Stand in Your Power

If there’s one piece of advice that Louise Pitre can offer Canadian women, it is “Stand in your power.”

The phrase may seem short and simple, but its message hardly lacks impact. As the Executive Director at Sexual Assault Centre London in London, Ontario, Louise has spent more than six years heading the organization, which provides a safe place for all victims of sexual violence and harassment. Offering a multitude of services, including a 24-hour crisis and support line, individual and group counselling, and public education and training, the women who make up SACL envision a world without sexual violence.

Fifty-one percent of all Canadian women have experienced at least one incident of sexual or physical violence. This sobering fact is what moves SACL’s staff and volunteers to change the stories of the men, women and children in the community.

“The work we do is important because when you have been sexually assaulted, you have been violated at your core,” says Louise. “It harms your spirit, your body, your soul. The healing journey becomes important because we want women and girls to be able to live to their full potential. If you carry that trauma forever and do not address it, there isn't that opportunity, and it can shatter lives."

SACL serves close to three thousand clients every year through their many services. This includes accompanying clients to the hospital or police, counselling, or offering assistance through the crisis phone line.

SACL has two full-time counsellors who provide free, confidential, non-judgmental counselling services. Heather Fredin started as a volunteer seventeen years ago and now dedicates her professional life to helping victims on their healing journey as a counsellor. Heather explains that a lot of women who come to SACL are coming for trauma they have experienced as a child.

“I hear women come in, and they say that their friends or their family will say to them 'just get over it'. It is really minimizing the impact of that abuse,” she says. “I don't know why we still get stuck around this issue of why it’s wrong to take care of yourself if you notice things are surfacing from your past.”

Heather believes that allowing yourself to get help is a huge step.

“Physical and sexual abuse is a really traumatic experience, and if you don't get support, it can hang around. Any time is a good time to get support.”

Louise stresses that her beliefs in feminism are in line with what SACL does, and that those ideals are essential to the message of the organization.

"I think feminism is a way of seeing the world that allows us to recognize that the way in which women, men, girls and boys have been socialized are different,” says Louise. “Because they're different, our gender impacts the levels of power, the access to privilege we may have. It also contributes to the vulnerability. We need to change attitudes in our society about women, about sexism in working towards equality.”

Although Louise feels women have made progress, she feels a lot more work has to be done.

“I tell my 18-year-old daughter and 15-year-old son, especially my daughter that just so you know, if what’s happening in our home with allowance were applied to the real world, you would get 70% of what your brother gets."

Louise also thinks there has to be support in other areas in order for these issues to be properly addressed.

“There has to be a lot of goodwill from the governments. We have made progress, and we will continue to make progress, but there is a lot of hard work to get there.” Although SACL does primarily see more women coming through their doors, they also provide a safe place for men to share their stories of trauma. Heather Fredin believes that it is essential to recognize that sexual violence can happen to men and boys as well. “There are different pressures on men and boys regarding being silent around that issue. I'm glad we're talking about it happening to boys,” she says. “I would like to see us do more work with men and boys. I think that’s an important piece of it.”

Louise says that a big part of getting people involved in the issues and raising awareness is through youth engagement. She has created and been a part of several initiatives which help youth become more involved with the organization.

“Our youth mobilization group engages youth. We are also launching a website very soon called ‘Be the Revolution’, and we just completed a participatory action research project called ‘Girls Helping Girls,’” she explains. “We had over thirty young women involved in that initiative about building leadership capacity.”

Louise believes that there is a lot of negative stigma about youth involvement in our society, and she takes pride in providing a place for youth to let their voices be heard. She thinks that an important part of being the leader of an agency means that opportunities for youth must be optimized in order to spread the message.

“We often hear comments that youth are not engaged,” she explains. “I don't believe that to be true. I believe youth care deeply about their community, and they care deeply about these issues, and they want an opportunity to be involved.”

SACL believes that there are little things everyone can do to stop sexual violence, and that recognizing the role everyone has is essential to ending that sexual violence.

“People need to recognize that sexual violence exists. When they are in a situation where it’s happening, they need to find safe ways to stop it, or they need to find ways to refer that person to the help that they might need,” she says. “When a survivor discloses to us, we can believe that person. Just doing that creates safety. We can tell our friend at the bar trying to take a woman home who's drunk that that’s not cool. We can stop downloading music full of sexism that hurts women. We can stop watching TV shows that are full of sexism.”

The women of SACL also shed light on the fact that the people who are affected by sexual violence are not the only ones who suffer as a result.

“This issue affects all of us. It is not limited to the women who walk through this door. It’s our sisters. It’s our daughters, our brothers, sons, grandmothers, aunts.”

As for Louise’s advice, she believes that motivating a woman to stand in her power is a message that relates to all women. She promotes the idea that women are resilient, and encourages people on a daily basis to be everything they can and fulfill their potential. The messages of positivity that the women of SACL provide are meant to empower their clients, and the community.

“The women we work with are fantastic,” says Heather.

Louise is proud of the work she does and the response from the community, feeling support from a number of sectors. She appreciates that support and feels it adds to the success of SACL. She believes that the work that has been done at SACL has saved lives, and if SACL did not exist, there would be a large void and a longer journey for people to obtain the help that they need in order to survive.

“As one client said to me – ‘If SACL were not here, I may not be here’,” Louise recalls.

Perhaps the most inspiring thing Louise adds is the reason why she dedicates her life to helping people.

“I do this every day because I want a better world for my daughter and for my son. Creating a world without sexual violence is about creating a world free of violence, a world of peace,” she says. “My daughter deserves not to be raped, and not to be made into a sexual object. My son deserves that as well. He deserves to be a sweet, kind man without being ridiculed. That matters to me.”

Written by Cassie Dowse
Edited by KristineScarrow

1 comment:

Sheila Stevenson said...

"Powerful" article. Well said. Now let's keeping going to make this a better world where all people are safe and accepted.