Halifax’s Avalon Sexual Assault Centre is a place many survivors of gender-based violence go to seek support — many there due to violence at the hands of their partners.
“A lot of our clients that are coming through our doors have been living with intimate partners where they have been experiencing sexual violence,” said trauma therapist Kristina Fifield.
“Too often individuals in society think sexual violence can’t exist within relationships and that’s highly problematic.”
It can be a barrier on the road to leaving an abusive relationship, she said, of which there are many. Finances are also a big barrier, and oftentimes the reason many people decide not to leave, said Fifield.
“Fear that if they do leave and they can’t do this on their own, because there’s not adequate supports and services or money, what that’s going to look like if they have to return and then basically being put at greater risk once leaving and then returning,” she said.
A new grant program from the YWCA is hoping to help. The National Emergency Survivors Support (NESS) fund offers a one-time, up to $2,000 payment to survivors, helping them rebuild and gain safety and stability after facing violence.
“There’s a lot of logistical pieces that need to come into place if they’re living in an unsafe space,” said Ashley Tiller, a co-ordinator with YWCA Halifax.
“They need to look at things like moving, storage expenses, a damage deposit, rent, starting again with furniture — there’s a lot of financial barriers. That’s where the NESS fund comes in. It’s intended to help bridge those financial barriers in being able to help someone safely relocate.”
The new program was made available in Halifax last week, and Tiller said the demand was “exponentially greater” than they had anticipated.
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“What that tells me is that this has been a gap in our province and there’s a lot of folks that need those physical, financial supports in order to be able to exit unsafe situations,” she said.
‘Absolutely incredible’ that program is inclusive, says advocate
The grant is open to women over the age of 16. It’s also open to transgender, two-spirit and gender-diverse individuals — something Riley Nielson-Baker with Gender Affirming Care Nova Scotia called “absolutely incredible.”
“These resources are sorely needed, and we’ve been historically excluded from a lot of these conversations and a lot of these resources that have gone out,” they told Global News.
“So it’s incredibly exciting to see that this program and these funds are inclusive of the queer community, because there is a huge gap.”
According to Statistics Canada, transgender Canadians are more likely to have experienced violence since age 15, and also more likely to experience inappropriate behaviours in public, online and at work than cisgender Canadians. However, gender-based violence within the LGBTQ2 community is under-researched, said Nielson-Baker, so it’s hard to know how often it’s happening.
“We know as community members that it’s happening, and that it’s very prevalent, but there’s been very little to no research on the issue,” they say.
Support is ‘key’
Nielson-Baker has worked in the area of gender-based violence and says giving survivors back their power is “so important.”
“By giving people cash in hand to be able to retake the power in their life … is so important because it gives them autonomy, it gives them control,” they said. “Which is so important when it comes to issues of domestic violence, sexual assault and gender-based violence.”
Fifield said the NESS fund is a great new resource, and is happy to see there are a lot of options for how the money can be spent.
“I think it’s important that that list continues to grow, in regards to what that fund can be used for,” she said.
“Individuals can be faced with a number of complex situations, and it should support what those complexities and unique needs are.”
The NESS fund is available in tandem with the YWCA’s already-established December 6th Fund, an interest-free microloan of up to $500 for housing-related costs.
“When people know there are supports, when people know that there’s people they can reach out to, that is key … and so, so very important,” she said.