October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The following is a survivor’s story as told by her advocate.
The pair met in a rural village in Haiti. They courted, fell in love and then got married. They were poor and learned to live with the bare necessities. She thought he would be the one to share her journey, but he turned out to be no loving companion.
She stated she was no different from many other Haitian wives who resigned themselves to their lot. She desperately wanted to wake up to a new life, so when he suggested moving to this sacred land, she readily accepted.
They came to the U.S. and had three children. He spoke English. She did not. He had family here. She did not. Her journey was grim and painful. Her living conditions in Haiti were archaic and prepared her well to accept the crumbs he was willing to give her.
He spent money on other women and changed their family portrait by adding a child he fathered out of wedlock. This new life was plagued with doubts. She saw herself as a trapped, limited being. Confrontations with his wrath were abundant. She learned how to read his moods and watched for the crazed look in his eyes. When he displayed his heinous behavior, she refrained herself from engaging because she was not allowed to wedge a word into the conversation. She practiced silence.
There was no net to capture her from the abusive life into which she had fallen. Faith became her nourishment. She endured his abuse in silence. She shrouded herself with shame while he assumed an attitude of superiority and constantly reminded her that she could not speak English. He said that she was a nobody. He cursed at her, hit her, and threatened to practice voodoo spells on her and the children.
She explained that their culture has been strongly rooted in voodoo and the fear of it was real. She once told her advocate, “Once voodoo comes into your life, voodoo follows you, always. It doesn’t stop. You have to pray, pray and pray.” And so, she prayed. She prayed fervently and ceaselessly. Her advocate finally understood why she looked as if she was humming all the time.
She was exhausted with stress and fear and looked aloof. He had sapped out her sense of self-worth. It took her advocate quite some time to instill in her that it was her birthright to live without abuse, whole and unfragmented.
She faced a myriad of challenges such as leaving her abusive husband of 17 years, navigating the legal system, getting food stamps, obtaining Medicaid for the children, finding a new apartment and a new job. Luckily she was documented, but this was still an uncharted territory, especially for someone who did not speak English.
A Florida domestic violence center
All of his assumptions vanished when he saw that she had the proper resources to address all the legalities she was facing. He was floored when he saw that she had an attorney representing her and a translator communicating everything in Creole. She was not going to be excluded from the conversation.
The garden at a Florida domestic violence center
Finally this survivor became a participant in her own life. It is exciting to report that she has increased her English-speaking skills significantly, gained employment, and relocated to safe housing where she lives free of abuse; something she never thought possible.
If you or someone you know may be the victim of domestic violence, please call the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-500-1119. More info is available online.