making this population particularly vulnerable.
In order to address the issue of IPV in the LGBTQ+ community and support queer and non-binary survivors, we have to continuously address the myths that exist and break down the stereotypes.
Trans-exclusion and Barriers to Support
So, now we know that abuse in queer relationships exists, and we know that it is widespread. The next obstacle that these survivors face is accessing social support and services. The myths and stereotypes discussed above can deter LGBTQ+ individuals from disclosing abuse or seeking help. Historically, support services and domestic violence shelters were opened to support cisgender women escaping abuse from their husbands. Today, many resource centres and services continue to be trans-exclusive and restrict access for queer survivors. Even resources that were developed to serve the LGBTQ+ community can marginalize the most vulnerable people that are at the highest risk of experiencing violence. Trans women are the population most likely to be killed by partners and yet they are being refused access to many emergency women’s shelters because of their gender identity. Bisexual women are more at risk of experiencing sexual violence and intimate partner violence than straight women and lesbians, but they are often forced to access services targeted at either straight or lesbian/gay people. The lack of understanding about bisexual and transgender issues and the discrimination against these people within the LGBTQ+ community is holding survivors back from seeking help.
Interval House is Proud to be LGBTQ+ Inclusive
There is a huge need for services to support queer survivors of IPV. We are proud to have been an LGBTQ+ inclusive organization since we first opened our doors in 1973. Our mandate is to offer emergency shelter, counselling, and support to women-identifying survivors of intimate partner violence, along with their children. Our programming is specialized to address the needs of women survivors and we recognize that identifying as a woman and benefiting from our programs has nothing to do with one’s biologically assigned sex or sexual orientation. Anyone can experience abuse and trauma from a partner. And it is the most marginalized women that need places like Interval House the most in order to break the cycle of abuse and rebuild their lives.
“When you are a mother, you are never really alone in your thoughts. A mother always has to think twice, once for herself and once for her child.”
Becoming a parent is one of the most momentous experiences one can have. It’s a moment so many people dream of with anticipation and longing. Brainstorming names, picking out nursery colours, finding the perfect little onesies, carriers and accoutrements for the blessed moment their child arrives — it’s all part of the build-up for the greatest change a person can experience. From lifestyle to resources to personal identity, welcoming a child into a family transforms so much. As wonderful as it is, it can also be very stressful and difficult to manage, especially for single mothers. On World Maternal Mental Health Day on May 1st, and throughout the year, advocates want everyone to better understand the unique mental health challenges faced by mothers and child-bearing people so that they can better access resources and support.
No longer just responsible for oneself, a parent’s mental preoccupation doubles to consider, care for and watch over their little ones. Undoubtedly, that’s a massive adjustment that can be impactful for a parent’s mental health. In Canada, 7.5% of mothers experience depressive symptoms in the postpartum period. For women who experience physical or sexual abuse, the rate skyrockets to 23%. Women with a history of depression who have experienced physical or sexual violence are even more at risk.
For most, postpartum mental health symptoms dissipate over time, but if left untreated, they can carry on. And while postpartum depression is the mental health issue we most commonly associate with becoming a mom, research from the University of British Columbia suggests that “severe anxiety is three to four times more common than depression during pregnancy and early motherhood.” These numbers tell us that many women are struggling to adapt to motherhood and it doesn’t stop there — the ongoing emotional and physical workload of motherhood can be very influential on mental health. This is especially true for those who lack additional adult support in the household. It’s hard to get a clear picture of just how many mothers struggle with their mental health, as 70% of women minimize or deny their symptoms altogether. That’s not too surprising. After all, women’s mental health is highly stigmatized and mothers feel immense pressure to hold it all together for their families.
Given what we do know about mothers’ mental health, it’s no wonder advocates are pushing for the incorporation of perinatal depression screening in Canada. As it stands, women must come forward with their mental health symptoms on their own in order to access treatment and resources. That’s a huge barrier. Including screenings in regular perinatal appointments would go a long way towards reducing stigma for mothers struggling with their mental health and providing adequate treatment. Such screenings are already happening in the U.S., U.K. and Australia, showing promising results as fewer struggling women fall through the cracks. Paired with greater access to support resources, perinatal mental health screening would lift mothers up, improving quality of life for them and their children.
World Maternal Mental Health Day shone a light on the fact that perinatal mood and anxiety disorders impact women around the globe, regardless of age, cultural background, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, or race. It’s important to keep in mind that non-binary folks and transgender men may also experience these mental health challenges and mustn’t be left out of the conversation. With so many feeling the effects of this, there needs to be greater awareness and dialogue about mental health for people who bear children. And mental health should fall under the umbrella of healthcare for everyone, including people who are pregnant or are new parents.
