Contributed by Catie Primeau, Fundraising Manager at The Redwood
Seven years ago, I sat next to Nina as she stared down at her hands holding the last crumpled tissue from the pack I brought along for our first of several days in court. Of all the items I carried to court, tissues always seemed to get the most use. I could barely stand to look into her eyes as she turned to me and whispered, “Please tell me this will be worth it.”
As a court accompaniment worker, I provided emotional and practical support as well as safety planning and risk assessment to women who were victims of domestic violence and were attending criminal court or family court. Often, it was both. This was the situation that Nina was facing. She was navigating several areas of the legal system concurrently, with little to no resources available and all while fearing for her safety and the safety of her children.
Nina had done what we are told is the right thing and called the police on her abusive partner, and was fortunate enough to find a space in an emergency shelter for her and her 3 children. She was lucky; up to 73% of women and children seeking shelter are turned away due to a lack of resources. Despite Nina also securing a restraining order, her ex continued to try to contact her and showed up at her place of work and the children’s schools. He was never arrested after any of these incidences. Now she was facing him in family court for spousal support and child custody while awaiting the time when she would need to testify against him in criminal court. This meant that she would be standing mere feet away from a person who had on several occasions threatened to kill her, discussing the logistics of sharing custody of her children. Unfortunately, the justice system can be discouragingly obtuse when it comes to the balancing act between criminal and family courts. The result is often women feeling unsafe, unsupported, frustrated and insecure in their decision to leave.
But because of places like The Redwood that are focused on supporting women through these complicated processes and beyond, women like Nina do not have to face these barriers alone.
For close to 25 years, the Redwood has been a safe haven for women and children fleeing abuse. When women and their children arrive at The Redwood’s 33-bed emergency shelter, their needs are urgent and immediate: protection, and physical and emotional support. We offer a safe place to stay and the necessities of life while they are getting their lives back on track.
But The Redwood is more than just a safe place to stay. We are also a place for healing, growth and breaking the cycle of violence. We provide a range of programs and services in over 20 different languages, like court accompaniment and legal support services.
We also provide ongoing counselling, transitional help in finding and setting up a safe new home, school upgrading, employment training and job search assistance. It cannot be underscored enough how important programs and services like these are for women’s long term safety and freedom from violence.
Working now as the Fundraising Manager for The Redwood and seeing how these services and programs help to change the lives of women and their children, I know that I can say to someone like Nina with 100% certainty, “It is always worth it, and we will help you.”