Coercive Control: 7 Red Flags To Remember

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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:

  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.

  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.

Not Always Happily Ever After

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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 shelterRead More

The Broken Bride Registry: not every bride lives happily ever after.

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Wedding Vision

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

From Impossible to Infinity: Anna’s Story

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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

Q&A with Elona Nazaj, Women’s Counsellor/Advocate

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Your support ensures counsellors like Elona are available 24/7 to women and children in need.

Q: How does your day begin?

A: It depends which shift I’m on, morning, evening, or overnight. All shifts begin with a shift change debrief with other staff. We talk about how things are going, if anything urgent is coming up, new residents, or if anyone has left the shelter. I can then start prioritizing my day based on risk assessments.

Q: How would you describe your job? 

A: The biggest part of my job is active listening, being available for women to vent, cry, share their frustrations or successes. I find out what their needs are and help connect them to services we can provide. I do a lot of advocacy, especially for housing, legal issues such as custody, or for women who do not speak English. We are there for them, every step of the way.

Q: What are the first few days like for women who come to Interval House? 

A: The first few days in the shelter are the hardest because usually women are coming with a very high level of anxiety and stress, which is very understandable. They are confused. They wonder if they made the right choice. But with time, everything becomes more clear and they are able to see things in a different perspective. They find the strength to move forward.

Q: What is the most rewarding part of your job? 

A: I am honoured when I know that these women are allowing me to be part of their feelings. The way that I can see the positive effect I’m having on my community, along with my coworkers. Just the connection, the empathy that we create with each other, that’s rewarding. The women talk about their frustrations, they talk about their lives, they talk about what they went through, and it’s not easy. It’s not easy to trust. I really appreciate it.

Life at the House: A Youth Perspective by David

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*name and identifying details have been changed for the safety of the clients

If I were to say what impact living at Interval House had on me, I guess I see it as a good Disney story. Things start out nice and everything, and then snap, there’s a plot twist and the evil entity comes and that’s where my family is at right now. Eventually it’s all going to be good again.

My mom left Vietnam for Canada in search of a better life for us. A few months later, my dad, my two younger siblings and me all came to join her. They were always working, mom all day and dad all night. We only hung out as a family on weekends. For years, they hid their fighting from us. But the fights increased and then the secrets just poured out. It used to be like once a month then it became weekly. At one point I had to step in. I didn’t want to but it was getting out of hand and I had to get the police involved.

A few months ago we had to just get out — grab what we had and go. That’s when we came to Interval House. Being here affects us but it didn’t devastate us. We’re all far away from the people we know now though. My siblings miss their friends and my mom had to quit one of her jobs.

Our family has become closer since coming here. We interact with each other more. My mom actually gets more rest here. Everyone is getting something out of the sessions with the counsellors. We’re all getting advice and steps for how to get up and get things back together. Feeling empowered.

I’m studying at college now and the next stage is to have our own place again. Interval House supports you at your lowest; they’ll always be that safety net. But it’s better to pick yourself up again, find a job, find a place, just do something that’s going to help you to start over again. It’s like the new Karate Kid movie where he says, “Everyone falls down, but it’s up to them whether they choose to get back up or not.” Interval House can help you get there.

Thank you for helping families like David’s rebuild their lives!

Beanie Babies for the Brave: How one mother and daughter are making a difference

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How can a little stuffed animal help women and children rebuild their lives after abuse? By being auctioned off and having the proceeds directed to Interval House! That’s what Beanie Babies for the Brave is all about.

Morgan and her daughter, Stacey, have been collecting Beanie Babies since Stacey was just five years old. Now 31, Stacey decided it was time to part with her beloved collection and donate it to Interval House, so the organization could sell the classic toys and raise funds for their programs helping women and children recovering from abuse.

“Stacey and I both agreed that we would rather give them to a child or to an organization that helps people instead of selling them online for ourselves,” explains Morgan. The thoughtful mother-daughter duo donated 70 Beanie Babies in their original packaging to be auctioned online with 100% of the proceeds benefitting Interval House.

“When I was trying to find a place to donate the Beanie Babies to, it was important to me personally that it benefit women and children experiencing abuse,” explains Morgan. “I am a survivor of abuse and I understand how important a place like Interval House is.”

Do you have your own idea for a unique fundraiser or gift-in-kind donation? Contact Cass Nagar at 416-924-1411 ext. 238

Behind the Scenes at the Interval House Renovation — See how your gifts helped transform the shelter!

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The first thing most people notice when they walk into the newly renovated rooms at Interval House is how bright and cheery everything feels. Your support helped transform the shelter’s 12 residential bedrooms and six bathrooms, including the main floor accessible suite.

“This renovation is something I’ve been wanting to do since I first started working here three years ago,” explains Cathy Leekam, Facilities Manager. “The shelter is used by so many people and it was getting really run down, especially the bathrooms. It’s hugely satisfying to see them freshened up, and how happy the residents are with it.”

Thanks to donor support, Cathy’s team recently completed the 3 month renovation project. Bedrooms were refreshed and bathrooms updated with new sinks, vanities and fixtures. The team also changed out flooring, added new window blinds and put on a fresh coat of paint. It was so important to bring the aging infrastructure up to date.