Each and every one of us is connected, and when one person suffers, that suffering can ripple through an entire community. When we let people struggling with mental illness go unnoticed and untreated, we fail our communities.
On an individual level, we can check in with the mothers we know and offer support or a safe place to discuss their challenges; we can offer babysitting, meal prep, or help around the house to give them a break from the great workload that falls on mothers’ shoulders; we can send resources and articles that might help them feel less alone in what they’re experiencing; if we have the capacity, we can help them cover the costs of therapy when they’re struggling; we can find ways big and small to show them they are supported and loved by those around them.
On a community level, we can all raise our voices to push for greater access to mental healthcare for all, especially mothers and parents. What is most essential for a child’s development is a safe and stable home life, and that demands us to support parents and guardians by helping them gain access to essential screening treatment for mental illness.
Coercive control is defined as a pattern of behaviour where an abuser dominates, humiliates, and isolates their victim. It’s a central characteristic of abusive relationships that strips the victimized person of their sense of self and freedom. This pattern of behaviour doesn’t always involve physical violence; still, it’s designed to inject fear and create invisible chains linking a victim to their abuser. Recognizing the signs of coercive control can help someone spot abuse early, before the relationship becomes too intertwined and difficult to escape from. Here are 7 red flags to remember:
- Isolation from friends and family: This can be slow and subtle. What does this look like? An abuser will insist on being present when their partner visits friends and family. They will guilt their partner for expressing an interest in spending time with others and will often show disdain for the other people in their partner’s life. The abuser will compete for their partner’s attention and insist on being a priority at the expense of other relationships.
- Exerting financial control: Financial abuse is a particularly powerful form of abuse that comes into play when the abuser is the sole or primary income earner and the victim is financially dependent on them. An abuser will restrict their partner’s access to money, requiring the victim to ask permission to spend money. They will hold the fact that they make more money over the victim. They will also scrutinize the victim’s bills and banking activity.
- Humiliating/degrading behaviour: This cracks away at a victim’s self-esteem. An abuser will call their partner names and bully them. They will humiliate their partner and put them down in front of others and they will use their partner’s insecurities against them.
- Invading their partner’s privacy: Having private thoughts and spaces is important for a person’s sense of self. It’s normal for partners to share thoughts and feelings, but one should never be made to feel unworthy of privacy in a relationship. An abuser will demand that their partner disclose account passwords and show them text messages and emails. They will make their partner feel unentitled to physical privacy at home or outside the home.
- Controlling everyday activities: We take for granted the number of decisions we make on an everyday basis. An abuser will control things such as what their partner wears, where they go, what they eat, when they sleep, when they shower, and more. These can all be instances of coercive behaviour in a relationship.
- Making threats: An abuser can use threats or intimidation to control their partner’s behaviour. A huge red flag in an abusive relationship is if one person fears for their safety or wellbeing at the hands of their partner.
- Destruction of possessions and property: This could be destruction or threat of destruction of items that hold sentimental value. An abuser can also destroy or threaten to destroy possessions that connect their partner to support systems such as phones, computers, and modes of transportation. Lack of respect for their partner’s property is a lack of respect for their partner.
Coercive control is a system of behaviours that can change and grow. Abusers will use manipulation tactics and gaslighting to keep their victims from leaving or reaching out for help. When assessing your own relationships or the relationships of people you care about, trust your gut. No one should feel like they need to break their personal boundaries of comfort and security in a relationship. If you aren’t sure whether you are being abused you can call the Interval House crisis line (1-888-293-5516) for 24-hour advice and support, or find other helpful resources here.
Before her wedding day, a bride-to-be imagines the moment she’s dreamed about. She pores over photos and gathers ideas. She diligently makes to-do lists, crossing items off with satisfaction. Flower arrangements. Seating plan. Dress fittings. She places items on a registry—everything she’ll need for her new life.
Tragically, at some point after the big day, the bride discovers she is trapped in a cycle of violence and finds herself desperately making a list she never imagined. Escape plan. Untraceable cell phone. Emergency shelter. Read More
The Dream: A romantic proposal, the perfect dress, floral arrangements, a beautiful home and happily ever after.
The Reality: For some women, their wedding day marks an escalation of abuse. Interval House, Canada’s first shelter for abused women and their children, provides a safe space for women and children and helps them rebuild their lives, free from violence.
A Registry No Bride Should Need
The sad reality is that many women report that abuse escalates as soon as they get married. In this symbolic registry, we imagine the items that a woman trapped in violence might need. Read More
Anna* didn’t know what to expect when she walked into Interval House the night her husband’s violence became unbearable.
She’d escaped her house—a place that no longer felt like home—where she had locked herself in a room, climbed out of a window, and ran.
Anna’s husband had been chasing her with a knife, swearing he would kill her. It was the most terrifying event in his escalating violence since their move to Canada. Read More