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“I am not a victim. I am a survivor.”

Erica was living the carefree, college life in Hamilton when she met him. He was wild and fun… everything you want from a college boyfriend. They started dating and within a couple of months Erica was pregnant.

She knew immediately that she was keeping the baby. Erica told him she would do this with him if he chose to stay, or on her own if he didn’t. He stayed. Erica took time off school. He continued to party. Despite her requests that he start cutting back on his drinking before the baby was born, he persisted. The more she asked him to slow down, the more heavily he drank. The more he drank, the more abusive his words became. Before long his verbal abuse turned physical. Erica learned to live on eggshells, not wanting to risk harm to her unborn baby. She did whatever she could to keep the peace.

Baby Avery was born. And she was beautiful.

But Erica’s joy eroded as the abuse became more and more violent. She didn’t know what to do. She was alone in a still unfamiliar city without friends, family or a job. She couldn’t afford to go back to school. Leaving Avery alone with “him” was out of the question. Erica was scared and felt trapped but she didn’t know how to ask for help because she was convinced this was all in her head, despite the very real bruises.

One night, when Avery was not quite two years old, she witnessed her father choking Erica with such ferocity that she wasn’t able to breathe. When he finally let her go, Erica crawled into the kitchen sobbing. Curled up into a ball, she cried out for someone to help her. When she looked up, little Avery was smiling into her eyes. She patted her mom’s back and said, ‘it’s okay, mommy.’

“She is my angel.”

After that incident, Erica and Avery moved out. They rented an apartment six blocks away. Still not ready to admit what was happening and hopeful that things would change, she kept her relationship and continued to spend most of her time with him. But things didn’t change and the abuse did not stop.

A year later, she’d had enough. She called her parents and said, “I’m ready to come home.” Erica brought Avery to her parents’ house, near Peterborough, for Christmas. They never went back.

Coming back to her hometown felt warm and inviting. She and Avery stayed in her parents’ basement. Her mother phoned the local YWCA. Erica cautiously attended counselling services. After years of silence, she was finally sharing her secrets. She didn’t know what to expect but what happened in that building was truly life-changing.

“I felt validated for the first time. They understood me in a way that no one else could. I told them everything and they didn’t think I was crazy.”

As part of her counselling, one of the first things they did was create a safety plan. Erica felt a peace of mind she hadn’t known in years.

The YWCA has also provided Erica with legal support, financial advice; and even years later, she is still accessing supports from the YWCA through their START program.

“The YWCA saved my life. It is a place where I belong.”

Today, Erica shares her story with others as a way of offering support. It’s not easy to be publicly vulnerable and to relive her horrific experiences; but she believes if she can help one person, it’s worth it. When asked what advice she would share with someone in a similar situation, she instantly replied:

“Don’t ever think you are too weak to handle it. Trust your inner strength. You are never, ever alone.”

United Way Peterborough & District provides long-term priority funding to the YWCA, along with 22 other programs and services in our community. Click here to make a donation and support local families, like Erica and Avery.

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