Parksville resident Rita Paul, now 71, volunteers with Haven Society, a transition house for women and children seeking reprieve from domestic abuse.
The matter is close to her heart as Paul said she was a victim of countless abusive relationships. She found solace in an SOS program which has since transpired into the Parksville Qualicum Haven House. Today, Paul credits that very community program with her survival and has dedicated her life to helping other women in abusive relationships. And now she’s sharing her story with The NEWS.
Paul was born to a 15-year-old mother who she said “was still a child herself when she got pregnant.”
Paul was raised by her alcoholic grandmother and workaholic grandfather in northern Alberta.
Abuse, she said, was a recurrent theme in her childhood.
“My grandmother used to beat up my grandfather,” Paul explains. “I saw a lot of violence and it became a norm for me.”
Paul said her adolescent years were plagued with physical, verbal and sexual abuse — all of which followed her into adulthood.
“I started dating when I was 13 because I didn’t want to feel alone,” she said. “I was always attracted to the same type of person who would abuse me somehow.”
Paul said she had “a distorted idea of love” and throughout her life she was in back-to-back relationships, always trying to escape the feeling of abandonment, even if meant putting her own life at stake.
“I’ve had a boyfriend hold a knife to my throat, another kill my cat and one who stole from me constantly.”
When asked how many relationships she had been in, Paul couldn’t even wager a guess.
“Hundreds?” she said hesitantly. “But I can’t even remember half of them — I would just date people to avoid feeling alone.”
Eventually, at the end of another tumultuous relationship, Paul decided she needed help.
In 1990 she picked up the phone and called an SOS helpline for women in abusive relationships.
“It was the best decision I have ever made,” she said. “I went to weekly meetings with other women and we all shared stories — it was the first time I felt accepted.”
Paul said she went to those weekly meetings for six years.
“I always looked forward to it,” she said. “And still today I go for coffee with four women I met at those meetings.”
Looking back, Paul said her life has been a roller coaster of highs and lows. However, she said she has found a sense of peace and sanity she wants to share. By volunteering with Haven Society, Paul has the opportunity to help women who she can see pieces of herself in.
“Nobody deserves to be abused,” she said. “But when abuse is all you know, that can be hard to understand.”
The Parksville Qualicum Haven House opened last October in an effort to provide shelter to women and children fleeing domestic abuse. According to the Nanaimo-based Haven Society resource development co-ordinator Christine Gross, there is a major need in this area.
“Haven Society supports about 3,000 women and children per year,” said Gross. “In Parksville, I’d say about 500 people utilize our services for various reasons at various times.”
Gross explains the Haven House is a safe shelter for women and children to stay in an undisclosed location in Parksville Qualicum Beach. The house can accommodate up to eight people. Food, shelter and safety is provided.
On May 31 from 1 p.m. to 4.30 p.m. Haven Society will host an inaugural fundraiser that will include a fashion show, clothing sale, key note presentations by women who have experienced domestic abuse and a luncheon provided by Tigh-Na-Mara, where the event will take place. Tickets are $30 and can be purchased in advance at the SOS or through Haven Society. Proceeds from the clothing sales will be donated directly to Haven Society. For more information contact 250-756-2452.