Breaking the Cycle: The Assaulted Women’s Helpline Empowering Women Across Ontario
On November 4th, 1985, the Assaulted Women’s Helpline (AWHL) answered its first call. In their first year, they answered an incredible 5,000 calls across the GTA. Over one million calls later, AWHL has grown to serve women across the province and beyond.
The AWHL provides help and support to women across Ontario 24 hours a day, seven days a week. With telephone and TTY crisis line counselling, online counselling, safety planning, emotional support, information, and referrals in over 200 languages, the Helpline is often the first point of contact for abused women, especially for those whose vulnerability is exacerbated by isolation, language barriers, or disability.
Women call the Helpline for many reasons. Some are seeking information or would like a referral to a local agency. Others are in need of emotional support or require a safety plan, while some callers need immediate crisis assistance. All are met with compassion and respect by trained counsellors who can help a woman look at her situation and explore the options available to her.
AWHL counsellors answer more than 90,000 calls annually, but we know many more women need our services—some may not be aware that AWHL exists or may not even realize that they are experiencing abuse. It is difficult to ask for help if you do not realize that what you are experiencing is abuse. Not all abuse is physical, and most abusive relationships do not start out that way.
Intimate partner violence (IPV) encompasses a range of behaviours that one person in the relationship uses to control, dominate, or exert power over their partner. It can involve physical violence, sexual abuse, emotional manipulation, and controlling behaviours. IPV can take many forms, including emotional, financial, digital, physical, and sexual abuse. At its core, IPV is about power and control, and abusers will use a variety of tactics, including manipulation, isolation, intimidation, and threats to exert control over their partner. These behaviours can go unnoticed at first, but their impact can be profound, resulting in emotional trauma, low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and a sense of helplessness. Typically, there is a cycle of violence that is perpetuated in abusive relationships—tension builds, an act of violence ensues, and a period of remorse begins, followed by a promise to change. But the change rarely happens, so tensions mount once again, but the cycle is shorter each time, and the violence intensifies.
Warning signs that you may be in an abusive relationship include making it difficult for you to see family or friends, criticizing the clothes you wear, demanding to know where you are, putting you down in front of others, using physical force or threatening you. AWHL’s website includes an interactive questionnaire to help women, friends, and family better understand the types of abuse and the signs to look for at awhl.org.
The Assaulted Women’s Helpline is available 24/7 to assist callers facing a wide range of challenges. Our counsellors provide a lifeline to thousands of women when they need it most. Often, a call to the Helpline can and does save a woman’s life. If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-866-863-0511.
Toronto Star Newspapers Limited