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National Domestic Violence Hotline Blog

Domestic Violence and Immigration

The following blog entry is written by Lyn Twyman. She is a survivor and creator of the Courage Network, a community for domestic violence advocates and organizations with a world-wide goal in mind to draw organizations, advocates and individuals together.

Domestic Violence and Immigration

I was 5 years old when I heard one of my parents frequent arguments end with a loud smacking sound.  I had just walked in the front door after the school bus had dropped me off in front of my house from a day at kindergarten to the loud yelling and arguing of my parents, unfortunately something I had grown accustomed to.  If you can imagine my father was well over 6 feet with a loud bellowing voice, my mother just under 5 feet.  With frustration and anger my father struck my mother, leaving a bright red hand mark on the left side of her fair, Asian face.  This was the first time I saw the expression of resentment and hate in my mother’s face for everything that led to that point.  That act of violence shattered the facade that my parents had built up to try to hide the truth from me, that their marriage was a sham and in no way functional.  There were deeply rooted problems within their relationship and after that moment my eyes were wide open to them.  Later I would realize there were great amounts of psychological and emotional abuse in my parent’s relationship that would be directed solely towards me.

My father was an American born in the south, a victim of abuse and neglect by an alcoholic father who was void of most emotion, except anger and depression spurred by the bottle.  My mother, the eldest of her siblings, grew up in third-world poverty with an extremely controlling mother.  In 1977, my mother started receiving pen pal letters from my father.  She became enamored with the idea of a man she had never met before, a man who promised to take care of her and give her a better life, more than what she could have ever imagined.  About a year later when my mother was 23, she immigrated to the United States.

The man who wrote such beautiful words on paper was not reflective of the man my mother met when she came to the U.S. and in less than a month, the fairy tale was over. The stark realities of the deception, lack of respect and obsession over my mother’s every movement was too much to endure. My mother however, was fearful to leave my father with the domestic violence taking place.  My father, a man ridden with personality disorders, would admit years later that his choice to marry my mother was due to the amount of “submissiveness” women like her had for their husbands and the ability to “teach” them and make them become what he wanted.

Unfortunately the story of my parents is not unique. It bares many similarities to the stories of many immigrants who find themselves in relationships where domestic violence is present.  One thing that remains consistent however, as with many instances of domestic violence,  is there is one person that seeks to have control over the other who is thought to be weaker.

Women and men have shared with me their personal experiences, and those of other immigrants who were involved in domestic violence relationships that they knew.  I began hearing similarities in the stories:

  • Victims had little interaction with people other than their partner or lived in complete isolation.
  • Victims were eventually embarrassed by their partner regarding their own language and culture.
  • Communication decreased over time with their families in their homeland.
  • Finances were controlled by the abusive partner.
  • The partner threatened to have them deported or have their children taken away from them if they showed signs of fighting back or escaping.

So many of these stories also began sounding familiar as I realized my mother had faced the same problems with my own father.

Help for Immigrants

Immigrants who are dealing with domestic violence face many challenges unlike those around them because of language and culture barriers.  Whether waiting for citizenship or seeking refugee status, immigrant victims of domestic violence do have rights and can get help to protect themselves from abuse.  There are organizations like American Immigration Lawyers Association, The National Immigration ProjectThe Tahirih Justice CenterWomensLaw.org and specialty organizations like The Asian Pacific American Legal Resource Center,  that help with direct services or referrals at little or no cost.   It is important that immigrant victims get trained advocates to support and assist them in the proper steps to make themselves and their children safer, whether the abuse is physical or not. Additionally, the spouses and children of U.S. citizens can self-petition to obtain lawful permanent residency under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).  VAWA also allows certain battered immigrants  to seek safety and independence from the abuser by filing for immigration relief without the abuser’s assistance or knowledge .

Domestic violence is wrong, period.  A person’s nationality does not exclude them from the physical and emotional pain that is inflicted from domestic violence.  The best thing we can do as advocates is to remember the warning signs of abuse, stay informed about the issue,  spread awareness and encourage our Federal immigration system to strengthen laws and distribute violence and abuse awareness materials, making them available in multiple languages to each person that comes to their offices and websites.

I am encouraged about the amount of work that has been done with this issue compared to my mother’s time as an immigrant but there is still much work to be done in raising awareness about the problem.  If you see someone who displays signs of being a victim, offer them in confidence the resources they can go to for help.  You will be surprised how far a bit of information and slice of humanity can go to help save a life and lead someone to new found freedom, hope and truly a much better life.

