The following is the story of the abuse one woman endured as told to one of AWP’s shelter advocates, Renese:
It was very heart wrenching when I first heard this woman’s story. She went from having a lovely life in Puerto Rico to living a shear nightmare. She became a resident in AWP’s shelter and eventually moved on to live in her own space. Within weeks, she returned, knocking at the door one early morning asking to return to her once known sanctuary.
Nothing could have prepared me for the three hour conversation that we would have that morning. As I remember her from her first stay in the shelter, she came in very shy and reserved. She never spoke too much, which she later told me was because she was ashamed to talk to people. As she sat down to speak I could see her eyes well up with tears.
She said to me tearfully, “I used to have a family at home. I lived in Puerto Rico and it was beautiful. I went to school and had a good family. It was a nice place for me. I did not feel isolated. I worked and had time to do what I wanted. I was able to live as I pleased and to be with my family. I was able to feel free when I lived there. I went to church and did everything I wanted to do. I left it all to come here and be with him. My mom, my sister…all of them.
I believed that I was a good person once. I used to have dreams, but he took those away from me. I feel like I live his way, and not my own.”
She went on to talk about the goals that she once had. She had always wanted to be a beautician. It then occurred to me that every time I saw her, her hair was different but I had never made the connection between that and her talents that she had so badly wanted to turn into a career. I asked her what else she would like to do in her life and she immediately began sobbing.
“Just live,” she sighed. “He won’t let me do anything. He doesn’t want me to go anywhere. I am not allowed to go to school. He keeps me at home all the time.” Then she looked at me and said, “Why does he do this to me?” I told her that his behavior was unhealthy and that in no way was it her fault. She went on to explain, “He is mad that I have my own car – it upsets him. I cannot have anything. He tells me I am stupid and that he will never let me be above him. He wants me to stay like him and it hurts.”
To hear her speak like that and to see how he had managed to break her self-esteem was saddening. I asked her if it had always been like that. With her head down she said, “He used to treat me well. He would say nice things to me. He would tell me I was beautiful. How could I ever go back to him now? I used to think I was smart but now I am so stupid…right? I’m stupid…right?” She continuously repeated this as if to invite me to confirm it as my own belief.
“He really started treating me badly when I got sick. He rapes me and I blame myself. I do not want to be intimate with him so he forces me. I believe my children have heard some of the attacks. It affects them all – he has even hit my oldest daughter because she tried to protect me. I am afraid to go back to my new home because he has moved himself in and will not leave.” Before escaping and coming back to the shelter, he had kept her on the couch for 4 days – watching her and refusing to leave her home. He demanded sex constantly, and refused to allow her to tend to her children. He threatened to tie her up with duct tape and torture her before killing her. He also threatened to hurt the children as well as himself.
She cried and cried until she no longer had any tears, but yet I could still tell she was unsure of what she should do. She began to cry again and the conversation becomes inundated with the negative thoughts that he had convinced her were true. I assured her that these were only his words and not reality – she was not stupid and she should hold on to her dreams.
She had blamed herself for all of the abuse she and her children endured. She was unable to see that she had made a positive choice in returning to the shelter that morning. As an advocate I could see that by making the decision to reach out for help again she had begun to make steps to escape the walls of terror that he had erected and I was truly glad to have her back in a safe place.
I spoke to her a few days after she left the shelter again. She was still feeling the struggle of being alone and still had questions about the decision she had made to once again leave everything behind, but I look forward to seeing her again as the renewed blossom of a woman that I know she will, in time, become.