The following messages were communicated by Women’s Crisis Services of Waterloo Region CEO Mary Zilney at last evening’s annual Women Abuse Awareness Month event “What About The Kids?” where close to 350 people attended to hear keynote speaker Dr. Peter Marshall.    


 It’s amazing that this forum is now in its 7th year. Our success is due to your ongoing support.  

 Assisting abused women and their children is inspiring yet very challenging work.  Women’s Crisis Services staff are the true champions in this work; being able to listen to women and children relive their trauma and abuse day in and day out takes special people.  Over time it takes a toll on the human spirit.  Tonight is an ideal time to highlight and thank all the employees of Women’s Crisis Services for their ongoing commitment and dedication. 

 As I was preparing for this evening, I was reflecting on my social work career.  For the past 23 years, I have worked with and for victims of domestic violence, and am now in my 9th year as CEO of Women’s Crisis Services.  I continue to feel very privileged to hold this position; it is a role I take very seriously. 

Carolyn Albrecht- Sr Director of Operations, Dr. Peter Marshall-Keynote speaker, Mary Zilney-CEO, Merle Fast-Director of Client Services

 Some of you may know that 2013 marks our agency’s 35 years of helping abused women and their children throughout Waterloo Region; both Anselma House and Haven House opened their door in 1978.  Despite the innovative programming and services we continue to develop at Women’s Crisis Services, the stark reality is that rather than work myself out of a job, our agency continues to expand; not only its facilities, but also its services.   All in efforts to more effectively address the issue of violence against women and break the intergenerational cycle that continues to be so evident.

 Did you know that we are now serving many 3rd generation women?  The babies that once accompanied their moms to our shelters matured into girls, the girls have since become women.  These women now have children of their own….and so the cycle of abuse continues.

 More days than not, for many of us in the domestic violence field, the eradication of violence against women in our society seems to be an unattainable vision.   

 So we turn our minds to a more achievable goal, but still equally lofty….to reduce violence against women in Waterloo Region.  Is this a realistic goal?  Well, considering that there have been 4 female homicides in our region in 2013, coupled with the fact that Waterloo Region continues to grow in size, this too becomes an overwhelming challenge.

 So where do we go from here?

 Help us break the silence.  Approach your colleagues, neighbours, friends and family who you think may be in an abusive relationship.  Let them know that help is available, tell them know about our services and direct them to our website. 

 At last year’s Woman Abuse Awareness event  our theme was “Let’s Talk About It.”  In order to reach every woman in Waterloo Region, our heightened community awareness campaign was to address specific age groups in phases; last year the focus was 18-25 year old women. 

 This year, our focus has been on 25-35 women with children, in efforts to emphasis the impact on kids who are exposed to woman abuse….in hopes to break the intergenerational cycle, one family at a time.

 To this end, a number of initiatives were created with the guidance of James Howe, from Communicate and Howe, along with an internal committee consisting of myself, Carolyn Albrecht (Senior Director of Operations) Kourtney Beckman (Fund Development Manager) and Joyce Birnstihl (Human Resources Manager). 

 Our first initiative was the design of an infographic poster along with small cards that concentrate on facts about kids exposed to woman abuse. 

 I would like to highlight the following facts:

  • The number of kids in 10 primary school classes is equal to the number of kids that stay at one of our shelters each year…..which is about 225 children annually
  • Every day 45% of the beds occupied at our shelters are occupied by kids…which is very close to half of all our residents
  • 45% of women staying at one of our shelters has kids
  • Lastly, 80% of the kids staying with us are 10 years old or younger.










Would you agree that these facts are quite alarming?  

 This equates to hundreds of innocent kids, uprooted from their homes every year and brought to one of our shelters…. scared and filled with questions; many of them needing to leave their beloved pets behind.  Kids whose childhoods have been disrupted, and moreover altered forever.

 The second project we took on resulted in us partnering with the beauty industry on an initiative called “Cut It Out.” This program involves training workers in salons and spas on how to recognize the signs of abuse, and how to direct their clients to local services, such as Women’s Crisis Services.  Most of you are aware that salon and spa professionals work in environments where female clients feel comfortable chatting; as a result they often develop trusted relationships.  Workers get to know their regular clients in a way that may help them identify signs of abuse that others may miss. Therefore, these workers in particular have the opportunity to help women in abusive relationships.

 Our next initiative involved designing 2 buttons…one with a dragonfly, our agency symbol which mirrors the transition in which we help our women move through; the other with the caption, “What About the Kids?” We hope that it inspires curiosity in people and as a result they check out our website. 


The infographic, cards and buttons are available to the community.



Lastly, we created 2 short videos that we are launching this evening…..both with the focus on the kids.  Please encourage your friends, family and networks to check out our website at to view these excellent examples of how woman abuse affects kids.   

After viewing these videos, I can think of only 5 words in response: THIS IS OURS TO FIX

How can we allow these kids to continue suffering so needlessly? 

How can we continue to make violence against women a private matter?

The lives of these kids become changed forever, their futures become altered, and their relationships become compromised.  It is our responsibility, yours and mine, to take action, not look the other way, and strive to break this destructive cycle of abuse.


To quote Frederick Douglass:

“It is not the light that we need but fire;

It is not the gentle shower,

but thunder.

We need the storm,

the whirlwind,

and the earthquake.”


Let’s rise up together….in fury, in indignation, in desperation and then move to action….in collaboration.


In closing I will leave you with this challenge……

If THIS IS OURS TO FIX, what are you going to do about it?