All too often, our clients will justify the abuser’s violent behavior. The victims tell us that the abuser’s childhood was horrible. He witnessed lots of violence. His mother was beaten in front of him. He heard the screams. He saw the blood. His childhood experiences are now his excuse for his own violent behavior. Sometimes the victim feels badly for the abuser even in the midst of the beating. Domestic Violence can be learned in childhood and passed down from one generation to next.
Several years ago a client arrived at the shelter just barely escaping from a deadly situation. In assessing her current risk, it was clear that this client was in grave danger. We asked if she would feel safe here in the shelter and immediately she said she was afraid even inside the shelter because her abuser knew the location of our confidential and private shelter. He knew because as a teenager, he came to our shelter with his mother who was fleeing a domestic violence situation.
How sad. Instead of learning about mutuality and respect for family members, he learned over the years to be an abuser just like his father. His experience did not stop him from being an abuser. He may have thought that his own choice in life is to either be an abuser or a victim. Perhaps he doesn’t think about it at all, but just lives a violence lifestyle that includes controlling and battering family members.
While we feel great sympathy for those who have experienced child abuser or witnessed domestic violence as children, this past experience is no excuse for someone current violent behavior. Most people are surprised to learn that more than 50% of our clients are children living here with their non-offending parent. This gives us a unique opportunity to help those children who have witnessed domestic violence first hand.
Family Abuse Center has an outstanding Children’s Services department. We provide a healing and therapeutic environment for children to feel safe and start the healing process. Our counselor is available for the children and for parents. Evening group is focused on educational and therapeutic activity that provides a place for children to feel safe and grow. Our homework lab assists our school age kids at maintaining and enriching their education. Our Children’s Service Coordinator makes sure that every child’s birthday is remembered and celebrated. Special activities and field trips are planned throughout the year. Summer time in the shelter is a special time for swimming and outdoor fun. We do everything we can so that the little girls who live in the shelter avoid being adult victims. We do everything we can so that little boys have other options than being abusers.
Breaking the generational cycle of abuse is very difficult. For some families there are generations of past violence family interactions. Childhood experiences can never justify violence against another person. Our mission is to eliminate domestic violence. That work often begins with the children who come to the shelter.
Social media has changed everything about the way we communicate. Communication now on social media is quick and wide spread. Just a click of a button and a message is transferred across the world. We are able to track down long lost friends from elementary school, or reconnect with neighbors who moved away years ago. We can post pictures of our children and grandchildren. We can express our political and religious views. We can share humorous videos and jokes. We can “like” and “forward” slogans and comments about all aspects of life.
Too many of us just simply push the like button and affirm something which seems funny at that moment. We often don’t understand the context, and generally social media doesn’t give us the greater context. Perhaps the sender wants to tell their family members they are sorry. Perhaps the sender wants to just laugh at the end of the day. Or maybe the sender wants to make a comment on our culture and society.
After working with domestic violence victims for five years and spending a life time working with women and children who suffer at the hands of others, I know that my view of the world is often cynical or even biased. I can not help but see comments and jokes through the eyes of domestic violence victims. Too often a casual comment, slogan or joke can promote unhealthy relationships at best or dangerous positions at worst. They confirm what an abuser believes about the world. Sometimes the slogan repeats the justification for abuse. Perhaps coming from a healthy home or a violence free family, the comment or slogan looks like a joke. From my perspective, it is reinforcement for a worldview that says control and power belong to the abuser and that victims should just take it. For example, I recently saw a post that something about true love never letting go. That sounds terrific if you are thinking it reinforces a couple’s commitment to work things out. It sounds horrible if you are being stalked.
One in four women in Texas will be abused by someone who says they love them. Yes, there are many people who live in healthy, non-violent relationships. But far too many relationships only have the public face of non-violence. Behind closed doors, control and power, enforced by threats and violence, are the structure of the family. There are so many things that used to be funny before I started this work that are no longer funny. I never want to give the abuser an opportunity to think that what they are doing is justified, necessary or right. I believe that each of us needs to take responsibility for the messages, literally and figuratively, that we send. It may seem right to us, but in sending the message we are endorsing it even in contexts that we can not imagine. So take a few moments before you hit the “like” button. Does the message promote healthy relationships? Would a victim think it is funny? Does the slogan support the abuser or the victim? Never give someone who is abusing another words that can justify abuse. Some things just aren’t funny or inspirational in that context.