By Lyn Twyman

National Domestic Violence Hotline Blog

No One Is A Stereotype: How Survivors Inspire Each Other

Steiner-borderLeslie Morgan Steiner is the author of Crazy Love, a memoir of domestic violence. She is also a member of the National Domestic Violence Hotline Celebrity Board. In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, she has the the following words of inspiration to share with all of you:

In Crazy Love, my memoir about domestic violence, I wrote:

For a long time after I left Conor, I struggled with how I fit our society’s stereotype of an abused woman. Exactly why and how had I lost myself to a man who I was intelligent enough to see was destroying me? I kept silent during cocktail party debates about why women stayed in violent relationships. I walked away after the inevitable pronouncement that women who let themselves be abused are weak, uneducated, self-destructive, powerless. I fit none of these stereotypes. I never met a battered woman who did.

Since Crazy Love was published and a YouTube video was posted last March, I’ve gotten hundreds of emails from readers. A grandmother who left her abuser 47 years ago. Several teenaged girls, one who writes me every week about how hard it has been to leave her boyfriend and see him with other girls. Ivy League graduates. Eloquent, effusive writers. Readers who have trouble spelling and typing properly – but have no trouble telling their story. International diplomats. Doctors’ wives – and doctors. Gay men abused by their partners. Straight men abused by their wives. Husbands seeking to understand their wives’ prior experiences with abuse. Police officers. Therapists.

I have yet to get an email from a stereotype. Because they don’t exist. We survivors may have a lot in common, but none of us is a stereotype. Stereotypes can be used to demean, blame and marginalize victims. The only stereotype worth promulgating pertains to the pattern of abuse – not the faces, ages, income levels or ethnicities of victims. The New Jersey-based Rachel Coalition offers an excellent brochure outlining victims’ legal rights, and they use the following stereotype to define abuse:

Domestic violence is the physical, emotional, psychological, and/or sexual abuse of one person by another with whom there is a relationship. Abusers use violence and threats of violence to gain power and control over their partners. Violence is never appropriate. Domestic violence can range from verbal harassment to homicide.

Now that is a stereotype I can embrace.

I love it when I open my email screen and discover another note from a stranger whom I know is also a friend. The headlines often read something like “You Told My Story” or “Now I Don’t Feel Ashamed or Alone.” The emails are never short. Usually, they read like a book themselves, or at least a wonderfully long telephone conversation between old friends. When people give permission, I share their stories on my website as part of The Crazy Love Project, which is dedicated to connecting and empowering survivors.

Abuse – and stereotypes – thrive only in silence and ignorance. Fellow abuse survivors inspire me, tell my story back to me, and reassure me that I have no reason to feel ashamed or alone. Most of all, you make me feel like I’m a person, not a stereotype. Thank you to everyone who has heard my story – and told me yours.

Domestic Violence Awareness Month

The Pledge

“Become Inspired—you never know when someone will become inspired by your courage to make a difference.”

In recognition of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I would like to honor the amazing life-saving work being done on behalf of women, teens, children and men who are experiencing violence in their relationships. All across the nation domestic violence advocates, volunteers, friends, families, co-workers, and individuals are extending their hearts and hands to help those in extraordinarily dangerous circumstances from someone who claims to love them. I continue to be inspired by the dedication and commitment to end violence in our communities.

image005I am writing this piece to encourage all of you to find your passion and inspiration! To encourage you to use it to keep making a difference in the world. Many are called to make a difference as I am in my daily work but I had help getting here. Her name is Rochelle and she is my sister. Rochelle has been my inspiration working to end violence against women for the last 25 years. Rochelle (pictured second from the left with sisters Chris, Laurie and myself) has overcome many obstacles, an abusive marriage for eight years, which at its most violent she once felt like taking her own life to get free of the situation. She endured economic poverty which had her working three jobs as a result of her husband’s choice to drag her through an extended legal battle and bankruptcy, all the while being a wonderful mother to a young daughter. She is a self confident, smart, amazing woman who has developed into the most perfect monarch. She went through the metamorphosis from victim to survivor to the whole beautiful woman she was and is meant to be. Her triumph over this tragedy continues to be my inspiration when I am tired or feel weary. My most proud moment was when she spoke of her personal story for the first time at the White House reception upon the 10th Anniversary of the National Domestic Violence Hotline. It took courage to leave her desperate situation then and she has pushed through her own challenges to now be courageous in helping other women in shelters and in her workplace to believe in their dreams and to reach their goals. I continue to be grateful for her being alive today to share her story with others and be my muse. I love you Rochelle, and I, like my other sisters, continue our pledge to end violence against women.

