Centre Victoria pour femmes (CVF) in Sudbury provides transitional support to francophone women victims of violence living in Northern Ontario. With satellites in Wawa, Elliot Lake, Algoma and Sault-Ste-Marie, the centre provides a number of services as well as a French telephone crisis line. This is their story.
Centre Victoria pour femmes was incorporated in 1995 when it received funding from the Ministry of the Attorney General for the delivery of sexual assault services and a regional francophone crisis line staffed with volunteers.
In 2003, as part of a plan to improve access to crisis services for francophone women in Ontario, le Centre Victoria pour femmes received funding from the Ministry of Community and Social Services (MCSS) to expand the francophone crisis line FEM-AIDE, to the 705 and 807 area codes. Four years later, in 2007, Centre Victoria pour femmes was officially recognized under the French Language Services Act.
Together with Oasis Centre pour femmes and Maison d’Amitié in Ottawa, Centre Victoria pour femmes is one of three transfer payment agencies in the province funded by MCSS to manage the francophone crisis line. As the point of entry to other services offered by Centre Victoria pour femmes and community agencies, the line is accessible free of charge throughout Ontario, 24 hours a day by dialing 1 877 336-2433 (ATS 1 866 860-7082). During year 2008-2009, CVF alone received 3,134 calls.
CVF is not a shelter but rather an agency that offers transitional support to francophone women victims of violence and sexual abuse. The centre provides emergency crisis intervention, one on one counselling in person and over the telephone, as well as workshops in self-defence, anger management and art therapy. If the need arises, clients are referred to a shelter in their area.
To raise awareness among francophone women and how to access its services, Centre Victoria pour femmes publishes a newsletter, de Vive Voix, outlining its services and programs, resources and activities. CVF also distributes information kits to young francophone women throughout Northern Ontario colleges.
The centre has been successful in helping women overcome violence. One such story comes from a client from the Sault-Ste-Marie area whose family member referred her to FEM-AIDE as a first step in dealing with past abuse. The client was sexually assaulted, physically and psychologically abused in her childhood. Initially she could not speak of her past abuse as it evoked intense emotions and physical distress. After weekly sessions of relaxation, grounding techniques and self-esteem, she was able to deal with her past. Today, this young woman is embarking on a promising career in academics.
Because Centre Victoria pour femmes deals in all forms of violence against women, it is not unusual for it to receive calls from girls as young as 12, says founder and Executive Director, Gaëtane Pharand. At the other end of the spectrum, CVF also receives calls from women in their seventies who have suffered family violence most of their adult life.
According to Pharand, a woman is abused on average 35 times before seeking help. Breaking the cycle of abuse is a priority across governments and communities. Thankfully, for francophone women in Ontario, the Centre Victoria pour femmes is leading the way.