Breaking the Cycle
As the “love of her life” strangled her into
unconsciousness, Linda finally realized he was capable of murder. What
she didn’t know was whether she would survive this latest attack.
According to the 2000 U.S. Department of Justice study on violence against women, 1.3 million women each year are physically assaulted by an intimate partner in this country. These statistics don’t shock the people who work or volunteer in domestic violence agencies here in King County. From 1997 to 2002, 84 women were killed in DV-related homicides, most at the hands of someone they once loved and trusted. Domestic violence counselors say an abused woman will try unsuccessfully to leave a relationship seven times before she breaks free. For far too many women, the leaving results in serious injury or death.
The Eastside Domestic Violence Program (EDVP) is just one of the organizations in the King County Coalition Against Domestic Violence that seeks to supply shelter, support and safety to the women and children affected by DV. Incorporated in 1982, EDVP has served more than 85,000 victims; many of those clients return to the agency and lend their voices to those still caught in the vicious cycle of power and control.
It may be helpful to set aside any preconceived ideas you may have about domestic violence. Some of the most common myths about DV include the ideas that batterers are “out of control”; that stress, alcohol/drugs or unemployment cause abuse; that DV occurs only in heterosexual relationships – and that the victim can always leave. In fact, almost 75 percent of DV-related assaults and homicides occur after the woman has expressed her intention to leave. But many do escape the terror – and they are just like any of us. The four women interviewed for this article agreed to share their harrowing stories of abuse and survival as a testament to the support and assistance that is available to those who still suffer.
Divorced in 1995, Linda and her daughter moved to Memphis to escape the stalking and threats that filled their lives. Unable to free themselves of her ex-husband’s continued attacks, Linda accepted a job transfer to Seattle and began the long, slow process of rebuilding. Years later, she purchased her own home on the Eastside and started a successful business. It was time to give back, and EDVP offered her a chance to impact a community of women that she understood. “I read an article in a local paper,” she explains, “and it mentioned a training course that EDVP was offering.” She completed the in-depth training and now answers crisis line calls on the 24-hour hotline that EDVP offers. Her ultimate goal is to create an endowment fund that will provide scholarship support to teenage DV victims attempting to finish their educations.
“I made it out with a broken neck and a few bruises,” she states matter-of-factly. “I thought I knew everything about him, but I never knew what he was capable of. I want to help others understand there is a way out.”
For Deanna Hobbs, communications manager of EDVP, the opportunity to serve these women and their families is her life’s passion. It’s a passion that was born from pain. “Domestic violence pinched my soul and changed me forever,” she quietly explains. “I have empathy for those who live in fear and I hold their stories in great respect.” Her story isn’t so different from many of the clients that EDVP serves. A young, pregnant wife living in Nevada, she suffered horrific physical abuse at the hands of her husband. Brutally kicked and beaten in her third trimester, she was forced to recuperate in the hospital while the medical staff worked to save her baby.
Once her son was born, she lived with relatives as her husband stalked her; it wasn’t until he assaulted their infant son that the Nevada courts began to offer their protection. Seeking the assistance of a local domestic violence agency, she began the arduous task of rebuilding her life. Even after a divorce, the issuance of a lifetime restraining order and the severance of parental rights, she wasn’t free of his terror. For 10 years he continued to stalk her – and she continued to fight back through her work with the Nevada attorney general. Her perseverance resulted in a significant change in Nevada’s stalking laws – a change which imprisoned her ex-husband.
“Those experiences made me want to help other women,” says Hobbs. “I’ve got a job I’m passionate about and that’s how I continue this work.” For five years, she’s been working with the clients of EDVP, many of whom volunteer with the agency once they’ve extricated themselves from the abusive relationships that brought them to the agency in the first place. Of the 442 volunteers at EDVP in 2005, almost 40 percent are former clients. Lucie Eldridge, volunteer manager at EDVP, explains that it’s one of the remarkable aspects of the program: Women who were once themselves battered are now reaching out and supporting other victims.
“I grew up in a somewhat abusive family,” Eldridge sighs. “I married at 18 and almost immediately, my husband began to isolate me from family and friends. He chose my clothes, followed me, and tracked my phone calls.” After eight months of marriage the violence began and escalated quickly. She was threatened at knife-point, beaten and raped. There were public fights and several times neighbors called the police to assist her. She moved every four months to avoid him and finally fled the state with her daughter, accepting a job in the computer science field in Washington. She began volunteering at another DV support agency, New Beginnings, and in 1987 brought her skills to EDVP.
“I remember how it was for me; I had nowhere to turn when my abuse started. I didn’t understand it; I didn’t know how to break the cycle. Once I was free, I wanted to help other women,” she recalls. As the volunteer manager at EDVP, Eldridge designed the comprehensive training course that’s required of every volunteer working directly with clients. “In order to support other women caught up in DV, our volunteers need to understand the nature of crisis line advocacy,” she explains. “Our training covers the legal aspects of DV, transgender and lesbian issues, teenage DV, how DV affects children – our goal is to help our advocates become empathetic listeners. Our clients deserve to be heard and supported.”
Katherine (name changed for confidentiality) is just one of the volunteers Eldridge trained. She now supports women whose lives are still affected by DV. Escaping an emotionally and verbally abusive marriage, she understands the need to be heard. “So many people think it can’t happen to them – or worse, that it only happens to those “other” types of women. Well, it happened to me, a college-educated, successful businesswoman. It took years of really hard work, but my children and I have a happy life now, one that’s free of abuse and threats. I can listen, I can share and I can help other women start to break out of the terror that traps them.”
A Safe Way Out
Safety planning is acknowledged by experts as one of the key components to a woman’s survival – and it can be as simple as designating a room in the home a “safe” room where there are no weapons (think knives, scissors) and a sturdy door that locks.
“My experience with DV helps me to ask the questions and take the time to listen,” explains Eldridge. “It’s important for every woman to own her story and to be heard. As survivors, we can look at DV from the victim’s perspective and urge her to think about her personal safety. It’s just the number one thing.”
Once a woman makes the decision to leave, EDVP offers countless ways to support her. Although tragically underfunded (there are just 83 beds available in King County), emergency and transitional shelters are available for women and their children. Community housing (motel vouchers) are available for short-term needs, and rental assistance can be provided for up to six months. Education and training are available for health care professionals, businesses, schools and religious communities, and EDVP provides support groups for women, children and teens – something that Katherine believes is the most important aspect of her volunteer work with the agency.
“Through the kids’ programs, I have a chance to provide a short period of calm in these children’s chaotic lives; it feels good to know they have a safe place to come, play and talk,” she says. “I get as much out of my time with them as they possibly do with me. I’m one of the lucky ones and I know it. Now it’s my time to share.”
Linda agrees, saying that although she’s frustrated at times by the lack of resources in the community, she’s inspired by the women she talks with every day. “I’d encourage any woman wanting to volunteer their time and talent to come on over to EDVP,” she adds. “It’s tough, but only our actions will change the way society deals with domestic violence.”
©2006 Caliope Publishing Company
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