Welcome to part one of our July 2020 Inspirational Interview with Valerie Barter, executive director of Violence Prevention Avalon East, an alliance that spans the Eastern Avalon region of Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada.
Valerie Barter is a strong feminist, intimate partner violence (IPV) survivor and long-time advocate for abused women, children and IPV survivors of all genders. Born and raised in Petty Harbour, Newfoundland, Valerie has worked in the nonprofit sector for 20+ years, including various women’s shelters, the St. John’s Status of Women Council, and as Executive Director of Planned Parenthood-NL. Valerie supports all individuals who experience violence or are seeking guidance in violence prevention in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Part 2 of this interview will be published on 27 July 2020.
Photos courtesy of Violence Prevention Avalon East.
1. How and why did you join the movement to end violence against women, and how did you come to be the executive director of Violence Prevention Avalon East (VPAE)?
Ever since I can remember, I’ve been very passionate about the rights of all women. When it came to choosing what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, I wanted to dedicate my life to assisting other people in recreating their full potential in a violence-free society. I have worked in the nonprofit sector since I was 16 years old, when I started as a volunteer at a local shelter. My career continued on from there, and has lead me to this role as the executive director of Violence Prevention Avalon East.
2. VPAE is “an alliance of community and government agencies dedicated to ending violence in our homes and communities” and “spans the Eastern Avalon region of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, and is one of ten throughout the province working in partnership with the Violence Prevention Initiative, Government of Newfoundland and Labrador.” How did VPAE come to be founded?
On November 2, 2000, a group of local women came together – women wanting to make positive change and to fill in a gap of unmet needs by supporting women and children who are currently experiencing, or have experienced, violence. The group would meet around kitchen tables and help women flee from violent situations, offer empowerment circles and a safe space to talk.
In 2006, after approximately six years rallying for government support for the cause, the Regional Coordinating Coalition against Violence Inc. was formed and funded by the Newfoundland and Labrador government.
In 2017, we became incorporated as Violence Prevention Avalon East Ltd., one of ten regional coordinating committees across the entire province.
3. Could you give us an overview of VPAE’s approach to stopping VAW and the services the alliance provides for victims, survivors, and communities?
Our work is based on these guiding principles:
- Guiding Principle 1: People have the right to a safe and secure environment. Health, well-being and productivity are enhanced in a violence-free environment. The social and cultural roots of violence are based on inequality.
- Guiding Principle 2: Women, children and youth; Indigenous women and children, older persons, persons with disabilities, persons of differing race or ethnicity, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons, and persons of differing economic status experience the highest rates of violence. Society reinforces violence through expressions of sexism, ageism, classism, heterosexism, racism, ableism and other biased attitudes. Violence is a choice and is preventable. There is strong evidence that effective intervention can reduce and prevent violence.
- Guiding Principle 3: The prevention of violence is everyone’s responsibility. VPAE’s path towards elimination of violence requires a comprehensive response, which includes prevention training, public education and advocacy for policy enhancement, and coordinating specialised services to ensure the people at-risk feel safe and heard.
4. Part of VPAE’s mission is to “to ensure the voices of survivors are shown in the work we do, and that they feel heard.” Can you tell us about the ways in which VPAE accomplishes this aspect of your mission?
At VPAE, we realise that people in abusive situations may only have small windows of opportunity to seek help. We try to remain available by all methods of contact; social networks, email, phone, text… whatever’s best for the survivor. We provide a safe space to share one’s story and based on their particular life situation (children involved, disabilities, etc.). We can recommend the appropriate organisations to contact and facilitate introductions.
We remain engaged with the survivor and recommended organisations throughout the survivor’s journey to ensure the individual’s particular needs are taken care of. Internally and between community organisations with similar goals, we watch how these specific incidences fit into the larger societal issues we face in Newfoundland and Labrador, and look for growing trends. So in another way, the voices of our survivors is heard through the advocacy and educational campaigns we create/update, to prevent it from happening to others.
5. Over the years, what sort of impact has VPAE had on the women and children in Newfoundland and Labrador that you’ve helped, and also on Canada’s approach and attitudes towards violence against women?
We’ve spent years advocating with other women’s groups for a provincial phone and text crisis line, which has finally been launched in June 2020 by the government of Newfoundland and Labrador in partnership with the Transition House Association. During COVID-19’s peak, when we needed that phone-line the most, we created Unsafe at Home, a domestic abuse support platform. This platform has been utilised by over 5,000 people since the April launch, and our emergency calls increased over 75%. We coordinate resources, provide care packages, and even helped remove several women and seniors from unsafe living situations at the height of the pandemic.
Besides support, we also educate the public and general bystanders on how to spot, support and safely speak out against violence they witness in our community. We continue to sit on the Justice Ministers Steering Committee on Violence against women and girls in Newfoundland and Labrador, and our Navigating Modern Masculinity programme works towards changing the views of masculinity and anti-violence engagement for males.