By Ashley Fountain
Outreach organizations can be vital resources for women facing violence at home. Advocacy centers can help in providing stronger long-term care and support for survivors of domestic violence as they try to heal and recover from the trauma.
Advocates for domestic violence survivors indicated intimate partner violence may leave individuals to feel alone and helpless. Advocates noted that women survivors with children may experience alienation from family members, friends and society as a whole during the relationship. And that makes leaving the struggle to remain apart from their abusive partner that much harder.
Boston has several resources for victims of domestic violence. However, two resources survivors find useful include, HAVEN, Helping Abuse and Violence End Now, and VPR, Violence Prevention and Response at Emerson College.
HAVEN, a survivor advocacy outlet located at Massachusetts General Hospital, provides counseling services, support groups, workshops and protection to survivors of intimate partner violence.
A domestic violence advocate and social worker for HAVEN, Sarah (who as a domestic violence survivor herself has asked that her full name not be used) said it is important for women to have full awareness of red flags within a relationship especially when children are in the middle.
“I always tell survivors I work with to observe their partner, look out for controlling behavior and jealousy,” she said. “If your partner disturbs your own privacy, becomes very angry and takes the anger out on you, they will always be quick to apologize, but know your worth and watch out for isolation. If you can’t do it for yourself know when to be brave enough to walk away for your children.”
HAVEN provides a pamphlet to all survivors who come into its office for support and services. The pamphlet includes its own research statistics. The HAVEN research concludes that 85 to 95 percent of those experiencing partner abuse are female.
Silvana (who as a mother and domestic abuse survivor has asked for her full name not to be disclosed), said HAVEN was a door that opened to help heal her mental scars. Silvana said she is being treated for depression, psychosis, PTSD, panic-anxiety disorder and has suffered suicidal thoughts and attempts after the abuse she endured from her ex-boyfriend. “It is hard suffering with one mental illness, let alone several. As a mom it is hard to administer seven medications to your son regularly to treat him for psychiatric conditions due to the trauma he witnessed,” she said. “HAVEN has given us both a safe place to work in therapy and has helped me become a better mom for my son. Every day is a struggle but without resources, survival would be that much harder. I’ll always be thankful for HAVEN.”
Anna, a survivor of domestic abuse who asked not to be identified with her full name, agreed with Silvana. “If I didn’t have HAVEN I would literally have nobody to talk to about the trauma I experienced. If I didn’t have my son and HAVEN, I feel like I would’ve already taken my own life because of the depression I face regularly,” she said. “HAVEN is my safe outlet, my home away from the shelter and my reason for fighting to stay alive to continue to be a mom to my son.”
In addition to HAVEN, Violence Prevention and Response at Emerson College, like similar agencies at other colleges and universities, are responding to these issues by providing a safe space for survivors to talk to a therapist, as well as friends and family, in a confidential environment through advocacy counseling services. Emerson’s Melanie Matson often has explained that people who are experiencing the trauma of domestic violence did nothing to deserve to be harmed. She added that is important that people who have experienced domestic violence get to choose what feels right for them and do what they need to do to take care of themselves.
Matson said a woman who decides to leave an abusive relationship faces a huge challenge, which only escalates when children are in the picture. Matson explained that reporting domestic violence is such achallenge for women with children as it may impact their housing, academics, work, family/friends/social circles, citizenship status, and economic status.
Matson added that reporting domestic violence can be difficult for a number of reasons. Reporting may not make the relationship or situation better or safer, it may even make things worse, so many people may wonder what the point of reporting would be. She also said reporting might be difficult because someone wants the abusive behavior to stop, but not necessarily the relationship. Reporting might lead to police involvement, court involvement, child protection involvement, which are all systems that have not always been supportive of people reporting violence, and at times even punish the person reporting or using their own systemic power and control, Matson explained.
“Ending an abusive relationship is the most dangerous time for someone who has experienced abuse,” Matson said. “Domestic violence is rooted in power and control. The person who is abusive thinks that they are losing their power and control over their partner if they attempt to leave the relationship, ” she said. “The person who is abusive may become even more violent in order to re-establish their power and control over their partner. Also, leaving the relationship doesn’t necessarily end the abuse, especially if they have children, share friends, have family/social connections, live/work/study near each other. Social media is also a factor.”
Matson said if someone has been exposed to domestic violence for many years, the survivor needs to be able to use what strategies she finds that work for her. Matson added that she has seen that advocacy-based counseling is helpful to survivors . She noted survivors also find support groups with people who have also experienced domestic violence to be beneficial. She also said many survivors find trauma-sensitive mindfulness and healing arts to be a useful tool for recovery.