Helping women escape the abuse

Women facing domestic abuse and family violence in Rainy River District may not know where to turn for help.
“A lot of people think the Atikokan Crisis Centre itself is not available to the west end of our district, or they didn’t know how to access it,” said Donna Kroocmo, executive director of the shelter that offers protection for women and children facing domestic abuse.
The five-bedroom facility in Atikokan is open to women and children facing domestic abuse throughout the district. Transportation costs, either by North Air Services or the bus, are covered by the centre, which also operates a 24-hour crisis help line (1-800-465-3348) for women in trouble.
In the past several months, Kroocmo said groups in Fort Frances and Devlin have proposed opening local shelters, not realizing the Atikokan Crisis Centre is open to them.
One woman in Devlin said she wanted to open a shelter because her friend needed help and didn’t know where to turn. “I guess maybe we’re doing something wrong,” Kroocmo remarked.
One of the other reasons local groups have argued to open another shelter is that women having to move to Atikokan only compounds the difficulty in leaving an abusive relationship.
“I think that women saying they don’t want to leave their jobs, and their children leave schools, is a valid complaint,” Kroocmo admitted. “[But] the government doesn’t have enough money to put shelters in every area.”
In fact, Kroocmo is afraid the provincial government could decide to merge several shelters in Northwestern Ontario in an effort to save money—making women and their children travel even further to access services.
Kroocmo insists a shelter is desperately needed in the district. Last year, the centre helped some 106 women and 102 children, while the crisis line received 1,300 calls.
Sadly, she said this picture is seen across the country—with 29 percent of Canadian women over the age of 18 reporting being physically or sexually assaulted by their partner at least once, according to a 1993 Statistics Canada report.
According to the Ontario Women’s Directorate, one in four women will be sexually assaulted during her lifetime and report it. But Kroocmo noted it’s estimated seven of 10 women actually will be sexually assaulted and most won’t report it.
“Domestic violence is a serious situation and should be treated very seriously,” said Fort Frances OPP Cst. Cameron Howard, adding officers have to deal with domestic violence here from time to time.
“We attempt to interfere as soon as possible so we can assist in putting an end to the cycle,” he noted.
Part of breaking that cycle means educating those involved about possible ways to get out of a potentially-dangerous situation.
Peggy Loyie, co-ordinator for the aboriginal health and wellness program at the United Native Friendship Centre here, said identifying women who need help is more difficult that some might think.
“People don’t see the different forms of abuse,” she said. “Unless someone is outwardly appearing physically abuse, they don’t see it.”
The most common occurrences of domestic abuse Loyie sees revolve around issues of power and control. For instance, a woman may be forced to apply for “Ontario Works” to provide for her family but once the money comes, her partner could demand she cash the cheque and give him the money so he remains in control.
Loyie said she also sees many women who are scared to leave because their partner has threatened suicide.
“Often they say, ‘I can’t leave, he’ll kill himself,’” Loyie said. “Sadly enough, that’s the only control that woman thinks she has in her mind. [She controls] whether he lives or dies.”
Loyie said it is often difficult to combat this threat.
“When we talk to these women, the message we want them to hear is you can leave and get them help. If he is suicidal, he needs professional help, they’re not responsible for that.”
To help women in this situation, the UNFC offers counselling and often puts women in touch with the services they might need to access in order to leave their current situation.