1 in 4 women will experience Intimate Partner Violence in her lifetime. Throughout Domestic Violence Awareness Month we are sharing a victim story every 4 days to bring light to this crisis. Read the stories and click here to learn how you can get involved during #DVAM.
October 20: Finding Their Voice – Janet’s Story
Janet* still asks why. Why did he do this to her? Why did the man she was married to try to kill her? She never knew which husband would come home to her; the one who bought her presents and told her he loved her, or the one who called her a bitch and beat her. The latter came home one night, accused her of having an affair with a neighbor then slit her throat with a box cutter.
When retiring Clinical Services Director, Ellyn Loy, was asked about the client who would always be withher, Janet’s story is the one that stuck out the most. “It’s so unfair”, Ellyn said, “It is not okay- all she wanted to know was why he did this to her -she just could not understand why someone she loved would hurt her so much. Now, disabled and with huge medical bills to pay Janet needs to feel that somewhere there is justice and the House of Ruth is helping her to do that.” Ellyn has dedicated the past 25 years of her life to helping victims of intimate partner violence, both at the House of Ruth Maryland and in the community.
“We have to be their voice,” is Ellyn’s takeaway message about the victims and survivors served by the House of Ruth Maryland, “abuse victims feel like they have no voice and are powerless against the abuser and the system.” Ellyn has always believed that HRM “lends” the victim its knowledge and power to make the playing field even, until the client begins to feel her own sense of power.
How important is that voice? Ellyn recalls a woman named Georgia’s*, response in a group counseling session to what seemed like an easy question: what is your favorite ice cream flavor? Georgia responded that she wasn’t sure; her abusive partner liked vanilla ice cream, so that’s all she ever ate. “She had completely lost any sense of self from the complete control and abuse she suffered at his hands”, said Ellyn. “We see that all the time here so we must work to help them find their own voice again.”
When reflecting on the past 25 years, Ellyn noted many changes she’s seen as the intimate partner violence movement continues to evolve so that victims do have a voice. “One thing that I’ve seen over the years is the change in support from the community. When I came in 1987, there were very few legal resources and the police weren’t very supportive of what we were doing. Now, we work closely with the police department, and we’ve worked hard to change the laws in Maryland to provide better protection for women.”
In addition to these systemic changes, Ellyn also noted the many programs and services that she has had a major part in creating to give victims their voice. Ellyn started a Teen Dating program at the House of Ruth, long before there was widespread awareness that teen dating violence was an issue. She spearheaded a project to work with victims who were disabled, so they were able to receive services. Most recently, she and her staff redesigned HRM’s clinical services to build a comprehensive trauma- focused program that provides services to the family as a unit and individually. She is especially proud of the work of “Strengthening Family Coping Resources” Program which brings moms and their kids together for 15 weeks in a structured dinner program designed to increase family communication and coping strategies and help families heal from trauma.
When asked how she would define a social movement, Ellyn said simply, “It’s about changing the world.” Whether it was bringing the voice of the victim to every meeting, making sure that needed services were available to victims or ensuring that each client receives the best service possible, Ellyn changed the world for thousands of women and children in Maryland. Now that she’s retired, Ellyn plans to continue her work with victims and survivors of intimate partner violence part-time, and enjoy more spare time with her grandchildren, husband, and city life. We at the House of Ruth Maryland will always appreciate her 25 years of fierce advocacy for victims.
October 16: The Light at the End of the Tunnel – Meghan’s Story
“Jason hit me. You have to come get me. ” Twenty-eight year old Meghan placed this phone call to her mother when she could no longer take the beatings. “I can’t imagine the confusion, the questions, and emotions that my parents must have felt during their 45 minute ride to come get me,” said Meghan.
For Meghan, that phone call was the first time she acknowledged that her fairy-tale wedding and marriage had become a nightmare and finally admitted that she needed help. Meghan’s story started like so many others. They met, fell in love, had a perfect wedding on the white sand beaches of Antigua and began their happily ever after. Then came the hard times, two unexpected family deaths in one weekend and her husband’s job loss and things began to crumble. First it was just unpleasant to be together, then he became more aggressive – yelling and screaming at her – and then he started to physically abuse her. Meanwhile, Meghan hid the pain from everyone, including her family, and threw herself into her work. She worked longer and harder – climbing the corporate ladder and avoiding her husband – but still hoped to salvage her marriage. Everything changed the day after the worst beating, when he told her he was going to kill her.
With the support of family and friends, Meghan began the process of leaving her husband, obtained a protective order and filed for divorce. Like many other victims, her story doesn’t end here. He continued to harass her, violating the protective order and calling her from jail – even though he was in jail for violating the protective order. After several months of his continued abuse, his bail was finally revoked and he was convicted and sentenced. At long last Meghan was free to pick up the pieces of her shattered dreams and begin again.
