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Peacekeeper supports abuse victims 

Courtesy Isabelle Nicholas

Peacekeeper Isabelle Nicholas knows first-hand what it’s like to be trapped in a domestic violence situation. That’s why she’s hoping community members experiencing abuse will feel comfortable seeking support from her in her role as the domestic violence resource officer with the Peacekeepers. 

“I wish I would have had this type of support when I was going through it,” Nicholas said. “I’ve been through I, and I think that really helps.” 

Nicholas is the department’s first-ever domestic violence resource officer and was appointed to the role in May 2023. Since then, she’s been learning from other communities and organizations how they support victims of domestic violence, including at quarterly meetings with other domestic violence resource officers from across Quebec. 

She’s also been working with organizations that community members are entitled to access support from, such as the Centre d’aide et de lutte contre les agressions à caractère sexuel (CALACS), the Crime Victims Assistance Centres (CAVAC), and Rebâtir. All of those organizations can help victims of domestic abuse, though many in the community don’t typically consider outside organizations when seeking help. 

“There’s so much out there for people in these situations, but women in Kahnawake don’t tend to reach out because of the language barrier and the fear of talking to a non-local about your private stuff,” Nicholas said. “That’s why I wanted to figure out how to connect people and see how we can help the victims that are here in Kahnawake.” 

Nicholas can act as a facilitator between those services and Kahnawa’kehró:non, which will hopefully make the process less intimidating for those needing help and allow survivors to easily access English-speaking support. She can also act as a liaison between victims in the community and crown prosecutors, should abuse cases be taken to court.  

“I can bring them to court, if they need me to. I can sit with them through the whole process and explain to them what’s going on in the file, and if the Crown needs to speak to them, I’m that link between the crown prosecutor and the victim,” she said. “It’s that missing link that we’re filling in.” 

Domestic violence is an ongoing issue in Kahnawake. Between 2018 and 2022, there were 405 files concerning domestic violence opened with the Peacekeepers, a number that’s been steadily increasing almost every year since 2013. Most years see close to 100 reports. 

It’s hoped that Nicholas’ work, and the work of Kahnawake’s own Ionkwatahónhsate Victims Services will help those numbers go down.  

“We’re here to listen. I’m hoping this makes them feel comfortable to ask the questions they’ve been too scared to ask,” she said. “It’s not about convincing them all to leave their husbands. It’s about working out how to help you.” 

When Peacekeepers respond to a domestic violence situation, victims are referred to Nicholas, who follows up with resources that survivors can access as little or as often as they need.  

She has an office at the station, where she said victims are welcome to come and speak about what they’ve been through – though if victims are uncomfortable heading to the station, she’s more than willing to come to them instead. 

“I get it. I understand the dynamics of a domestic abuse relationship and why we stay for so long, and that really helps me understand them,” Nicholas said. “I’m not in uniform, my office has couches and ottomans. It’s all a relaxing atmosphere for them to feel safe and to have someone to talk to.” 

Nicholas knows that it can be frightening to make that first call for help but reminds the community that they can share their story at their own pace, and they’re never going to be forced to press charges against their abusers if they don’t want to. 

“I’m not a social worker, I’m not a psychologist, but I am a woman, and I’ve been abused,” she said. “I’m 57 years old and I have a bit of life experience, and I can help them as much as I can.” 

Emergency calls must still be made directly to the Peacekeepers. Nicholas will make contact with victims in the aftermath of a domestic violence incident, or can be reached directly at the station on weekdays between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.  

evedcable@gmail.com 

This article was originally published in print on April 5 in issue 33.14 of The Eastern Door.

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Eve is a reporter with the Eastern Door. She has also covered harm reduction and social justice issues for the Montreal Gazette, The Breach, Filter Magazine, and more.

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Eve is a reporter with the Eastern Door. She has also covered harm reduction and social justice issues for the Montreal Gazette, The Breach, Filter Magazine, and more.