After devoting half her life to helping abused women, Second Stage Housing Executive Director Elaine Stewart has come to the conclusion that society is not getting better and that some things are getting worse. 

Second Stage Housing is a cluster of 13 apartments in Saint John, exclusively occupied by women who are leaving unhealthy relationships. 

Some come seeking shelter with children. And some are considered premium candidates for being killed. 

The reason they seek this affordable housing, where they're allowed to stay a year or maybe more, is because they don't have the money or family to get back on their feet. 

Hotel de Jeunesse human trafficking

Elaine Stewart says many abusive men maintain contact through family court orders or smartphones. (Hotel de Jeunesse)

Stewart says she's seen these women transform their lives, even when the culture doesn't seem to move. 

"The question is always, 'Well why didn't she just leave?'" said Stewart.

"Why aren't we asking why is he abusing? Why are we allowing men to do this?" 

When women first arrive at Second Stage Housing, Stewart said they often sleep their first nights on their couch.

"Then she can eyeball the door. And make herself feel safer that she'll be able to react more quickly."

"Once she starts actually using her bedroom, you know she's getting past that."

Live in denial

Stewart said it's also true that in spite of this fear, most women live in denial.  

When asked how the group is coping with the news of Cindy McCormick's murder last month, Stewart said there was almost a "non-reaction."

Cindy McCormick

Edmundston-born Cindy McCormick was practising dentistry in Saint John when she was killed during a visit to Alberta. (Submitted by Jennifer Gordon)

"It's also avoidance about trying to think of what may have happened to them if they had stayed."

"A denial that it was really that bad or that he was even capable of doing something like that."

Although the housing is set apart, and women are somewhat cloistered with their peers, Stewart says it's still difficult to keep the cycle of violence from entering in. 

Contact continues 

She said court orders may require women to provide access to the children they share with the abusive partner. 

Stewart said men will use that opening to try to maintain control.  

"Ah, she's talking to me again. I've got a chance of getting her back. Because they do want her back. This is their property. She left. She had no right to leave."

According to Stewart, smartphones have also added to the ways of causing harm. 

"And of course, those messages mimic the cycle of violence from 'Hi, I'm just thinking of you, wondering how you're doing?'"

"Then. 'Are you busy? Where are you? You didn't answer me. Is there a reason you didn't answer me?'" 

"And then it goes on to, 'You bitch, you had better answer me!'"

"I don't see it as getting better," she said. 

Personal boundaries

Last year, according to Stewart, Second Stage Housing launched a 12-week pilot project at Harry Miller Middle School in Rothesay.

Called The Fourth Rs: Healthy Relationships, it was designed to teach students about personal boundaries, what's acceptable, and what to look out for. 

'If you don't think you have a problem, that it's her problem, then why would you change yourself?' - Elaine Stewart

Stewart said studies suggest Grade 8 is the optimum time for students to receive and respond to this information. 

She added talks are ongoing with Anglophone South about a proposal to expand the training to guidance counsellors across the school district. 

When asked about the other side of the equation, the abusers, Stewart said she's not aware of any programs that have shown success in rehabilitating them.

She can't think of any programs offered in Saint John. 

No answer

"It's not an anger management issue because most of these men do not beat up their neighbours or their bosses or other members of their extended family."

"No one seems to have an answer as to how to fix these men." 

And in the twilight of her career, Stewart has come to believe the abusers can't be fixed.

"If you don't think you have a problem, that it's her problem, then why would you change yourself?"

Yet Stewart shows no signs of defeat or fatigue. 

She said she's been around so long, she's constantly bumping into women that she has helped in the past.

She said she can see directly how it all turned out. 

"Ultimately, it comes down to working with one family at a time and breaking the cycle for them."