UNFC offers an exit strategy for those experiencing abuse

By Allan Bradbury
Staff Writer

UNFC in Fort Frances is offering a helping hand, in the form of emergency backpacks, to those looking to flee from abuse.

The bags enable women in abusive situations to have access to essential items, in the case of a speedy exit. The bags can to be packed with supplies like clothes for a woman and her children, copies of important documents, cash, and a spare mobile phone, if possible. The bag is then stowed in a safe place away from the home, in case they need to flee quickly or discreetly.

Kathy Foy is a healing and wellness worker at UNFC. She says the bags allow for an easier departure, because women are in the most danger when they leave.

“It’s important to have a speedy exit, because you are most at risk of homicide when you’re terminating the relationship,” Foy said. “The relationship is about power and control, when you’re looking at domestic violence. So when someone is leaving, that’s when the person who is in control will have a sense of desperation.”

The bags are also a way for friends and family to show their support, said Deb Emes, healing and wellness worker at UNFC. She said that people experiencing abuse need love, care, and support to break free.

Kathy Foy and Deb Emes show backpacks which the UNFC provides to individuals who are experiencing domestic abuse. They can be packed with essentials and stashed at a friend or relative’s home, for a quick escape. – Allan Bradbury photo

“The nice thing about the bag is it gives you that opportunity to just say ‘I care, let’s just be ready in case you decide, let’s pack away some things, I’ll keep the bag,’” Emes said. “The other big trick is not to stop contacting them, because abusers often isolate their victims.”

There are lots of other barriers that people can look out for if they think a loved one is being abused – especially in the Fort Frances area. Housing and financial issues often make it harder for someone to leave an abusive relationship, said Foy.

“Housing and financial barriers are there for sure,” she said. “The closest shelter is in Atikokan so if someone is going to leave a relationship, not only are they going to leave but they have to relocate. If they have children, they’d have to start at a new school and make new friends. Then there’s shame and embarrassment. They might not want to leave because of their own self-esteem; they think ‘this is as good as it gets.’”

Despite these barriers, Foy notes that if you’re helping someone escape an abusive situation, you can hold on to the bag, but letting them stay with you may be dangerous, in case the abuser starts searching.

“We don’t like to encourage people, to invite people who are involved in domestic violence, into their own home, because then you’re putting yourself at risk,” Foy said. “So this way, you can be a support by keeping the bag at your house.”

In addition to the bags, there are other ways you can support someone in an abusive situation, such as reminding them that the behaviour they’re experiencing is not normal or appropriate.

“Don’t normalize bad behaviour. Don’t give any excuses. Don’t say things like, ‘Oh, he’s had a rough day, or he’s stressed out, or he lost a family member.’ There’s zero validation for that,” Foy said. “It doesn’t matter if somebody’s having a bad day, there’s no excuse for violence.”

One of the easiest ways to help is to let people experiencing abuse know that you’re there for them. It can be upsetting for them to discover that others are aware of their situation, but realizing you’re there for them can be a big step forward.

“You can do it with love. You can say to a woman, ‘you know, I care about you, I care about the kids, I see what’s happening in your home’,” Foy said. “Sometimes that might cause isolation. The family – the people who are involved – might or might not cut you out. But at least they know that you know, and at least they know that you care and at some point they might reach out to you.”