When Andrea* was “plunked” into Renfrew County, Ont., she didn’t know a soul. A women’s shelter in an Ontario city had suggested she move there because there was social housing available. Her common-law husband had suffered a psychotic break and tried to kill her. Restraining orders weren’t keeping him away.
“The police’s hands were tied,” she told HuffPost Canada in an interview.
So Andrea left her home and her friends and moved to the rural Ottawa Valley. A therapist at the Women’s Sexual Assault Centre of Renfrew County became her main source of support. More than a decade earlier, she was attacked and sexually assaulted on a date. That experience, and what happened with her husband, changed her.
“I went from a very confident, successful person to someone who was afraid to leave my bedroom,” Andrea said.
The women’s centre gives her free therapy and access to support 24 hours a day. They also provide gas cards so Andrea can drive the hour it takes to get to their office.
I went from a very confident, successful person to someone who was afraid to leave my bedroom.
“Having people to reach out to is the biggest help. Somebody who knows my story, that I don’t have to explain over and over again,” Andrea said. It’s not easy to talk to friends and family about being sexually assaulted, she said, so she’s grateful to talk to someone who “gets it.”
In Renfrew County and other rural areas of Canada, talking about sexual assault is not easy. Many people see sexual assault as something “from away,” that only affects people in big cities. Small, tight-knit communities mean that most people who are assaulted likely know not just the perpetrator, but the perpetrator’s friends and family as well.
The director of the centre that helps Andrea says rural areas are in desperate need of services for people who have been sexually assaulted or abused. The centre sees about 3,000 clients a year in a county of 102,000 people.