Kathy Reid, Executive Director
Domestic Violence is the single largest cause of women and children living in homeless situations. The families that come to Family Abuse Center come because they can no longer stay where they are living. They are “refugees” from their own home, forced away by the abuser. Most of them have already tried to leave, fleeing to a relatives homes. Or perhaps they tried to stay with a best friend, or neighbor. Perhaps community members or friends from church have offered housing, but none of these would provide the kind of safety that a victim might need. In Waco, when a victim discovers that there are no other options, they generally call Family Abuse Center. All other alternatives have failed and the victim needs a safe place to stay until decisions can be made and more permanent solutions found.
Family Abuse Center takes safety very seriously. We assess a potential victims risks from the beginning and start safety planning as quickly as possible. While we can never promise anyone complete safety, we do our best to provide an environment where victims can be assured that they will not be attacked. Family Abuse Center is a confidential and private location where access to the shelter is controlled. Our best friends, the Waco Police Department, are on speed dial for emergencies and patrol daily cruise past our facility just to make sure things are safe. We do our best to keep confidentiality about who lives with us.
But we can’t always keep someone safe in Waco. Often it is advantageous for the victim to leave a our community. The network of domestic violence shelters in Texas work together to help provide a safe place for those who need to flee their homes farther than just their local community. The National Domestic Violence Hotline provides much need information 24/7 at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) in over 170 languages. All calls are confidential and anonymous. They can assist a victim to get direct help in their own community or in a community at a distance that might provide the safety needed.
When a victim at Family Abuse Center believes that they are safe to reenter the community, our housing programs are an avenue to live independently. While some clients have everything they need, many have needs that take more time. Some of our housing programs provide social services for more than a year in addition to financial help. Some of our housing programs give a family a extra boost as they move out on their own. We want our clients to find safe housing on their own in an violence free home and each family is different and needs different things. Therefore, a community needs to have many options for these families. Our wish is that every family could live in a safe, violence free home.
Donors often ask how it is that the staff at Family Abuse Center handle the stress. Yes, it is true, we hear stories from our clients that will give us all nightmares for the rest of our lives. We see things that no human being should see. We listen to sad stories of abuse and violence that impact children and the elderly. We work daily with clients who often don’t see any way out of the situation. It is easy to feel hopeless and for them to feel abandon.
But we also have the opportunity to watch people find creative solutions to difficult problem. We see generous donors who want to make a difference. We see families devastated by domestic violence who want to help other families get out the situation. We see young people who want to “pay it forward” in volunteering. We have a wonderful dedicated staff who go above and beyond to assist clients in becoming independent.
My greatest joys are those moments when out in the community a woman whispers in my ear, “Thank you so much. I am doing great now” or “You saved my life, thank you!” Because of confidentiality, we can’t acknowledge anyone as a former client, but we see former clients in the community all the time. Sometimes they openly tell us how much they appreciate our help. Whether overt or subtle, they often remind us that the work we do changes lives for the better. It is all worthwhile.
One of the best parts of my job comes in the middle of the night. Yes, sometimes the worst parts of my job comes in the middle of the night, but this is Christmas day and with it comes so much joy. For months, literally starting in early October, individuals and businesses, churches and families, start purchasing items from our “Holiday Helper’s” list. There are no ipads or computers on the list, rather toys for the children and practical items for mom (new toasters, coffee pots, etc.) Then in early December, case managers interview all the clients to get their choices of what they want for Christmas. By mid-December, my office, the Volunteer Coordinator and the board room are filled to the top with wonderful gifts for our clients and the wrapping begins. Volunteer groups from churches and organizations like National Charity League come to the shelter to wrap gifts. Every family has a large bag with multiple gifts sitting in my office ready for Santa to make his delivery.
For me, the best part comes on Christmas morning. My alarm rings at 2:30 and this year Ashley Herridge, our Director of Client Services and I come to the shelter. With the help of our Resident Advocate who has worked all night, we slide each bag into place. The best part comes closer to 6 a.m. when the children start to wake up, like in any home. Each door opens and the bags are pulled into the client’s rooms. We hear joyful children’s cries as they find the gifts that Santa brought to each one.
What happens to the extra toys and gifts? All the toys are saved to be used as birthday gifts for the children at the shelter throughout the year. And any extra toaster, or coffee pot will go home with the next clients as they move into their own apartment. I get the pure joy of seeing it all happen. In the midst of all the struggle and heart break that so many of our clients experience each day, there is this day of joy and giving. Santa has no problem finding the shelter. Each child is special. Each mother remembered.
May this holiday season be a time of peace in all our homes. And may the New Year be a year where we move closer to eliminating domestic violence, so that we won’t need shelters anymore…..Peace to all!