One of the challenges of getting help to victims of domestic abuse is helping women understand that something is wrong in the way their relationship is functioning. When a police officer told Jen that she needed to get herself and her children to a safe place, she recalls, "I didn't know what he was talking about." She didn't know her husband's violent behavior was not normal, and looking back over her marriage, she says, "You block everything out of your mind. You are always covering up." It wasn't until a friend stepped in, that Jen realized the extent of the abuse that had taken place in her home for more than 10 years.
It's not uncommon, says Anna D'Amato, director of Victim Services with Community Works for Jackson County. "Unfortunately a lot of people think it's OK to be treated the way they're being treated. It is so complicated. There are so many reasons women stay." And abuse isn't always about physical violence. "It's about power and control," says D'Amato.
What is the first step in breaking the cycle of abuse? “The person has to call us and reach out,” says Anna D’Amato, director of Victim Services. If you or someone you know needs more information about getting out of an abusive situation, call the help line at 779-4357 (779-HELP). “When they’re ready, we’re there for them, says D’Amato.
Note: This fall marks the 35th anniversary for Sexual Assault Victim Services (formerly Rape Crisis) and the 30th anniversary for Dunn House Shelter. In celebration of three decades of service to the women and children of Jackson County, Community Works is having a celebration on Friday, October 19th at the Ashland Armory. There will be performances by The Hamazons and Blue Lightning, a historic slide show and more.
For more details, visit www.community-works.org or call (541) 779-2393 extension 218. The public is invited. A minimum donation of $5 per person is requested.
Charleen realized that when a man she was dating followed her across a state line into Oregon and "went berserk" outside the house she was staying in. "The warning signs were there. I just didn't see them." Cautious after having been in another abusive relationship, Charleen says she hadn't realized the distance she was trying to maintain was also making it possible for him to hide his own secrets. The hardest part, she now says, is that her children had to witness this craziness.
For both women, the realization that something had to change led them to Dunn House where they were provided shelter and resources to plan for their future. "We were safe," Charleen says of her time there. "I could sleep and rest and pull myself together." It was an environment she refers to as "surround care." From the staff and volunteers to the other women living there, everyone was helpful and encouraging, she recalls.
"We come from an empowerment model," says D'Amato. "[These] women are in a hard place to be. We really try to be non-judgmental. The woman knows what's best for her and we support her in that." Their support included parenting and awareness classes, connecting them with community advocates, help in finding work and affordable housing, and just some practical brainstorming to help each woman figure out how to achieve her goals. For both Jen and Charleen, being given the opportunity to make their own decisions was a huge step forward. "[It] made me stronger to stand on my own two feet," says Charleen.
"They totally support you," acknowledges Jen gratefully. She had someone with her during police and court proceedings, help setting up a bank account, and counseling available for her family. While she realizes there is a long ways to go for her and her children, she is also aware of the changes since the day she first called the help line. "Life is so much better," she says. "The more time I am away from him the more I am becoming my own person again."
These women are now daring to dream. From practical concerns like establishing a good credit rating and connecting in the community, to pets, vacations and homes, both Jen and Charleen are looking ahead to a future of freedom from fear for themselves and their children. "As soon as you leave, it's like the whole world opens up," says Jen.
"I am grateful there were resources in the area," says Charleen. "Had I not had that time, we wouldn't be here today. I don't know where we'd be, but we wouldn't be here."