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NNSL Photo/Graphic

The Qimaavik Women's Crisis Shelter in Iqaluit is the only facility for women in violent relationships. Cheryl Nadeau, executive director of the shelter, and Annie Onalik, senior councillor, are helping women deal with family violence. - Neils Christensen/NNSL photo

Stopping the violence

Neils Christensen
Northern News Services

Iqaluit (July 05/04) - From the first day of her marriage, Annie Onalik experienced physical abuse. She suffered for 20 years before she finally left her husband.

"I always thought the abuse would stop," said Onalik, senior counsellor at the Qimaavik Women's Crisis Shelter in Iqaluit.

NNSL Photo/Graphic

Kugluktuk (July 05/04) - In a six-day period Kugluktuk RCMP responded to five complaints of spousal assault.

The first occurred on June 17 when a woman complained that her common- law husband was beating her. He was arrested.

On June 18 Police learned that a man had assaulted his spouse. The woman was taken to the health centre for treatment. The man was arrested and sent to Iqaluit to appear in court.

On June 19 police investigated a report of a man threatening his spouse and mother in-law, with a rifle. He was arrested and sent to Iqaluit to appear in court.

Police were called to a residence on June 21 after a woman reported that she had been beaten by her husband.

The latest assault was reported on June 22. Police answering a complaint about shouting found that a husband had hit his wife.

"I thought that we could work it out, but I was wrong. I finally realized that I couldn't change him. I was the one who would have to change."

She uses her experience to show women that they don't have to stay in an abusive relationship.

"I didn't think I would ever work here," she said. "I was a regular client, but now I'm a counsellor."

Onalik said the biggest issue with abuse is for more women to come forward. If women don't go for help, the cycle of abuse will continue.

Seeking help

This year the number of women using the shelter has increased 70 per cent.

Cheryl Nadeau, executive director of the shelter, said while the number is high, it doesn't mean that more abuse is happening.

"I think the abuse was there, now just more women are coming here and asking for help," she said.

"It's a good thing that women are now asking for help."

Madeleine Qumuatuq, president of Qulliit Nunavut Status of Women Council, said more people have to talk about the issue.

"The abuse happens behind closed doors and nobody wants to talk about it," she said. "The cycle will only continue if we are silent."

Qumuatuq said that family violence affects everyone in a community. For that reason, she said more people have to be involved.

One woman, whose name is being withheld, said she she lived in an abusive relationship for 11 years. She moved to Iqaluit hoping to get away.

When she started talking about the abuse, it helped with her healing process to admit there was a problem.

"As I was talking about my relationship, I starting feeling as if I were coming out of an egg shell," she said. "When the egg shell broke off it was a beautiful world."

Onalik said for most women, abuse isn't easy to talk about, which is why it's important to have places like the shelter and other healing programs.

She said the shelter is a safe place for women to talk about their problems without worrying about what people think.

Nadeau said part of the problem with family violence is there aren't very many programs to help both women and men.

"I think it would be good to see more safe houses in the communities and have regional crisis shelters," she said.

"A long-term solution would be to provide counselling program for the abusers."

Most of the problems that face Nunavut, like housing shortage, drug and alcohol abuse and lack of employment, have contributed to family violence, she said.

Nadeau said that after staying in the shelter for six weeks, the women head back to their husbands because they have nowhere else to go.

"We try to educate our clients that there are options," she said. "It's hard because their options are limited."

Taking control

To solve the problem of family violence, Qumuatuq said there has to be more support from hamlet councils.

The territorial government has to provide more money for anger management programs and counselling, she said.

Levinia Brown, minister of Health and Social Services and minister responsible for Status of Women, said the initiatives have to come from the communities.

The government has created the Violence Against Women Working group. The group brings together organizations like Qulliit Status of Women, the RCMP, NTI and the government to resolve some problems.

Both Nadeau and Onalik have seen success stories from the crisis shelter.

"One client came up to me and mentioned that she was going into a drug treatment program," said Onalik. "It makes me feel good when I'm able to help a client."