West Island Women’s Shelter

A need, an idea, a solution

By Jim Morrison

Diane Gibb, director of development and fundraising of the West Island Women’s Shelter, (WIWS) is well aware of domestic violence in the West Island.

One of Gibb’s responsibilities is creating community awareness to a growing problem affecting many West Island women.

It was 1978 when several ladies who were victims of conjugal violence decided to band together in the same living space with the aim of mutually helping each other with their needs.

The problem grew, and on Feb. 6, 1979, WIWS was incorporated with a grant from Centraide allowing the rental of an apartment over a garage to be utilized by eight women and their children.

Women who use the services experience violence in some way. They are slowly destroyed by the constant control, insults, and denigration.

“Today, conjugal violence has reached epidemic proportions. It affects women of all ages, knows no economic, social or ethnic boundaries and can include psychological, verbal, physical and sexual violence as well as financial control. At the WIWS, our counsellors work hand in hand with victims to help them take back control of their lives. After all, every woman has the right to live without fear and with dignity,” said Hélène Harvey, president of the Board of Directors at WIWS.

WIWS services include a 24/7 days crisis hot line, shelter, external services, second stage housing, (partially subsidized), prevention and awareness.

“There has been a significant increase in requests for information from family and friends of victims of conjugal violence. Often, these people who are closest to the victims wonder how to best intervene while being supportive and keeping their own boundaries intact. At the WIWS, not only do we offer help to the women and children but we also offer support for their family and friends,” said a WIWS counsellor.

“Women between the ages of 16-25 are four times as susceptible to this type of violence,” Gibb told The Suburban.

Two hundred plus women receive in house consultation while living at the shelter or living at Alternat’Elle (second stage subsidized housing), or external consultation while living in the community.

Over 120 children receive the same consultation. Every summer, WIWS offers a counselling and activity group for kids between the ages of six-12.

“I arrived with a heart which was so completely broken; I could not control my emotions. I landed at the shelter in a completely unknown milieu, with three children. It was not clear at all how it would all end up. The only thing I knew was that we were in a secure environment. 

“I got to know my individual needs firstly as a woman, and secondly as a mother. I reconnected with my rights and my limits and I am slowly incorporating them into my daily life,” said B (name protected). 

“I am now proud to say that I have retrieved my abilities and qualities as a woman. I am slowly taking back control of my life in an appropriate way, not an easy task.”

“After having experienced violence of all sorts for over 10 years, it is especially difficult in getting over the sexual violence which had an enormous impact on me,” B said. 

“This year, our focus will be on developing community events aimed at increasing public awareness about conjugal violence. Our goal is to work toward social changes directed at eliminating this form of abuse. Through our various activities—such as our fall Conference on Conjugal Violence (open to the public), our own fundraising activities plus joint fundraising activities with the business community—we expect to significantly increase our visibility in the community,” added Gibb.

A special fundraising event to benefit WIWS will be taking place on Friday, Aug. 15, at Chapters-Indigo bookstore, Pointe Claire, between 3:30-9:30 p.m.

WIWS is currently distributing personalized bookmarks, which will trigger a 10 per cent donation on sales to the organization during that time period.

“It is a great corporate initiative. It helps making a difference in our attempt in eliminating conjugal violence,” proudly stated Gibb.

Further information on WIWS can be viewed via westislandwomensshelter.org or by phone at [514] 620-4845.
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