Meghan was grateful that she escaped and decided that one way to heal was to volunteer at the House of Ruth Maryland. She joined other T. Rowe Price employees to support One Great Thing, an annual sale of designer clothes and accessories donated to Ruth’s Closet, the House of Ruth Maryland’s upscale resale boutique. During her work with One Great Thing, Meghan learned about the House of Ruth Maryland’s Storytelling Project. The Storytelling Project is part of the Trauma Informed Care Model that informs programs and services for victims of intimate partner violence at the House of Ruth Maryland. In this model, Community Engagement is important component of recovery and a way for survivors to take an active role in improving their situation and that of others.
In the Storytelling Project, survivors increase their community engagement skills by sharing their stories of intimate partner violence through public speaking, advocacy and writing. By developing and sharing their experiences, survivors increase their sense of purpose and control, and in their own way contribute to the larger effort to change the attitudes, behaviors and systems that perpetuate intimate partner violence. “This project gives survivors an opportunity to tell their story, in a way that will benefit themselves and others,” said Sally Hess, Training Institute Coordinator at the House of Ruth Maryland. “We work with them on putting their thoughts together in a meaningful way and on general public speaking skills so they can effectively share their story.”
During the eight week program, participants receive support and personal feedback from coaches, including representatives from a local Toastmasters group. The project concludes with a private, invitation only presentation by survivors and a celebration of their accomplishment. “For me, sharing my story through the Storytelling Project with a group of others who had been through similar situations was very therapeutic, it was helpful to know that I wasn’t alone,” said Meghan.
When asked what she hoped victims and survivors of intimate partner violence could learn from her story, Meghan said, “The imprint of abuse is very much still there. What I can say is that there is a light at the end. It’s not the same light I imagined when I first met Jason. But this is who I am now and I am OK with that. I learned along the way that I didn’t have to forgo my dreams and ambitions, I just had to recalculate my route.”
October 12: Still Coming After Her – Sarah’s Story
Life was going well for Sarah. With her abuser behind bars for five years, she was moving on with her life. She was in a new home, working and had made peace with her past. She was no longer looking over her shoulder every day and was beginning to feel safe again. Then came the bullet sitting upright on the hood of her car. Unbeknownst to her, her abuser had been released from prison and was coming after her. “The courts don’t necessarily notify victims when their abusers are released from jail,” said Deena Hausner, Managing Attorney at the House of Ruth Maryland. “However, victims can register for an automated notification, either via phone or email, through VINElink and they will receive a message when their abuser is released. Frequently, House of Ruth staffers also register so we’ll be notified and can make sure our clients know that their abusers have been released.”
For Sarah, the pieces were coming together, and it was a deadly picture. “I was frantic,” she said. “I started thinking about the dropped phone calls I had received recently.” She immediately called the House of Ruth’s 24-hour Contact Center and spoke with one of the counselors. Upon sharing her story and completing a lethality assessment, it became clear that Sarah needed to be placed in emergency shelter through our hotel program. During the five days that Sarah spent in the hotel, she worked with a Client Services Coordinator to file a police report, change her phone number, increase the security on her home, and obtain the name of her abuser’s probation officer.
With the help of her Client Services Coordinator, she then contacted the probation officer to make sure he was aware of what was going on. “When a victim comes to us and is placed in the hotel program, she is assigned immediately to a Client Service Coordinator (CSC),” said Janice Miller, Director of Client Services. “The Client Service Coordinator will then work with her to figure out the things she needs to do quickly to maintain her safety. This can mean anything from applying for support through the Department of Social Services, to working with a landlord to get her locks changed. The CSC will also help with accessing other services at the House of Ruth Maryland, such as legal representation or counseling.”
The Hotel Program provides a safe alternative for victims when the emergency shelter is at capacity. The program is currently funded in part by the United Way of Central Maryland and by Walmart. Each year, the program serves over 150 women and children. In the end, despite the hard work she had done to maintain her safety, Sarah feared that she would never be safe from her abuser if she stayed in town. With the help of the House of Ruth, she was able to relocate out of state. Upon safely reaching her destination, Sarah called to let her counselor know that she arrived safely and thanked her counselor for supporting her as she started yet another new life.
To learn more about VINElink for victims, the hotel program or any of our residential programs for victims, please contact our hotline at 410-.889.7884.
October 8: Biffrey’s story:
“About a month before I was born, my father first hit my mother. That continued, from time to time, throughout my childhood, with increasing regularity. One time that had a huge impact on my life happened when I was about 4 years old. He was choking my Mom, holding her halfway out of the window, yelling, and hitting her. I grabbed the most dangerous toy that I could find, a cowboy-style cap gun, and began to hit him with it. Being about 3-feet tall, and weighing no more than 40 pounds, it obviously made no difference. It wasn’t even a nuisance. That was perhaps the most vulnerable and helpless I have ever felt. My 4-year-old mind thought I should become a doctor to have control in the worst situations. I hung on to that belief into my 3rd year of college,” said Biffrey during a recent conversation.
Children. Not so long ago, children were considered “secondary” victims of intimate partner violence. If they weren’t directly abused, the prevailing thinking was that they weren’t victims. At the House of Ruth Maryland, we have long known that children exposed to intimate partner violence are not “secondary” victims. To the contrary, their victimization at the time of the trauma stays with them and influences their lives for years.
