“You need to make sure whoever you run to is safe for your child.”
This was all Lourdes* could think about before she left her abuser.
After growing up in a violent household, witnessing the murder of her younger sister by an angry boyfriend, then experiencing the death of both her parents within months of each other, Lourdes felt she needed to get away. She agreed to move out of New York state with her boyfriend, whom she had dated, on and off, for over twenty years.
Shortly after they moved, Lourdes discovered she was pregnant, which felt like a miracle, since doctors had told her she would never be able to conceive because of injuries she had sustained as a child from domestic violence.
Lourdes was overjoyed.
After all the darkness she had experienced, the pregnancy was a welcome blessing.
But shortly after Lourdes’ baby, Vanessa*, was born, her boyfriend became abusive, sometimes physically assaulting her for hours at a time. During these periods, all she could think about was her daughter. In between violent episodes, she would run to check on the baby, sometimes turning up the volume on the TV in the room where she slept, so that she wouldn’t be disturbed by the fighting.
The violence became so extreme that neighbors eventually called the police, but Lourdes could not bring herself to press charges. She was afraid of making her boyfriend angrier, and since her parents and sister were dead, she felt like he and his relatives were the only family she had.
The beatings continued—until late one evening Lourdes had finally had enough.
She called 911 and that time she did press charges, which enabled police to take her boyfriend into temporary custody.
Still, it wasn’t easy for Lourdes to make the decision to leave, but when she did, she only took the barest essentials for herself while making sure to pack all her daughter’s favorite toys and clothes.
When they finally arrived to one of VOA-Greater New York’s emergency shelters, the first thing Lourdes did was ask for services for her daughter, who, she was sure, had experienced trauma. Lourdes was particularly concerned because Vanessa, who had begun talking many months earlier, had stopped.
VOA-Greater New York staff did not waste any time connecting Lourdes with special education services for Vanessa, in addition to providing group and individual counselling to Lourdes, who experienced extreme guilt for having exposed Vanessa to violence.
Through counselling, staff helped Lourdes focus on how courageous she had been for making the decision to leave, in addition to helping her to feel empowered to change her life.
Eventually, Lourdes became stable enough to move from the emergency shelter into VOA-Greater New York’s transitional shelter for women who have experienced domestic violence. There, staff continued to support her as she prepared to enter back into the community. In addition to providing emotional sustenance, case workers helped her attain government benefits and search for permanent housing.
“At first,” she recalls, “When I thought about shelter, I imagined a room with beds. But here I have a private room. They give you breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and your own personal security code to get into your room . . . I feel like I’m in a rented apartment.”
Today, Lourdes is thriving.
In addition to attending therapy, taking care of her daughter, and looking for permanent housing, she helps volunteer at special events centered around domestic violence awareness. During these events, she tells her own story in addition to sharing what happened to her sister.
“There are so many survivors,” Lourdes marvels. “And the good part is . . . not one of us ended up like my sister.”
*Names changed for privacy