“Are you a survivor?” Sheila asked me as we left the meeting. I had been speaking to a group about the need for services for women who have experienced domestic and sexual violence. Sheila had been there to share her personal experience of violence.
According to the January 2010 issue of The Open Health Services and Policy Journal, “over 90% of homeless mothers report having experienced severe physical or sexual assault during their lifetimes.”
Sheila’s story included fleeing an abusive husband while her daughter was still a baby. She was re-traumatized after joining the military and being further physically abused at the hands of her fellow service members. Today, Sheila has begun a new career in home nursing that enables her to support her child and her ill mother.
Annie and Beth were sexually abused by their father who was the pastor of a church. Throughout adolescence, drugs and alcohol became a way to cope with the trauma and self-loathing they felt. As adult women living in Calvary’s housing program, Annie and Beth were still struggling with the effects of this trauma. Today, both women are in recovery from their addictions and living in their own apartments.
Karen worked as a nurse and cared for her two young children. Her husband, a police officer, regularly threatened to shoot her and inflicted years of emotional abuse upon her. Today, after years of being silent about her experience, Karen is now able to talk to younger women about how to recognize and flee domestic violence.
These women – Sheila, Annie, Beth, and Karen – have turned their lives around. Though I have not experienced sexual or domestic violence, I have learned from these women – and so many others – that it takes strength and courage to re-build a sense of self and find healing from the trauma. It also takes personal support and quality resources – things we work to provide every day at Calvary Women’s Services.