Domestic violence victims’ advocate shares personal tragedy ahead of Break the Silence gala

A personal tragedy 19 years ago, is the driving force behind Lisa Toma’s advocacy work to break the silence on domestic violence. She speaks with Faiza Amin about working with Yellow Brick House, and how Canadians can support victims and survivors.

By Faiza Amin and Meredith Bond

It’s been almost two decades since Lisa Toma and her three siblings lost their mother Marisa Muia to domestic violence. Toma is now sharing her family’s painful story for the same organization that tried to help her family.

Toma was just 18 years old when her mother was killed just one month shy of her 37th birthday. Muia had been a victim of abuse, according to Toma and had planned on leaving her marriage right before she died.

“We grew up with domestic violence in our home, which was very scary. Everyday was unpredicatble for us and it was scary as children not knowning if we were safe or if our mom was safe every day,” said Toma.

“After 19 years of my mom being married, she was planning on leaving and took some first steps in to getting some counselling on what her next steps should be,” she explained.

Muia reached out to Yellow Brick House, but only attended one session before she was killed.

Toma said her and her young siblings struggled in the years since her mother’s passing, but she has found solace in becoming a voice to those who don’t have one.

“We had our very terrible days and we had our good days and thankfully we had my maternal grandparents who were there to support us through it, but they were also grieving the death of their daughter. So it was everybody trying to pick up each other’s pieces,” said Toma.

Toma now works as a domestic violence victims’ advocate and a volunteer with Yellow Brick House.

Yellow Brick House, which was first established in 1978, provides a number of critical and crucial services for victims and survivors of intimate partner violence and their families. They have two shelters and provide a 24-hours crisis and support line, serving over 6,000 clients.

They provide counselling, housing support, legal support, resources, and other services that are essential especially to victims with children.

Pamela Deveaux of Yellow Brick House said it’s been more difficult for victims to access services during the COVID-19 pandemic. “The phone calls did go down during the pandemic because when you’re living with your abuser under the same roof, it is a lot harder to make that call and ask for help. So we do expect that to start to increase now that things are starting to open up.”

“These services are needed now more than ever,” added Deveaux.


“The courage of a woman to ask for help is the hardest they’ve ever done. When they leave an abusive situation, they’re literally leaving with the clothes on their backs,” said Deveaux.

A virtual gala is being held next week in hopes of raising $150,000 and more importantly, breaking the silence around domestic violence.

“There’s a huge number of people who know someone who have been affected by domestic violence. Let’s talk about it, let’s be there to help them get through those tumultuous times in their lives,” explained Deveaux. “You may have a friend, family member, coworker going through that. You really want to be there for that individual and show your support.”

The funding will go towards their Nights of Safety program. “It costs us $150 per woman and per child, per night to be in our shelter. And when they’re in our shelter, they receive all of those services,” said Deveaux.

[These services] are so crucial because these women have nowhere to go and they don’t know what to do and they have to be very careful with the steps that they make,” said Toma. “I witnessed this with my mom and she confided in me a lot and one of her biggest concerns was us and leaving and not knowing if she would be able to care for us.”

Since her mother’s death, Toma has been a loud advocate for other families impacted by domestic violence. “We need to spread awareness. It is happening in so many houses and families and it’s something that’s not talked about. It’s embarrassing, they’re ashamed, they’re afraid, and it’s not talked about as much as it should be.”

She has made it her life’s mission to support these crucial services for families and victims, who don’t have anywhere to go.

“I was going to use my story to be my mom’s voice, that she no longer has. Not only be her voice, but be the voice of so many women who have lost their lives, and no longer have a voice. and be the voice of so many who are living in fear,” shares Toma.

“To give these these families, these children, these women, these mothers, another chance at life. Life is just too short to live in fear every single day. And no one deserves our quality of life that way.”

The Break the Silence Gala is being held on May 6, hosted by Canadian singer Jully Black. It’s free to register and you find more information here. 

A silent auction is now live on the website as well to raise funds.

If you or someone you know needs help, contact the Assaulted Women’s Helpline Crisis Line here:

Toll-free at 1-866-863-0511

Toll-free TTY: 1-866-863-7868

Text #SAFE (#7233): On Rogers, Fido, Bell, or Telus Mobile

Connect to resources: Shelter Safe

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