A Safe Space: the London Abused Women's Centre
Think of some of the most important women in your life. They may be your mother, a sister, a spouse, a friend, or maybe even yourself. Some people are lucky enough to be born into a safe environment for women, one where care and compassion are exemplified, without any immediate threat to anyone’s safety.
The reality, however, is that a safe home life is not a luxury afforded to all. That’s where the London Abused Women’s Centre comes in. They provide a space of refuge for women who are fleeing an abusive or violent environment.
It is a place that has been offered to women for over 30 years, and has only grown as time has gone on. “Last year we served over 8000 women or girls,” said Executive Director of the London Abused Women’s Centre, Megan Walker. “We have a policy at the agency that all women have a right to immediate access to service so any woman who needs help can call or walk in and be seen or spoken to immediately.”
Walker has been an advocate in the fight in preventing violence against women since she saw the news headlines for the 1989 École Polytechnique Massacre which claimed the lives of 14 women, injuring more on the sole basis that they were feminist activists. “I remember that day very clearly,” Walker reflects, “I had two children at home - two daughters. One was only six months old. I remember hearing the story and just being chilled to the bone and incredibly sad. I just thought at that moment I looked at my children and figured I had to do more for my community.” Walker starting volunteering around London, becoming an elected member of city council before getting involved with the London Abused Women’s Centre over twenty years ago.
In her time, Walker has seen a steady increase in services offered to women, with more people seeking help every year. “Over the last two years specifically, we have had over a one-hundred percent increase in women reaching out for service,” she explained, “definitely more women are in need of help. We at one time thought that perhaps the spike was in service demands were related to public awareness and making sure women knew there were services but as time has gone by, we’ve realized that there is just more abuse.”
It is jarring to think about the harsh reality that a home or workplace is not a safe environment for many women. From abusive spouses, to coercive coworkers or superiors, women can be in constant threat. While recent women’s movements like Me Too, Shine The Light and Time’s Up are forcing a discussion about the treatment of women and may empower more to stand up for themselves, the reality is that abuse is still rampant, and many women are still in desperate need of refuge.
When a woman contacts the London Abused Women’s Centre, the first thing that they do is provide a safety plan for them to ensure that they feel secure where they are and lay out the parameters that may undermine that. They then begin discussions with the trained professionals at the Centre, building trust with them which will allow for the woman to share their experience. From there, they will advocate on behalf of the woman in order to help them get back on their feet, aiding in the seeking of new employment or navigating the treacherous legal system which makes it incredibly difficult for women to report crimes and see any tangible action taken.
Another area where the London Abused Women’s Centre is heavily involved in is its crackdown on human sex trafficking, which is an epidemic in Canada, specifically Ontario. The Centre set out a digital advertising campaign that targeted sex purchasers and sex trafficking victims which saw great success in its 16-week run. “We have a huge problem in Canada with sex trafficking. Young girls and young women are being lured from high schools, universities, colleges, bars, workplaces across this country,” Walker explained, as London is a hub for sex trafficking because of its equidistance from Toronto and Detroit and access to the 400 series highways. “It’s really important that we reach out to women through digitally targeted campaigns to let them know services are available… also, we need to reach out to men who are choosing actively to purchase sexual services. Many men don’t understand that that is a criminal offence in Canada.”
The digital campaign accumulated over 10.5 million online impressions with over 65,000 interactions and over 185 direct phone calls to the Centre. In total, the London Abused Women’s Centre has provided aid to over 2,400 women who were caught in sex trafficking since 2015.
There are serious horrors that women are privy to simply being the sex that they are. It is part of a systemic problem that allows for boys to grow up thinking that women are objects for one’s pleasure. While the work that the London Abused Women’s Centre does is extremely important, their increasing numbers are doubly good and bad. They are good because more women are reaching out and getting the help that they need; bad because it shows that abuse towards women is not just a thing of the past, it is still a prevalent issue.
With the success of their online campaigns combating sex trafficking, the Centre has gained international renown for its operation strategy with its model being replicated in other places around the world.
There is no shortage of community support for the London Abused Women’s Centre, receiving generous donations in their yearly fundraisers along with solid governmental support at all levels. They are an important cog in the machine that is the fight against violence towards women, and with its dedicated members, vow to never stop sticking up for those who have been hurt.