If someone inspires you, consider making a donation in their honor

Join me in sharing your story of inspiration

Join our online community working to end violence

Follow us on Twitter or add us on Facebook

Peace,

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Sheryl Cates
Chief Executive Officer
National Domestic Violence Hotline

National Domestic Violence Hotline Blog

Lost Faith, Abused, Raped and Hopeless…

The following blog entry was written by survivor Ren R. Royal, author of Lost Faith to Living Faith. Click here for more information on the book or to purchase a copy.

There were many times when I suffered from the corrupt evils that exist in the world. I am a victim of rape, abuse and violence.

For several years I was without a car and had to walk everywhere through all kinds of weather. At that time, there was no bus transportation where I lived. I lived in a very bad part of town. I had to walk to the laundromat a couple miles to do the laundry. I disliked going to the laundromat; clothes seemed to always get stolen the minute you turned around. As I walked to the laundromat one day, a car drove by. Several men with weapons, knives, and a gun got out of the car and raped me, beat me, put me in the trunk of a car, and then threw me in a ditch to die.

During such horrific times, it is difficult to feel God’s prevailing love. It is difficult to call out to God or cling to God’s Word. My heart did not feel God’s presence or help during the time of attack. The power of sin had its hold over me. I needed human embrace, comfort, and a shoulder to cry on. I suffered alone and became lost in my own pain.

This is just one story out of the five times I have been raped and/or brutally beaten. These traumatic violations tore at me physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Life on Earth became unbearable. I wanted to die and be with God in heaven where there was no more pain. I wanted the pain to end. My only peace came through prayers of death to God.

I was ignorant and did not know shelters even existed at the time; however, at the time I felt so hopeless and in such pain that I did not care anyway.

Unfortunately statistics are high in rape, violence, and abuse, and most go unreported. One sexual assault occurs every 127 seconds, or about one every two minutes. Sexual assault is the most under reported crime, with 60 percent still being left unreported. Fifteen out of 16 attackers walk free.

My tears of pain have fallen for years, unseen tears left hidden in the darkness.  At the time, I had no friends or support, no shoulder to cry on, no person to call, and no hug or smile to hold on to.

I later discovered that no matter how great our pain is, God’s love is even greater. And then I wrote a book about it – Lost Faith to Living Faith by Ren R. Royal.

National Domestic Violence Hotline Blog

Dating Abuse

The following blog entry was written by Emily Toothman. She graduated from The University of Texas in 2005.  She is now 26 years old, working as a Program Specialist at The National Domestic Violence Hotline.  In February of 2007, she had the honor of answering the first call to the loveisrespect, National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline.

I was 19, a student in my second year at college, when I met the man of my dreams in one of my classes.  He was tall, blonde, blue-eyed, and All-American — with a smooth demeanor and a knack for saying all the right things.  He treated me like a princess.  Gifts, surprise visits to my dorm room and classes, frequent phone calls to see where I was and how I was doing.  He told me he loved me within the first month of our relationship, and he wanted to be near me all the time.  On our first anniversary, he surprised me with a candlelit dinner in a house overlooking the lake.  I was living the fairy tale that every little girl is taught to dream.

But then, two weeks after our first anniversary, I found him in bed with an ex-girlfriend.  I immediately broke up with him.  It was only then that I began to truly see his controlling nature.

I started to see him everywhere I went.  He showed up to my classes and sat two rows behind me.  I caught glimpses of him walking a couple paces behind me on campus.  Pretty soon, he started calling my cell phone constantly, leaving up to twenty voice messages a day begging me to reconsider our relationship.  When I started hanging out with other guys, he would follow me and leave threatening notes under the windshield wipers on my car.  My professors started to confide in me that “my boyfriend” had told them about my “drug problem.”

I returned home one evening after going to a meeting on campus, and he was on my doorstep.  He was drunk, and he was angry.  As his anger escalated, he began to shove me around and pin me by my neck against my front door, smashing empty beer bottles against the corner of the building and holding the shattered glass up to my face.  He had simply snapped.  I escaped to a friend’s house an hour later with a broken rib, a sprained wrist, a black eye, and bruises from head to toe.

Following the first attack, I took some self-defense lessons from a friend of mine who was a black-belt in karate.  I stayed with some friends so that I didn’t have to go back to my apartment alone.  I felt like everyone was looking at me, even though I had carefully caked on make-up to cover the bruises.  It took me days to build up the courage to leave the apartment to go to class.  I was terrified, and I felt more alone than ever.  Though I have always been close to my parents, I refused to tell them.  I felt that they would be hurt, worried – or worse – disappointed in how I’d handled the situation.   My friends, though they tried to be supportive, had a hard time even believing what was happening.

