Surrey’s Rakhi Project: Domestic abuse is only shameful if you keep it secret

Published: July 6, 2014

Domestic violence victim Sherri-Lee Woycik speaks at the Beta Collective, as the City of Surrey launches its fourth annual Rakhi project. Gerry Kahrmann / PNG

LARISSA CAHUTE 
VANCOUVER DESI

Because he never physically hit her, Surrey’s Sherri-Lee Woycik wouldn’t accept that she was in an abusive relationship.

“I should be grateful that he doesn’t punch me, didn’t drink, didn’t cheat on me,” she thought at the time.

“What have I got to complain about? It’s not that bad — I’m just too sensitive.”

But the physical threats were there — towards her, and her children.

“I was afraid most of the time,” she said. “It was really an environment of fear and terror and paranoia.

“Extremely abusive emotionally and financially and spiritually.”

And while she stayed in the relationship “for a long time,” she finally managed to find a way out. Today, settled in Surrey with her kids, she’s started her own business and wants to help raise awareness on domestic abuse, so she got involved with the City of Surrey’s fourth annual Rakhi initiative, which officially kicked off last month.

The crime-reduction strategy designed to raise awareness around the issues of domestic abuse stems from the traditional South Asian Rakhi celebration that honours the relationship between brothers and sisters. A sister ties a purple rakhi thread-bracelet around her brother’s wrist as a symbol of love and respect and the brother wears it to show he stands with his sister against domestic abuse.

As part of the Surrey-based project, purple braided bracelets are sold at a number of local businesses, and this year there’s the addition of purple umbrellas, which will pop up in locations throughout the city to mark Rakhi-related events. Woycik shared her story at one of these events last Thursday at Beta Collective.

“I want to support women who are leaving abusive relationships,” said Woycik. “One of the reasons why I stayed was because I didn’t feel like I had a lot of options.”

“I look back now and there were so many times that I should have left … I want women to know how many options they have in life.”

Councilor Barinder Rasode ties a Rakhi bracelet on Jason Wong, from Beta Collective, as the City of Surrey launches its fourth annual Rakhi project. Gerry Kahrmann / PNG

And it was this kind of community dialogue that Surrey councillor Barinder Rasode set out to create when she spearheaded the Rakhi Project four years ago.

“The more people you have engaged, not only talking about an issue, but adding their perspective to it — it gets closer to finding solutions,” said Rasode.

The campaign has continued to grow since its inaugural year when it was only partnered with two local businesses, but today “everybody sort of wants to be a part of it,” said Rasode.

“Now we have had requests from all sorts of … not only businesses, but non-profits,” she said. “To me, it means that we have at least made some progress in saying that everybody sees it as something that we need to be talking about and raising awareness on.”

While Woycik admits humiliation kept her from asking for help in her abusive relationship, she hopes her story and newfound perspective will encourage women to speak up sooner.

“The only reason why it’s shameful is because you keep it a secret,” she said. “As soon as you stop being silent about it, it stops being shameful.”

Rakhi bracelets can be purchased for $5 at a number of Surrey businesses, with proceeds going towards the Surrey Coalition Against Domestic Abuse. For more information on upcoming Rakhi events visit Surrey.ca.

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