|The Lighthouse Women's Emergency Shelter (Photo credit: Jordon)|
A broken arm pushed me over the edge. That’s when I decided to leave my abuser.
My abuser didn’t have a name. I imagined him as I worked my way through an exercise for domestic violence shelter workers. With limited options, I stayed with my imaginary abuser as long as I could before I sought safety in a shelter.
The exercise gave me a better understanding of how women (and men) in domestic violence situations make decisions. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard “Oh, they just go back.”
The truth is “they just go back” for many reasons. At the shelter, I met women who left in the middle of the night to escape abuse with their belongings in trash bags. Other women left in a bid to keep custody of their children. Some women left and regretted their choice immediately – fear and love are powerful emotions.
Others didn’t enter the shelter. They found friends or family to house them as they used shelter resources and staff to negotiate public assistance channels, work opportunities and court issues like restraining orders and child custody. Trained staff offered assistance and a friendly ear to many via the 24-hour crisis hotline. Did everyone who called receive help? Yes and no. My co-workers addressed each caller’s issues, but not everyone decided (or found a way) to make a change.
As a worker, I found the system discouraging many times and I just worked there. Imagine what it was life for those seeking assistance. As a woman entered the shelter, she was almost immediately asked to develop a plan to live on her own. She often grieved the loss of her relationship no matter how bad it was. Beginning a new life overwhelmed them in all its big – from a place to live to finances – and small – from underwear to spoons – details.
The shelter staff did its best to assist with applications for government, non-profit and private aid. Government and special resources often had a limit that ran out way before the women were fully on their own feet. Shelters only offered a temporary solution for housing and safety. Victims were responsible for a permanent solution.
|via Simon Howden @ Freedigitalphotos.net|
Some days, my job was simply to hold a baby or to help a mom run errands to fill out paperwork. I told myself our jobs were to plant a seed — of hope, opportunity or knowledge —especially for those who decided to return to an abuser.
One thing the shelter emphasized to victims is that she can make her own decisions. Despite all the horrible details you knew about her life, you had to show support for her choice to return. It was her decision to make.
Working at a women’s shelter was both educational and helpful. My co-workers were great women, who taught me so much during my time there. The women, who used the shelter’s services, showed me how one can be resilient during difficult times and how sometimes each woman needs to choose her own path.
The training I mentioned in the opening was the most useful and memorable exercise I have ever participated in as an adult. It showed me how walking in another person’s shoes can put life and choices in perspective.
Bio: Stacy S. Jensen worked part time at a domestic violence shelter several years ago in Georgia. She worked for two decades in newspapers as an editor and reporter. Now, she is revising her memoir about the four-year period after a stroke left her late husband mute and paralyzed. She also writes children’s picture books. She lives in Colorado with her husband and toddler.
My blog: http://stacysjensen.blogspot.com
National Domestic Violence Hotline - 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) TTY- 1-800-787-3224
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (includes downloadable guides for helping women in abusive relationships)
RAINN - Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network 1.800.656.HOPE
National Alliance on Mental Illness, aka NAMI
National Clearinghouse on Family Violence - you will need to opt for English or French
Women's Aid - 0808 2000 247
Australia & New Zealand:
Domestic Violence Information Manual - phone numbers vary by territory
For Male Victims:
Why Men Stay in Abusive Relationships
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