A week later, he confronted me again.  This time, he was sober, and it was in broad daylight in the center of campus.  He once again pinned me to the wall, but this time he threatened me with a butterfly knife to my jugular.  Students would walk by and stare, but not one interfered.  I struggled with him for close to a quarter of an hour, and finally, I managed to kick his knee backwards.  It broke.  As he was writhing on the ground, I used my cell phone to call the police.  A week later, he would break bail and leave the country.  I would never see him again.

The experience did change me – sometimes for the worse, but (I hope) mostly for the better.  I had to struggle with fear, anger, depression, insomnia, and even nausea.  I had to mend the breach of trust that my parents felt when they found out about my situation after the fact.  I’ve had to fight to break down my defensive walls, so that I could be less guarded in my romantic relationships and less cautious in my friendships.  It has not been easy.

But — to be completely honest with you – I wouldn’t change a moment of my experience for anything in the world.  It shook me to the core.  It created a passion in me for justice and peace, and it led me down a path that I would have never expected.  It led me here, to the National Domestic Violence Hotline.  I will always remember, with the highest gratitude, the role that my experience has allowed me to play in reaching out to survivors.

Dating abuse is a reality for many, many teens across this country — a terrifying, overwhelming reality that is largely hidden and ignored.  I wish that I had known at the time what I know now, thanks to the work of the National Domestic Violence Hotline and the loveisrespect, National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline: I am not alone.  I am not the only one to have experienced what I experienced, and I am not the only one who has decided to turn those experiences into positive changes for others like me.  I am very honored to be a part of such an amazing generation of young people who will start the conversation about dating abuse, and who will change the realities of young people across the nation.

By Emily Toothman

Please visit loveisrespect.org  for resources on teen dating abuse or to chat with a peer advocate. If chat is unavailable, call 1-866-331-9474 or 1-866-331-8453 TTY. loveisrespect has recently been called on for its expert guidance by the popular soap opera General Hospital for a teen dating abuse storyline. The storyline will air today, Friday July 17th and a PSA will air directly following the program.

National Domestic Violence Hotline Blog

Hope, Help, Heartfelt Thanks

The following entry is written by Regan Martin, survivor and subject of a blog post we featured a few weeks ago dealing with GPS tracking written by her mother Cherry Simpson. This is a follow up to that story and reveals new developments in her case.

Hope, Help, Heartfelt Thanks

I am a survivor of spousal rape and abuse. Lost, alone and repeatedly victimized and dehumanized by the system is how my I felt for the three years I have struggled through the system. I have received help from shelters, advocates, and even gotten media attention but it has been extremely hard on me, I lost my home, I have spent over $22,000 on attorney fees, relocation fees, and countless hours in court. It seemed hopeless and without end. I hated the thought of how my children and I could live like this any longer.

Then in November 2008 Rachel Sandal Morse became my friend, advocate and pro bono [Latin, For the public good] attorney she helped the prosecution in the goal of holding the offender accountable and me and my children, from any future harm. My mother had written a letter asking for help from the Cindy Bischof Foundation. Harvard Law Professor Diane Rosenfeld contacted an ex-student with the firm of Jenner and Block in Chicago, IL.

Rachel first acted on my behalf as my attorney during the criminal prosecution of the 3rd (13 counts) and 4th (3 counts) violation’s of OP. Rachel made the court more bearable; she made me comfortable and spoke for me better than anyone ever had. Words can’t describe how she changed everything. She was my communicator, my navigator, my rescuer, and gave me hope when I thought I had none. She was so gracious and knowledgeable. She made everyone want to do a better job. She helped mend the huge gaping hole of misunderstanding and uncaring felt between the system and the victim. She turned it all around so smoothly, so kindly. She helped my children and me more than anyone else ever has.

Don’t give up hope, my abuser is in prison now and I have some sense of peace until his release on 1/2/2011. I am continuing to fight and I have an active order of protection even though he is in prison. He has stalked me since 2006. I have asked a federal prosecutor to do a Federal Stalking Threshold Analysis.

Don’t be afraid to ask for legal help with your domestic violence case. There are people out there willing to serve and help others. I thank God for them.

Recently my mother wrote about the use of the GPS on my abuser and how it helped to save our lives. Because she shared my story a representative from Justice for Children came forward and offered to help me with the visitation family court problems still looming over us.

I will do all I can to keep my children and myself safe. Don’t be afraid to share your story. Asking for help is good. Helping others helps you.