Article written by: Lisa Niemynski and Melissa Rodriguez
The following article is final part of a four-week series focusing on raising awareness about domestic violence. October is Domestic Violence Awareness month and we hope to educate our community on this very serious issue. Hays-Caldwell Women’s Center has been serving victims of domestic and dating violence, sexual assault and child abuse since 1978. Last year, HCWC served 1,766 victims of abuse (face-to-face) from Hays and Caldwell County. 955 of those were victims of domestic violence.
At HCWC we often are asked this very question… What’s it really like to have to stay at the shelter? Well, many of you might be able to relate, but for a very different reason, though the effect can be similar. On Memorial Day, some of our neighbors were awakened in the middle of the night to rising flood waters and many had to leave their homes without any time to gather any belongings except themselves and their loved ones. Flood victims like most domestic violence victims HAD NO CHOICE but to leave this way, without preparation and literally in fear for their lives and the lives of their loved ones.
The days after the flood were pretty chaotic. Flood victims were struggling to find a safe place to stay because they would not be able to return to their home. Maybe they needed clothes since they left with only the clothes on their backs. They needed food. They needed a place to shower. They needed a place to rest. They needed SAFETY. Once those basic needs were met, the real trauma of what occurred settled in. Many experienced disbelief, sadness, hopelessness, anxiety, anger and so many other emotions. These are all effects of trauma. They were experienced by many flood victims but this is the reality for ALL victims of domestic violence on a daily basis.
So what comes next? Just like flood victims, domestic violence victims are now left to pick up the pieces one by one. Our emergency shelter clients are met with trained staff to help them figure out their next steps, and although some fears are universal, they each have a different set of circumstances and experiences. It’s hard to leave everything behind, to start over, and to share a space with other families. Sometimes our male clients have a difficult time admitting that they’re even a victim. They often think, “How does that look? Will I be judged by others?” For many in the LBGTQ community, the fear of judgement can prevent them from seeking help at all.
For those souls brave enough to take the leap, to try to make a better life for themselves, to make a better life for their children, a major hurdle is overcoming their fear and self-doubts. Often insults, putdowns, and verbal abuse are a part of the spectrum of abuse they have experienced. Many have told us, “Can I do this on my own? Am I smart enough? Am I strong enough?”
The shelter clients begin to get to know one another and share their stories during quiet moments while the children sleep. As they listen to other clients tell their story and they hear their own, they realize, “I am not alone”. Through sharing with other clients and staff and through one small success after another, confidence begins to bloom. With this comes hope, and a belief in a better future, free of abuse.
But it’s tough, it’s hard work! Some days are good and others, not so much. There are a lot of struggles, but there is also a lot of support. We have heard from clients: “It’s a second chance”; “It’s safety. My son and I are free! No yelling or fighting. We are SO much happier!”; “It’s realizing you deserve better”; “It’s focusing on a future!” And as one faith filled client said, “Things fall apart so better things can fall together”.
These are strong, hopeful individuals whose courage and tenacity are to be admired. We are honored that they have been willing to share their stories, fears, and successes with us!
There are also ways to be a part of the solution to end domestic violence in YOUR community. Become a monthly donor to help victims year-round. By becoming a monthly donor at $10 or more per month for one year, you will entered to win a set of Bose Quiet Comfort Noise Cancelling headphones (donated by HCWC donor, Dohn White). The winner will be announced at the Annual Auction on April 2, 2015. You do not need to be present to win. For more information, please call HCWC at (512) 396-3404 or visit www.hcwc.org/donate