While the ultimate goal of organizations like the Chatham-Kent Women’s Centre (CKWC) is to not be needed, the reality is in today’s society, women fleeing from violence need a safe place to go and help break the cycle of abuse.
As the CKWC reaches its 40-year milestone, all the beds at the shelter are full, with a waiting list of people needing the services, both in house and in the numerous outreach programs the centre offers to the community.
Karen Hunter, CKWC executive director, and long-time executive assistant Linda Ptaszynski, sat down with The Chatham Voice to discuss the challenges over the past 40 years, and the highlights, including a greater awareness of the issue of domestic violence in our community.
“It started in 1978 with a Canada Works project grant and we understood there is a woman, who wants to remain anonymous, who would pick women up and drive them around, and if they had no where to go, she had to drive them back home. She was one of the first people, with the original six people, who did the application for the grant,” Ptaszyski said. “Based on the information provided for that grant, we were approved, moved forward and never looked back.”
With 31 years at the CKWC, Ptaszyski, has a lot of memories of the changes over the years, including moving to a couple of different houses before the land the current centre sits on was donated by the Ursuline Sisters back in 1983.
Sod was turned for the project in October of 1984 and the doors to the new centre on Sandy Street opened March 7, 1985 with a capacity of 26 beds. An addition was added to the building in 1992 to address the need for more storage.
Programs, services, outreach and in-service training to police officers continued to grow over the years, including implementing violence-free school policies and second- and third-stage assistance to women transitioning out of the shelter. Second-stage housing is now available.
“Across Canada around that time (1978), there seemed to be that recognition that there needed to be places for abused women and their children to go,” Hunter noted. “The whole issue of violence against women, back then, was relatively new, and not well researched or documented, so throughout the last 40 years, there’s been extensive research done across Canada on violence against women and children, and violence in general in our society – everything from the cost in dollars to the human tragedy and trauma.”
Hunter said the stats gathered estimate that in Canada, a woman is killed by her partner every six days and that figure is “quite astounding.”
“On any given day, at least 3,000 women and 2,500 of their children are in need of emergency shelters like ours due to domestic violence,” Hunter explained.
People’s understanding of domestic violence and the physical and emotional trauma victims face has evolved over the last 40 years, from it being a family matter and an embarrassment if the woman leaves to more understanding that no person – man, woman or child – should live in fear of violence from a family member.
“This is not a new phenomenon. This is something that has been ingrained in our society for hundreds of years, when you have church and state for example, school systems and everything that identifies the role of women in our society. Not that long ago, we were talking about trying to get divorce laws changed, talking about women’s rights. The right to vote; it’s not that long ago that women were given these rights as people in Canada,” Hunter noted. “So changing people’s attitudes about what the role of woman is in our society is complex and a lot of times, people think that if a woman is being abused, sure she doesn’t have to put up with that, she can just leave, but it’s not that simple.”
Factors such as a woman’s financial situation, if she has access to funds, if she has a job, children, support from friends and family all have an influence on a woman’s decision.
Hunter said it’s not uncommon for family members to show up at the shelter and try to talk to the woman into going back home, saying things like the spouse is a good guy and you drive a nice car and eat steak once a week. They question how bad it could be if outwardly, everything appears fine.
In an emergency situation at 2 a.m. when a woman comes to the shelter, Hunter said they often have left with just the clothes on their back, leaving behind sometimes even their purse when trying to escape with their lives.
“Basically, they are homeless now. They are embarrassed and traumatized and they don’t know where they are going to go come tomorrow,” she noted.
The CKWC tries to provide each woman and her children with the necessities, which can add up, and once the six to eight weeks is up, they have to go back into the community and find a safe place and a job.
Through second-stage housing, the centre helps women make that transition, and provides counselling and supports to women and their children to help them through the entire process, including family court, finding housing, counselling to deal with after effects of trauma in house and out in the community.
The centre also offers programs in the high schools to teens who may be experiencing dating violence and how to recognize the signs, and also anger management and bullying.
Hunter said the community and local businesses have been great in providing support and services and they welcome all donations, either money or good or services, that they can use to help women and their children who need to start over.
To officially acknowledge the 40-year anniversary, the centre is hosting a dinner Nov. 10 at Links of Kent. All current and previous board members and staff are welcome to attend. Tickets are $60 per person or $100 per couple and the evening with feature music and entertainment, dinner and raffle tickets. Any one interested in tickets can call the centre at 519-354-6360.