Alternatives for Women – Still I hold the Sky

By: Dahlia Labatte

Aug 24, 2021

The Alternatives for Women organization provides Second Stage Housing and non-judgmental, supportive counselling from a feminist perspective. They advocate on behalf of women and children and provide public education about the issues that concern women who have experienced domestic violence. All the counselling services are free and confidential.
Dahlia S L is donating 2% of gross profits from the art show Stripped to Alternatives for Women, and Belinda will match all funds raised personally.

Here are excerpts and reflections on a conversation with Leah:

Content warning: mentions of physical abuse, psychological abuse, sexual assault / abuse

Leah, can you tell me more about yourself and how you came to Alternatives to Women?

Leah has spent 18 years working in the social sector specializing violence against women. She follows in her grandmother and mothers’ path, both of whom worked in social services and assisting women facing violence. Violence against women affects all of us, “men and women: equity and values matter to all of us.”

The organization runs with the premise that all types of abuse are damaging, and any mistreatment is acknowledged.

“Safety is the number 1 priority. Risk assessments and safety plans are specific and unique for each woman’s particular circumstances.” And when it comes to housing “housing is a struggle – not enough housing that safe and affordable”.

Emotional support is vital, Leah explains: “They may not be ready to leave. They may even know they are being abused.”

The red flags to watch for

Physical and/or sexual abuse:
Bruises, blackeyes, broken bones, untreated injuries in various stages of healing, the partner’s/ caregiver’s refusal to allow visitors to said person alone.

Verbal abuse and/or psychological abuse:
Name calling, being yelled at on regular basis, disregards boundaries and privacy, isolating you from your support network and/ or social life, questioning where you’ve been and what you’re wearing, not allowing you to seek counselling, not allowing you to go to the doctors.

The cycle of violence: the relationship may start great (honeymoon phase), but after time tension creeps into the relationship, you begin to walk on eggshells, and then follows a blow up…. and then back to normal. When you first realize you are caught in that cycle, this is a moment of revelation.

Domestic violence is more common than you think:

1 in 3 women in in this country are victims of abuse (all forms) not just low-income people.

How to address sign of abuse with a friend:

Address stigma that unhealthy relationships should not be talked about – share concerns and check in with them in private – “I am concerned about you”. Believe them – often abuse is hidden, and the victim may not be believed if the abuser is a professional in the community. Offer specific ways you can help: if you need to use my cell phone, if you need childcare, if you need a home or shelter, call anytime.

What is gaslighting and is it abusive?

Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse where a person (or group) makes you question your sanity, perception of reality or memories. You begin to doubt your own credibility as a result of their actions. They will not take responsibility for their actions and won’t own up to what they say or do. Everything becomes the victim’s fault.

Abuse doesn’t just stop it can be pervasive. An abuser will withhold things, create fear, harass, and use money to create control situations. Leaving is not the hardest part, the part that comes after is.

Can you tell me more about the healing process for women who have experienced abuse?

Primary needs come first, safety, housing, food, money, etc. Love and belonging and group counselling come after safety.

Hear stories. Knowing you are not alone is an important part of healing. A solid support network is important to build self-esteem and self-worth. Victims of abuse deserve better and are worth more and so they must go from surviving to thriving.

I thank Leah for answering these questions. May we all know that if we have been cut down and left with sharp faces and edges, we still hold the sky and all the hope and freedom within it.