AU proudly supports Walk a Mile in Her Shoes
Athabasca University is a proud sponsor of the Walk a Mile in Her Shoes events in Athabasca, Edmonton, and Calgary, which will raise money to support domestic-violence prevention in those communities.
What does it mean to Walk a Mile in Her Shoes?
For Athabasca University (AU) alumna Stephanie Hawryliw (Master of Counselling, 2016), it’s about much more than putting on a pair of high heels and raising money.
It’s about taking steps to understand the experience of people living with domestic violence, and recognizing the huge impact domestic violence has on our communities. Statistics Canada reports that in 2017, domestic violence represented nearly one third of all police-reported violent crime in Canada, with more than three quarters of the victims being women.
That year, there were more than 7,000 police-reported incidents of domestic violence in Edmonton and Calgary alone—and as many domestic assaults go unreported, the actual number of incidents is likely much higher.
Hawryliw said the impact of domestic violence on individuals is best summed up in a single word: complex.
“What people don’t understand is how complex it is, and it’s not as simple as, ‘why don’t you just leave.’ There are so many dynamics that happen,” she said. “Because it’s so complex, and because people don’t understand that, the onus often gets put on the woman or abused person instead of the abuser—not ‘why are you doing this,’ but, ‘why didn’t you leave.’”
AU is a proud sponsor of the 2019 Walk a Mile in Her Shoes events in Edmonton and Calgary, which raise money for the YWCA, and in Athabasca, which raises money for the Prevention of Relationship Abuse Action Committee (PRAAC). These organizations play active roles in their communities, educating the public and supporting victims of domestic violence. And many AU team members will be doing their part as well, including our president’s Chief of Staff Gilbert Perras, who will be walking a mile in Athabasca on Friday, Sept. 13.
From teacher to counsellor
Hawryliw has extensive experience working with people who live the reality of domestic violence—prior to her time at AU, during her program, and in the time since then. She completed her practicum with the YWCA, and continues to volunteer facilitating an annual weekend group session with women who have been affected by domestic violence.
Early in her career, working as a teacher in inner-city schools, she realized early on in her career that her favourite part of the job was building personal connections with students.
“The students would come after school, just seeking adult contact with a healthy adult—just wanting to chat or have someone to talk to—and I really enjoyed that part of it,” she said.
Hawryliw had been teaching for three years when she looked into Master of Counselling programs, and realized AU had a program that would give her the flexibility to keep working full-time while she studied. She said the rigorous program holds students to high standards, which she appreciated—especially when she was able to publish one of her papers.
When it came to looking for a practicum placement, she said the YWCA was a natural fit in large part because its mission and values align so closely to her own priorities working with high-needs, high-risk youth.
“I really like serving people who are high risk or marginalized, and couldn’t get access otherwise. The YWCA is really pivotal in doing that work in Edmonton,” she said. “It also has a focus on family violence and women’s issues. I had volunteered when I was teaching with a group for women experiencing domestic violence, so I already had an interest in that area.”
The school where Hawryliw now works as a counsellor actually refers many students to the YWCA, because it offers a sliding scale and a model that allows clients to get the work they need done, whether it’s short or long term, which better meets the needs of kids with complex trauma than the many other short-term therapy options in Edmonton.
“They are one of our biggest counselling supports that we transition students to when they’re done with our school,” she said. “The YWCA plays a very big role for many of our students and my life in general. The Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event encapsulates why.”
Further to having the experience of coming together as a community and raising money, the event provides an opportunity to learn more about the complex impacts domestic violence can have on those around us.
Hawryliw said the experience of those living with domestic violence is one of extreme isolation. Abusers tend to isolate the partner, and there’s a lot of shame with people asking about why a person didn’t leave—and especially if there’s children, why the abused person didn’t do more to protect them. But research shows that the situation isn’t necessarily better for children afterwards, as they now have to be alone with the abuser without having another parent around to protect them.
It can be further isolating if friends and family begin to distance themselves from the situation, or issue an ultimatum: “I can’t be in your life if you keep doing this to yourself.” This may tend to reinforce what an abuser may be saying about, “Nobody else will ever love you.”
While these are complex issues, solutions begin with compassion and understanding.
“The Walk a Mile event, to me, is a way for men to reach out and say, ‘We want to understand your experience. We’re here in your corner to support you. We may not understand, but we’re here and we want to,’” Hawryliw said.