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Our Stories Don't End the Minute We Leave

by Amanda Preston

Did you know that a staggering 1 in 3 women have experienced physical and/or sexual abuse in their lifetime? Violence against women and girls is one of the most widespread human rights violations in the world.

I am a survivor in more than one incident. I am both a survivor of sexual trafficking and sexual violence and abuse that occurred during my teen years.

I would like to share another part of my story as we close in on the end of #WomenAbusePreventionMonth, and mark the 4th day of the 16 days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence ending on December 10th - Human Rights Day.

I believe by sharing this, that I can help raise awareness to the fact that as victims and survivors that our stories don't end the minute that we are able to leave an abusive situation. We need immediate and continued support and this is why sharing resources with each other is so important.

In my late teen years, I found myself in a vulnerable place in my life again due to the trauma that I had suffered a couple years prior from my trafficking experience. At the time, I was easily manipulated into a relationship with an individual that turned abusive.

During this time, I would be charmed by what appeared to be loving behavior in turn to be torn down by words and psychological manipulation. I remember one time like it was yesterday when he was angry with me and spat in my face. I felt like I was worthless at that moment.

I did leave one day, but returned again to the relationship. Now please don't judge - victims often cling to their abuser despite repeated abuse. When I returned, he was going to let me know what consequences there would be for my having left the first time. I was literally forced to stay in his basement bedroom for a period of time, and could only leave if he was present with me.

Then the relationship began to turn sexually violent. While I fully understood the feeling of having to engage in sexual acts without my permission from having been a victim of sexual trafficking in the past, to have things done to you and to be made to do things against your will by the person you believe you love is a different horrifying feeling.

During this time, he would allow me to come upstairs on occasion to mingle with his friends when he would have a party where he would openly grope me and show me off like I was his "possession." He would always make sure to tell me if I left him, that he would find me this time and I would be sorry.

One day when he had left to go and be with another girl, I knew I just couldn't do it anymore. I snuck upstairs when I was certain he was gone and called someone I knew to meet me and while I was terrified leaving that home, I ran as fast as I could.

But, you see the story doesn't end there because although I left I was still fearful for how he would react when he returned home to find me gone. So, I ended up calling him later and he was very angry. He told me that I was to come back immediately as he had a baseball bat waiting for me. I didn't return. I reached out to extended family who helped me with a safety plan.

Now some of you might be reading this and wonder why I didn't call the police. Well, my experience with calling the police before hadn't turned out positive. So, I guess I thought from experiences in my past, that stuff just happened to people and you had to move on with your life. And that is what I did, sort-of. While I had left and returned home to stay with my parents, I was in constant fear. He had threatened harm to myself and my family in the past and I was always afraid that he would follow through with his threats. What if he really was going to find me and make due on his promises?

My parents began receiving a lot of phone calls, sometimes late at night and they soon after had their number changed. I later found out that they had been receiving threatening calls. They did their best to try and protect me from believing I was in danger of harm. But, those feelings did not go away quickly like I had hoped they would. There was always the question in the back of mind that would ask:

"If I had stayed, would this be happening right now?" "Would my family then be safe and not have to worry?"

Then, you would go back to remembering the times when your abuser was "nice" to you, when he told you that he loved you, where he would woo you and make you feel special for that one moment. Or what if I could have changed him? What if I still could? I miss him. I don't want to be alone. But, he loved me, didn't he? Those were all things I would think and continually think.

Looking back today, I can empathize with other victims because I understand the struggle of being in an abusive relationship and the extreme difficulty and struggle that occurs when you finally do leave. While, I may not have had tons of resources given to me to deal with what had occurred in my past, I am happy to see today that there is so much more talk about this issue. And we need to continue to talk. We need to break the silence of Violence against Women!

Often victims and survivors are afraid to talk because there can be a certain shame that comes from believing that you "allowed" this to happen to you and that you may still believe that you somehow love them and can change them. But, we need to remember that it is NOT our fault when someone hurts us. And we are only in control of ourselves. The only person that can cause change to their lives is themselves. We CAN'T change them! And when we speak up and speak out, we let others know that they are NOT ALONE! We give them courage to reach out, to get the help they need, and to begin to heal!

If you are in an abusive relationship today or you know someone who is and need help, you can call the Assaulted Women's Helpline which offers a 24-hour telephone and TTY crisis line and provides counselling, emotional support, information and referrals. Call 1-866-863-0511 or #SAFE (7233) on your mobile.

You can also call #211 to find individual resources available to you. Within the community of Grey-Bruce, Victim Services Bruce Grey Perth @ 1-866-376-9852 is available to help, and the Sexual Assault and Partner Abuse Care Centre @ 519-376-2121 ext 2458, as well. If you need safe shelter here, please contact The Women's Centre Grey Bruce Inc. @ 519-371-1600 or the Women's House Serving Bruce & Grey @ 519.396.9655. If you are in immediate danger or know someone who is, please call #911 or your local police services.

Let's continue to #speakup and #breakthesilence and let others know they are not alone! There is help out there and you can get through this - one second, one minute, one hour and one day at a time! #silentnomore #ENDViolence #ENDVAW #ENDGBV #16DaysofActivism #16Days

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