Scientific research now validates what we already knew, even when the child is not directly abused, violence in the household has a devastating impact. Children exposed to violence in the home will experience varying levels of distress and often demonstrate clinical depression, anxiety, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, loss of self-esteem, separation issues, sleep difficulties, behavioral problems, and cognitive and developmental delays.
The research goes on to show that boys who grow up in a violent household are 60% more likely to become abusive as adults. While the House of Ruth Maryland provides many services to children, teens and families, not all who need services will seek them and often it’s the people closest to victims who can make the biggest impact. When Biffrey was asked how he was able to break the cycle of abuse, he spoke fondly of two men who changed the path his life would take. “My uncle and an older cousin became my male role models. When I tried to solve problems with my fists, they taught me that there was a better way. Without their love and guidance, my temper, which had become terrible, would have controlled my life.”
The House of Ruth Maryland has long believed that men play an important role in stopping the intergenerational cycle of violence and Biffrey’s story is just one example of many. Men have a unique opportunity to be positive role models in the lives of children. As relatives, coaches, teachers, clergy, or volunteers, men can model positive behavior in countless ways that have lasting effect.
How can we support men who want to be a force for positive change? In October, we started by bringing together a group of Baltimore area men who are leaders in their respective communities, to talk about how we engage other men in the conversation and to give them the tools they need to work with others in our community on the issue of intimate partner violence. Out of this meeting, the Men’s Community Action Network, MenCAN, was born. The goals of MenCAN are two-fold: to engage men in the conversation about intimate partner violence and to promote healthy relationships in our community. In the coming months, the founding members of MenCAN, with support from the House of Ruth Maryland, are mapping out a strategy to achieve these goals and will continue to grow their membership for even greater diversity and strength.
Why is this so important? Because we believe that abusers can change, with the right support from programs like the Gateway Project at the House of Ruth Maryland and with support from their community. We also believe that children who grow up in violent homes don’t have to become violent adults. “It’s very important to let children know that they don’t have to be violent. We can make a difference by letting children know that the violence that they see is not customary, and is not acceptable,” said Biffrey, whose experiences as a child have fueled his commitment to become involved in the work of the House of Ruth Maryland.
When asked what it meant to him now, to have survived such a violent household as a child, Biffrey answered, “I’m proof that you get to choose who you are and who you become.”
October 4: Isabella’s Story
The physical abuse in a relationship is so easy to see. It was easy to see when Isabella’s abuser choked and punched her when she was pregnant, kicked her and repeatedly left bruises and marks on her body. What is far more difficult to see and just as damaging is the emotional abuse and financial control that is often part of abusive relationships.
Isabella was married to her abuser for more than 7 years and had several children with him. When she first came to Adelante Familia at the House of Ruth Maryland, she came seeking advice and food; her abusive husband would not allow her to eat the food she bought with “his” money. He had disconnected her mobile phone service, making it impossible for her to call 911 for help when he beat her. After talking with a Bilingual Outreach Specialist, Isabella made it clear that she wouldn’t seek a protective order, but left with food, a safety plan, and the knowledge that even if her phone was disconnected, she could still call 911.
Several weeks later, Isabella returned, with fear in her eyes. “I think he’s planning to take my children away,” she said. This fear motivated her to seek a protective order. With the support of her Bilingual Outreach Specialist, she received the protective order and later revealed the depths of the financial abuse that she was living with – she wasn’t allowed to use “his” money to buy soap, shampoo, laundry detergent or even diapers. She had done the best she could for nearly a month, trying to keep her children clean using only water. Staff at Adelante Familia responded by providing her with a gift card to a local grocery store so she could purchase some basic necessities for her family.
Isabella’a abuser has now moved out of the home. With the assistance of the staff at Adelante Familia, she is enrolling her children in Head Start, getting a job, and seeking child support from her abuser.
About Adelante Familia:
Adelante Familia is a program at the House of Ruth Maryland that is focused on providing culturally appropriate services for victims of intimate partner violence in the Spanish speaking community. “We often see women who aren’t yet ready to take action, who are just looking for information,” said Janice Miller, Director of Programs and Clinical Services. “They come to us because they need to start talking about the ‘what-if’ scenarios: What happens if I stay? What happens to the children? What happens if I leave? Our goal is to help women in these situations create a safety plan so they are prepared. At Adelante Familia, women can be seen on a “walk in” basis, making it easy for them to come in, meet with someone who speaks their language and understands their culture. This begins to build familiarity and a comfort level, which can be a pathway when she is ready to take action.”
“Adelante Familia can be a lifeline to someone who is in distress,” said Janice. “It can be overwhelming to negotiate the legal system, social services, school issues, child support, etc., when you are struggling to just survive. Adelante Familia can provide victims of intimate partner violence links to critical resources and help them complete paperwork needed to access support. It’s a wrap-around service that truly helps the victim get back on her feet.”
Isabella’a abuser has now moved out of the home. With the assistance of the staff at Adelante Familia, she is enrolling her children in Head Start, getting a job, and seeking child support from her abuser. “Isabella’s story is on the way to a happy ending,” said Janice. “Without the ability to provide an initial in-person contact, in her language, Isabella might still be living under the control of her abuser.”