Supporting women survivors of violence

Victims and Survivors of Crime Week (May 15–21, 2022): Discussing issues facing diverse victims of crimes and culturally safe resources and safety planning available to them

By Daniela Cohen

Forty-four per cent of women reported experiencing some form of violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime, according to 2018 Statistics Canada data. And 2019 data showed that approximately every six days, a woman in Canada is killed by her intimate partner.

Gender-based violence, as defined by the United Nations, is “harmful acts directed at an individual based on their gender,” which are rooted in gender inequality. This includes “sexual, physical, mental, and economic forms of abuse inflicted in public or in private as well as threats of violence, coercion, and manipulation.” Women, girls, Two Spirit, trans and non-binary people are at greater risk of experiencing gender-based violence.

Seeking help as a newcomer woman

Women who are newcomers to Canada face many challenges in seeking support when faced with gender-based violence, says Lisa, a violence prevention clinical counsellor at DIVERSEcity.

Women may experience a “two-pronged” stigma around speaking out if they come from cultures where violence is more normalized and believe Canada is a place where this is less prevalent. Women may also be both legally and financially dependent on their husband, and therefore fear losing their status in Canada, being deported or even losing their children.

That fear is heightened because newcomer women may be isolated without a social network, unaware of the supports available to them, or reluctant to access services that are not available in their first language.

For women who have experienced sexual assault, additional systemic challenges are financial barriers in accessing medical care and the legal system, as well a lack of faith in the police system to assist them, says Neeru, coordinator of DIVERSEcity’s new sexual assault response program called It Happens Here Too…

Services to support

Under the provincially funded Stopping the Violence counselling program umbrella, DIVERSEcity offers various free, confidential services to support anyone who self identifies as a woman and has experienced violence. These trauma-informed, client-centred services include clinical counselling in several languages, and multicultural victims services outreach support to access housing and employment, as well as accompaniment to appointments.

The It Happens Here Too… program provides immediate support to women survivors, including creating a safety plan and connection to longer-term resources. Collaboration with other agencies to fill in service gaps is key to ensure the women’s culture and unique experiences are taken into account.

Creating cultural safety

To provide culturally safe services like these, Neeru says it’s important to gain more understanding about clients’ cultures and what their cultural beliefs mean to them.  This allows counsellors to meet people where they are at. “We are their support service and not there to make decisions for them.”

Lisa explains that to dismantle her “counsellor” position as one of power, she approaches clients as “partners in wellness.”

Sara (name changed for privacy) accessed the sexual assault response program after being assaulted by a distant relative. As the trial with the offender approached, she struggled with issues in the home and was depressed and self harming. Through ongoing phone support, and particularly after an opportunity to meet in person, Sara began to reach out to Neeru more and stopped self harming.

“Just knowing someone is there thinking about them makes a difference,” says Neeru.


Resources for women who have experienced violence

DIVERSEcity’s Stopping the Violence Counselling for self-identified women

DIVERSEcity’s Multicultural Victims Services Outreach

DIVERSEcity’s It Happens Here Too… Sexual Assault Response Coordination Program

Surrey Women’s Centre

Contact a support worker at 604-583-1295

Fraser Health Crisis Line: 604-951-8855


Toll-free, confidential, multilingual telephone service available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Call 1-800-563-0808 or email

Atira Women’s Resource Society

COVID-19 call-in line: 604-800-8881

Battered Women’s Support Services

Call 604-687-1867, text 604-652-1867 or email

Ending Violence Association of BC

Find resources and services in BC, and information on ending violence.

Nisa Helpline

Helpline assists Muslim women across North America seeking confidential, peer-to-peer counselling on a variety of issues. Call 1-888-315-6472.

Nisa Homes Vancouver

A safe haven and support services for women, with or without children, who are fleeing domestic violence, poverty or seeking asylum.

Tri-City Transitions Society

Women Against Violence Against Women: 604-255-6344

BC211 for referrals to other resources: Call 2-1-1

Transition Houses and Safe Homes from BC Housing

Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter: 604-872-8212

Legal Aid BC

Legal information outreach workers (LIOWs) are Legal Aid BC staff can provide you with legal information and referral services

Embrace Clinic

The Embrace Clinic provides free short-term medical care to survivors of recent violence.

Note: For women who have experienced sexual assault, forensic exams at public hospitals are free of charge.