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How a Montreal woman took the steps to escape after more than a decade of physical and psychological abuse
“I just want to kill myself.” When Sabrina heard these words from her 14 year old son’s mouth, she knew she had to act. “I can’t lose my child to it,” she told herself. After more than a decade of physical and psychological abuse by her husband, Sabrina decided it was time to get out. Sabrina is a pseudonym. CBC News has agreed to hide her identity while the case against her husband goes to trial. But Sabrina wanted to speak up – knowing that her experience could inspire other women in similar situations, even though she is aware that she is one of the lucky ones. It was a tragic start to 2021 in Quebec. Eight women were killed in eight weeks. Sabrina said she could easily have been one of them. “He isolated me from everyone and everything” Dreams of a happy marriage, full of love and acceptance, were crushed, says Sabrina, when she moved to Canada from the United States and married her husband. She didn’t know that she was going to move into a house with her husband and his parents and it was immediately clear why she was there. “I was there for his parents to serve,” she said. “I didn’t feel any connection to my husband. He got very cold with me, he would abuse me financially, emotionally, psychologically. He isolated me from everyone and everything.” “I think the hardest thing is to take that step and the fear first. I feared him very much. I’m still doing. ‘ – Sabrina The abuse was physical and sexual. “After a while it just felt normal. And obviously I didn’t have the energy to fight them off because I had one child at a time and was just too overwhelmed by it all.” Soon her husband turned his anger on his four children too. The two eldest sons bore the brunt of his physical violence. In 2013 Sabrina suspected for the first time that it could be different. She went to the police after an incident and was informed about the West Island Women’s Shelter. “I didn’t even know there were shelters in 2013. Can you believe that?” She said. Sabrina stayed there with her four children before her husband convinced her to return home with the promise that things would be different. “It showed a completely different person, a person who had recognized his mistake, who was willing to clear it up, and who understands that this was wrong,” she said. “I fell for it. I gave him another chance. I came back.” Nothing had changed. “My breaking point was when he physically abused my eldest son,” said Sabrina. The 14-year-old was quietly reading a book when his father told him to get up. Angry that he was not immediately obeyed, his father grabbed the book, tore it to pieces, and hit the boy. “My kid ran upstairs. He said ‘I just want to kill myself'” Sabrina said. “When I heard these words from my child’s mouth, I was like no. I can’t lose my child to it.” Finding Refuge The next few steps were not exactly easy. Sabrina called the police and her husband was arrested. Unsure what to do next, she contacted the West Island Women’s Shelter and was put on a waiting list for help. She couldn’t move to the shelter yet. She now knows that this was a precarious moment in her life. She had an injunction against her husband, but she feared it would be useless. “He threatened us many times to kill us. I had to get over it, I’m still not over it,” said Sabrina. In autumn 2019, Sabrina finally met Andrée-Anne Perreault-Girard. “My job is to work with women to provide information and legal advice in all of their legal processes,” said Perreault-Girard. Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault says the recent series of violence against women is unacceptable. (Jacques Boissinot / The Canadian Press) A free service for the women who use the shelter. External service. For some, having someone by their side can be so easy. For many, however, it is an introduction to the legal system, including preparing testimony. “The women who are victims are not part of the file. It’s law enforcement and defense, so they are simple witnesses,” Perreault-Girard said. “Just to understand that and that the prosecutor is not your lawyer, it’s a step.” Sabrina had never been downtown, let alone in court. “If [Andrée-Anne] wasn’t by my side if she hadn’t given me all the information I needed, even if she was physically at court, just because she was there I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have, “said Sabrina also meant asking her two oldest children to testify against their father. “I sat them down and explained to them, asked if they were willing to attend. And they did. They wanted to tell their story, “explained Sabrina.” They wanted their father to see the consequences of his actions. “In December, Sabrina’s husband was convicted of, among other things, criminal harassment. He is awaiting conviction. Resources, systematic changes In March Justice Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette announced that Quebec would expand a program to help children and other vulnerable Witnesses themselves Feeling safer when testifying in criminal matters. The government has highlighted that the program was first developed by the EU Crime Victims Assistance Center (CAVAC) in the Outaouais region: “The CAVACs will implement this specific program, which no one else will Organization in Quebec, “said Paul-Jean Charest, a Justice Department spokesman. With the exception of nonprofits throughout the province, this resource has been provided by outside services for years. Even then, funding and staff shortages often have long waiting lists cannot offer services to everyone “, explains rte Perreault-Girard that the West Island Women’s Shelter usually offers external services to around 80 families at the same time. “We have a waiting list of other women who want other services, and in the meantime we just can’t. We can’t.” Women’s organizations across the province have spoken out. You say the system is underfunded and needs to be overhauled. You have also denounced the Quebec government’s attempt to act too quickly when it comes to making changes without proper consultation and an awareness of the most pressing needs. This assessment was confirmed when the budget was presented on March 25th. The budget included $ 22.5 million in additional funding over five years for services to women in existing shelters, as well as a $ 180 million plan announced last winter. “My amazement – in the truest sense of the word my amazement – after reading this budget is the fact that the government has not measured what it is about,” said Gaëlle Fedida, coordinator at l’Alliance MH2, the shelters of the ‘second tier “represents temporary accommodation for women. This week, Deputy Prime Minister Geneviève Guilbault was given the mandate to lead a task force to combat domestic and sexual violence against women. The move has led to cautious optimism. For Sabrina the answer is clear. Without the shelter’s help, she believes she is still trapped with her abusive husband, or worse, another name put on the list of those killed. “I think the hardest thing is to take that step and fear first. I feared him very much. I still do.” If you are in imminent danger, call 911. If you need help, SOS Violence Conjugale is a nationwide toll-free crisis management line that is available around the clock. You can reach them by phone at 1-800-363-9010 or by text at 438-601-1211. You can also find information on the new SOS website.