Whenever he got mad, Lisa’s husband would scream and often hurt her, then physically prevent her from going out the door. A few times Lisa did manage to get away to sleep in her car or spend the night at a hotel. But she was never away for long.
“He’d call and manage to convince me it was my fault and I always went back, she says. “I went to my sister’s apartment once, after he had thrown a chair at me, and he tracked me using my phone; I was embarrassed so I didn’t do that again. I just told myself that he had an anger problem, not that it was abuse, and so I didn’t reach out for help.”
Lisa admits for a long time she was too embarrassed to confide in her parents or friends. That all changed one day last fall when she feared for her life. Realizing she needed to protect her 11-month-old daughter, she was suddenly “beyond the point of being embarrassed.” Lisa confided in her friend in Nashville.
“She is the one who ended up connecting me to a domestic violence hotline, and they connected me to the safety center for emergency sheltering. It was by the grace of God that I was finally ready to ask for help, and that through my good friend I got connected to people who could help me. I tell her all the time that she saved my life,” says Lisa. The Family Safety Center gave her the support and validation she needed.
“The most helpful thing for me — outside of helping me file for the ex-parte protection order (which I would not even have known to do, had it not been for them) — was that they listened, they hugged me, and they told me I did the right thing. That was something I needed to hear, over and over again,” says Lisa. “I actually still have “YOU DID THE RIGHT THING” written on a post-it note on a wall in my bedroom. It’s been 5 months now since I left, I’ve been in therapy and understand the cycle of abuse, and there are still days when I need that reminder.”
Now that she is starting over in a new community, with family nearby, Lisa hopes to use her experience to encourage other victims to come forward. On average, a person attempts to leave an abusive relationship eight times before they succeed. Things get further complicated when an abusive relationship extends beyond the physical, to financial and emotional abuse.
“My husband controlled all of our finances, had isolated me from my family and was in the process of isolating me from my friends. He is a master manipulator and liar. He had me convinced that I was the cause of and deserved the abuse,” she says.
In addition to their personal physical and emotional barriers to seeking help, many victims argue that the system makes it hard to leave. For example, when they file for an order of protection, the burden of proof is on the victim, who must recount the instances of abuse in detail.
Helping clients make sense of a fragmented and intimidating process is a priority for the police, legal, and social service agencies co-located at Family Safety Center. Staff meet regularly to brainstorm, discuss best practices from other communities, and improve outcomes for victims. They understand that victims of domestic violence have enough on their plate.
Lisa empathizes with victims who feel overwhelmed.
”In addition to dealing with the emotional trauma of finally processing all the abuse you’ve been subjected to over the years, and the emotional pain of realizing your marriage is over, you’re also trying to take care of your child, navigate a confusing legal system you don’t understand, hold down your job, open your own bank account and credit cards, learn how to manage your finances all over again, and find a safe place to live,” she says. “Meanwhile, some part of you still loves your husband and hopes he’ll change. And every time you hit a snag — your husband keeps calling, work is stressful, bills are adding up, your judge doesn’t believe in DV — that little voice that your husband planted in your head tells you to just give up and go back. I know why a lot of women do. And it breaks my heart.”