New West woman speaks out to end domestic violence

Survivor helps Monarch Place raise awareness for this year’s Purple Light Nights campaign

Jodie Ortega has come a long way since she was hiding under a desk with her young son, trying to escape the wrath of an abusive partner.

The incident occurred after Ortega had moved back to her parents’ house so her partner could address his alcoholism. He came by one evening when she was home alone with her 11-month-old son.

“He was starting to get physical while I was holding the baby. I ran downstairs, locked myself in my father’s office,” she recalled. “I could hear him upstairs. Either I moved so fast or he was so drunk that he didn’t know where I went. He started trashing the house. I could hear bookshelves coming down.”

Ortega will never forget the reaction she got that night when she called the RCMP in her community.

“I said, ‘My boyfriend is upstairs. He’s an alcoholic. He’s been drinking and he’s been abusive, I’d like someone to come here and remove him from the house,’ because my son and I were in my father’s office, and I was hiding underneath the desk with the chair pulled in,” she said of her conversation with the dispatcher. “You could hear clicking of the keyboard. She said, ‘Has he physically harmed you?’ I said, ‘No.’ Then there was a pause. I said, ‘Should I wait till he physically harms me?’ She said, ‘Well there hasn’t been any physical harm yet.’ I got really feisty. I said, ‘I’ll tell you what: I’ll let my 11-month-old call you back when he has physically harmed me.’”

Police didn’t come to the house, but her sister’s boyfriend answered her appeal for help. By the time he arrived, her partner had left the house.

During their time together, Ortega said her boyfriend hit her – but never in the face where the bruises would be seen by her family. He sought to isolate her by taking away her phone and taking charge of all their finances.

Ortega is helping Monarch Place transition house in New Westminster with its 2016 Purple Light Nights campaign. Part of the Prevention of Violence Against Women Week, which runs from April 18 to 25, the event includes a vigil on Monday, April 25 at 5:30 p.m. at New Westminster City Hall.

Monarch Place is hoping residents and businesses will support the Purple Light Nights by putting up purple lights, which can be purchased for a donation of $20 for a string or $5 for a single bulb at Greens and Beans Deli (143 East Columbia St.) or by calling Monarch Place at 604-521-1888. Purple wristbands, a new addition to this year’s program, are $1.

Ortega reached out to Monarch Place in December about volunteering, as she was seeking a way of giving back to the community she calls home. Since getting out of her abusive relationship, Ortega has shared her story via spoken word and public speaking engagements, including a TEDx talk.

“Public speaking was never my plan. I just followed my intuition. It just felt good,” she said. “Because we can resonate so much with music, and it crosses so many cultural barriers, it helps me a lot as an artist, I feel that is my own way with storytelling. I write my own spoken word now.”

Ortega, a frequent speaker at Poetic Justice in New Westminster, said her message has expanded from “breaking my silence” to include issues related to rape culture and victim blaming.

“This campaign is very important,” she said. “What’s more important is what you do after April 25, after this campaign is over.”

Since opening on Dec. 1, 1998, Monarch Place has helped more than 4,000 women and children fleeing domestic violence.

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