We had the pleasure of meeting Monique Burke. She is the founder and CEO of WOW Toronto.
Watching Over Women “WOW” Toronto is an empowerment centre for women of diverse races, cultures, ages, socio-economic situations, and sexual orientations who have survived rape, sexual violence, sexual harassment, or any form of gender-based violence.
WOW Toronto collaborates with support organization and affinity businesses to provide a holistic service. You are invited to become a member to participate in a wide range of programs, activities, and events. Due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, all activities will be online gmail.
Q: What was the catalyst for creating WOW?
"There are many reasons why I created WOW Toronto but the main reason was because of a lack of opportunity to work in the field I went to school for which is Community Outreach and Development. Every organization I applied to wanted 5+ years of experience in the field and and undergraduate degree but all I had was a diploma. It was in that moment that I decided to start my own business and do something that I am passionate about which is empowering women. After speaking with a couple business owners, I received clarity that it is okay to not have experience as an entrepreneur as there are many that did not have the experience or education and have become successful because if you love what you do and you are passionate, that will resonate with people more than how many years of experience in field you have or if you have an undergraduate degree"
Q: I have read your powerful story (story below) , wondering if you had any services or counselling to rely on when you were going through this?
"After the trauma happened, I did have access to counselling support but I declined it. I was a 16 year old teenager that cared more about what people would think than facing what happened head on. I realized this service would have helped a few months ago when I decided to join a survivor's support group hosted by a nonprofit organization in the peel region. I have been going to the group meetings every week since then and it has made me really embrace what happened to me and accepted that the challenges that do come as a response to it is normal. I now know that one of the bravest things to do is sharing your story "
WATCHING OVER WOMEN
Age 15 is when it all began. I was young and carefree. I had no problems, until that summer day when my life changed. My best friend, at the time, had introduced me to the boy. He was 16 and sexually experienced. I was new to having sex. Although I had a crush on him, I knew nothing serious would come from us getting together. We agreed to have casual sex from time to time. After a while, I met and started dating my first boyfriend. I was totally infatuated with him, so I ended things with the boy.
One summer day, I received a call from the boy asking if he and one of his male friends could come by to see me. My parents were not home, and I knew I was not allowed to have boys over, especially with no one else in the house. However, I expected we would just hang out outside, so I said yes. I didn’t think much about us hanging out together because I was in a relationship with my boyfriend, whom I cared about, and I wasn’t interested in anyone else.
When the boy and his friend arrived, they kept on insisting that we “hang out” in my bedroom. At first, I was hesitant and explained that my parents did not like having people in the house when they weren’t home, but I trusted the boy as much as any 15-year-old would trust someone their own age. It wasn’t until later that I found out that his friend was 18.
So, there we were, the three of us alone in my room. Looking back now, I really do not know why I agreed to hanging out with them. I can only assume that because I had had sex with the boy on previous occasions, they must have thought that I would be open to having sex with them both, no strings attached.
Suddenly, things took a turn for the worst. I do not remember exactly how it came up, but I remember saying “no” and I remember them both holding me down on my bed. At that exact moment, I heard my stepfather downstairs as he came home for lunch. “The boy said, “If you say no or move one more time, I will make sure you get in trouble for having us here.” I was so scared of getting in trouble that I kept quiet. While one boy was holding down my arms, the other raped me. Then, they switched. It was, as if I were some toy and they were taking turns playing with me.
After they were done, I snuck them out of the house. I took the longest shower of my life, and it was then that I finally broke down and realized I had been holding my breath the whole time. I told my best friend what happened, since she was the one who had introduced me to the boy. I asked her not to say anything to anyone, but she ended up telling her mom, who told my mom.
I had never encountered police, hospital, lawyers, and court rooms before, so I was extremely traumatized and felt violated by all these new experiences. Eventually, the case went to court and at “the boy’s” trial, I had to take the stand. The Judge found him not guilty because we had had consensual sex before. My lawyer advised my parents and I to drop the charges against “the boy’s” 18-year-old friend. I was distraught over the ruling at the first trial and the lawyer did not want me to have to go through a second trial.
Today, I am a 35-year-old survivor who endured a pain that I thought would never go away, but I have healed over time and I am stronger because of that summer day. Like so many survivors, I still have trust and self esteem issues, but I know how to deal with the emotions and thoughts in a more positive way. Not every woman that experiences sexual assault survives, so I am so grateful that I did and can tell the story.
I started WOW Toronto because I felt there should be a safe, supportive place where women can learn how to manage their emotions and improve their thought processes and find connection as they transition from that negative experience in their life. Rooted in my love and passion for empowering women, WOW Toronto is built on the belief that every woman who has experienced rape or sexual assault will be respected, valued and empowered to thrive to be the best version of herself.
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I know I am not the only one who has had a lifelong struggle with feeling comfortable in their skin. I know some of us can remember the exact moment when the world shifted from blissful ignorance to crippling insecurities. At least I can.