“What I’ve always heard from clients is that our shelter is very welcoming and warm,” says Cathy. “It’s nice that the bedrooms and kitchen are now part of that. Everything feels very fresh and welcoming, like a home.”

“Working at Interval House has been one of the most rewarding jobs I’ve ever had. You can see the direct result that your work makes. It’s a concrete change you make in people’s lives every day.”


Making Space for Women in the Workplace

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It’s been a long time since women entered the workplace. As of 2015, women’s employment rate in Canada was 69%, compared with 47% in 1973, back in Interval House’s early days. And over the years, women have broken into more and more sectors. Just a few generations ago, women’s career options were pretty limited to childcare, teaching and secretarial work. Now, there are women in all major sectors and every day we hear of the new heights career women are reaching.

Still, there are strides to be made for women in the workplace. The #MeToo movement that gained momentum last fall and continues to dominate headlines a year later really drew attention to the fact women still face harassment and mistreatment in the workplace. And Canadian women still only earn 74 cents on every dollar earned by a man.

It is not enough to simply have women in the workplace. We need to go further to ensure women are also safe and valued at work. This should be addressed at a governmental level to ensure there is equity across the board. But there are things individuals can do — particularly men — to make space for women in the workplace. Here are five ideas to get you started:


Stop interrupting women

In the summer of 2017, a few publications ran stories that confirmed what every woman already knew to be true — men interrupt women at alarming rates. A study out of George Washington University highlighted that when men speak with women, they interrupt 33 percent more often than when they speak with other men. In a three minute conversation, women would interrupt only once on average, while men interrupted women 2.1 times. To contrast, men only interrupted other men 1.8 times in the same span of time.

Setting gender aside for a moment, I think we can all agree that being interrupted is annoying. It can disrupt a good thought process and can make one feel minimized. It’s generally good practice to let others finish before you speak. When discussing things with colleagues, be mindful of your listening skills and hold back if you feel the urge to interject. Keeping a notebook on hand to jot down thoughts as they arise is a good practice to ensure you remember them when it’s your turn to speak.

If you often feel the urge to jump in when women are speaking, unpack why you might think your comments are more important. Active listening is an essential skill that can make the women in your life feel heard and respected.


Give women credit

Another study that came out in 2017 demonstrated that women get less credit in the workplace than men. The University of Delaware study showed that when men spoke up in group settings, they were perceived as leaders. When women spoke up, they were not perceived as leaders any more than women who remained quiet. The study also found that men are given more credit than women when they say the exact same things. This is a bias towards viewing men as leaders and women as followers at work.

Now that you’ve made a conscious effort to stop interrupting women and to start listening, try paying attention to who is bringing up new ideas. If you notice Bob getting credit for something Anne said just a few moments ago, say something and give Anne credit for it. Commend the women you work with for bringing innovative ideas and thought-provoking comments to the table just as much as you do with the men at work. It takes actions like these to shift the culture in a work environment. The results of giving credit where credit is due will have far-reaching impacts on women’s wellbeing in a workplace.


Recognize women on significant dates

There are many special days to commemorate women and the strides they’ve made in the movement towards equality. For so many women who are still actively fighting to get ever-closer to a day when there is true gender equity, these special days can be reassuring that the efforts are paying off. Whether it’s International Women’s Day, Mother’s Day, the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, or any other special days marking women’s achievements, it’s a great idea to show the women you work with that you stand with them in celebrating these important dates and the achievements of women through history. Knowing they are surrounded by true allies goes a long way towards making women feel safe and appreciated at work.


Be respectful with compliments

A few months ago, I saw a post online that offered a good rule for paying compliments. It suggested that one should only comment on things a person can control. For example, rather than commenting on a woman’s figure, comment on her unique sense of style.

Commenting on a woman’s appearance can definitely come across as objectifying. Avoiding appearance-based compliments altogether is a good way to ensure you won’t cross any boundaries and make women uncomfortable. If you appreciate your colleague and want to let her know, here are a few great compliment suggestions that have nothing to do with physical appearance: you always have such great ideas, you come across as very confident to me and I really admire that, I’m inspired by your work ethic, you make people feel very comfortable, I appreciate the energy you bring to work with you every day.

Don’t be shy about commending your colleagues and letting them know they’re appreciated, just make sure you’re being appropriate. After all, receiving a compliment is supposed to feel good.


Create woman-friendly policies

Gender equity in the workplace is about creating work environments that allow men and women to equally thrive. An equitable workplace will have policies in place that take women’s needs into account. Last week, we posted a story about how workplaces should have domestic violence policies in place to protect survivors of abuse and allow them to maintain their employment. This is just one example of how companies can instate policies to create more woman-friendly environments. Employers can also have guidelines in place that allow parents of young children flexible work hours to accommodate childcare, and additional personal days for menstruating people.

If you are an employer, review your policies and consider whether they are in step with the goal of creating a more equitable environment for women. Are you a man in the workplace? Be bold and ask about these policies. When men demonstrate that gender equity is important to them, it makes a difference. As we’ve already seen in this article, men are noticed more when they speak up. Why not use that privilege to further the gender equity agenda in your workplace?

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