Finances often prevent victims of violence from leaving their abuser

Nancy
Nancy MacPhee
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SUMMERSIDE — With mounds of debt, a mortgage, car payment and young children to care for, Veronica felt there was no way out.

Norma McColeman, community outreach co-ordinator with East Prince Family Violence Prevention Inc., chats with Veronica at the organization’s Summerside office.

 

 

After years of abuse — physical, mental and emotional — at the hands of her spouse, she knew it was time to leave.

But how could she? How, with so much debt and no money to her name, could she afford to break the chains of violence?

“He had run us into severe debt, not being able to secure full-time employment,” said Veronica. “I was supporting the family on my own, bills, food, medical, transportation, everything".

“It was just a nightmare. Ends never met. The children did without. I did without.”

Unfortunately, Veronica’s story is all too common, said Norma McColeman, community outreach co-ordinator with East Prince Family Violence Prevention Services (EPFVPS) Inc.

McColeman said money is probably the biggest factor preventing many who are being abused from leaving their abuser.

It’s one of the things she and her staff highlighted during this past week, which was Family Violence Prevention Week on Prince Edward Island.

“I would say that 80 to 85 per cent of the people that we see this is an issue,” said McColeman. “If the person that is the abuser controls the money, controls where they go and how much they have to spend on groceries… there can seem like there is no way out.”

In 2013, EPFVPS Inc. catered to 80 women, 132 youth and children and five men all coping, in some form or another, with violence in the family.

That’s a big number for the non-profit organization, which has three staff, one full-time, one 75 per cent of the time and one part-time position.

And most of those clients live, as McColeman put it, from pay cheque to pay cheque, and often their abuser controls every dime that goes in and out.

“We had one woman who left five different times but each time she went back because she didn’t have the resources that she and her children needed,” she added. “Once she did come in and we were finally able to get some help with some financial assistance, some housing – those kinds of things set up for her – it made a big, big difference in her leaving and working on herself and her children.”

Working on herself is something that Veronica is now doing.

But, before she could get out of the relationship, her concerns, besides her safety, were stress and debt. Could she make it on her own, as he controlled any money, and how it was spent?

“I knew I had to leave, I was preparing,” she said. “Number one was being very careful about trigger words. I didn’t set him off anymore than I had to."

“If I didn’t co-operate, there was real trouble. The threat was real. I knew he would hurt me if I didn’t do what he wanted, so I did what he wanted,” said Veronica.

“There was so much of it that is crazy.”

The relationship didn’t start out as being abusive.

“He was a great guy, very confident, a very good speaker. He was a very handsome man and had the personality to go with it,” she said, looking back at the beginning of their courtship. “He had an extremely good work ethic and extremely good family.”

But there were signs early on that he had his dark side.

“It was the way he would speak to me, the way that he might just be disrespectful, like he would go and do something and then tell me about it.”

Without realizing at that time, Veronica's husband began his battle addiction, an addiction that would worsen as the marriage continued.

“The abusive episodes were now escalating due to the underlying need to support the addiction.”

The first time he was violent, Veronica left. After pleading and begging and promises to change, she returned.

It was years before it would happen again but the threat was always there.

“There was always a great deal of name calling. Always a great deal of innuendo, insinuations. Fear mongering was the other thing,” said Veronica.

“Fear was his tool, was his choice of weapon then.”

By the time she was into another pregnancy, the violence escalated.

“It was degrading, humiliating. You just got to know your place and my place wasn’t necessarily of value, at most times, to him,” she recalled. “There were times, if things were going his way and everything was good, that he’d say ‘you’re great, we’re having such a good time, I love you so much’.”

As the years passed and the abuse continued, those times were few and far between.

Never did he hit their children but seeing their mother belittled and struck was abuse enough, said Veronica.

Finances worsened, debt mounted and the abuse escalated. Veronica, who still loved him and believed his promises that he would get help, stayed.

“I couldn’t trust him,” she added. “I was home not saying anything because I was afraid because I knew he would hurt me.”

Veronica did reach out numerous times to police and McColeman’s organization.

But, with her trust and spirit broken, she felt no one could help.

“Fear was one of the big things that ruled my life. Fear and money, fear of not having money and how would I support the kids,” added Veronica. “I was trying to save the money. There was no way.”

“My silence bought him a lot of time. I didn’t want to tell on him.”

McColeman said many living with abuse don’t realize help is out there.

“This is the one week that we can open the doors and people can really see what we do,” she said, adding her clients are as young as junior high students to the elderly, most of which are women. “They are coming in with underlying situations such as housing, poverty, not having enough money to make ends meet.”

McColeman said the entire community can help and must help.

“We do the frontline piece but we do need the police and the other community agencies and businesses to pull alongside and help us,” she added. “We do this one week but there are 52 weeks in a year. We operate year round. We do three support programs a year. We do three full-day workshops… maybe three evening workshops that are specialized educational pieces to build on the confidence and the self-esteem and the empowerment.

“All that takes money and support.”

Support is what Veronica needed most and found since leaving her spouse.

She took advantage of the help offered from at East Prince Family Violence Prevention Services Inc., relied on police for help and took part in a Safety Circle, which provided her with people she could call on if she feared for her safety.

“I look back now and that was probably the peace of mind that allowed me to move forward,” said Veronica. “If any event took place in my life I emailed the core group. My license plate was on alert. The police were told if I needed a police officer that one was to be sent immediately. No questions asked. They facilitated support with my employer, as he was showing up at my workplace."

“It made me feel safer.”

It hasn’t been easy. She still struggles to make ends meet, slowly but surely paying down their accumulated debt, and a huge legal bill as a result. 

But it’s all worth it, she said. She’s happy and so are her children.

Violence is no longer in their lives or part of their vocabulary.

“There is no name calling. There are some things that are just not tolerated.”

She no longer worries what will happen if she leaves a chore unfinished.  

“I don’t live in fear.”

The woman she sees looking back at her in the mirror is stronger, far different than who she was a decade ago. 

"They are not the same person. I wasn't strong. I second guessed myself all the time."

Most of all, her life is now peaceful.

And that’s what McColeman wants most for her clients.

“The women that really do the best come to all of the groups, they come to all of the sessions we offer. We have to fill that time with them with extra little things to keep them motivated and moving forward,” she added. “It is so easy for them to go back to that place when they get discouraged or they don’t see a way out.

“We want them to have hope.”

To learn more about East Prince Family Violence Prevention Services Inc., visit http://www.fvps.ca/ or call 436-0517. More information and help can also be found at stopfamilyviolence.pe.ca.

 

nmacphee@journalpioneer.com

Organizations: EPFVPS, East Prince Family Violence Prevention Services

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  • Elizabeth McLean
    February 16, 2014 - 10:32

    I am pleased to see that there is help out there for family violence and abused people which is male or female. Family Violence Prevention Service is doing a fantastic job ! Norma McColeman is excellent in her role to make the public aware.