Aubrey’s abusive ex-husband took their child and then manipulated law enforcement and criminal justice systems into believing that she was the perpetrator of violence in their relationship.
“I was so afraid of making things worse and losing my baby that I tried to be as small as possible, accepting whatever lies and falsehoods were thrown at me,” Aubrey grieved. She was then mandated to attend a Battering Intervention Program and then told her story, the truth, to the intake coordinator.
“It was the first time in weeks of unbearable fear, stress, and worry that I heard validation,” said Aubrey.
The intake coordinator assured her she was not the perpetrator, but rather the victim of domestic violence. Aubrey was advised to get in touch with Women’s Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh. “I was filled with hope, relief, and the ability to power on in unbearable pain because someone outside of my family and friends believed me,” she expressed.
When she attended the support group at WC&S, Aubrey felt like an imposter. She thought the intake coordinator must not have understood her. “I was trying to leave in the middle of a tense fight. My ex took my baby and then I hit him when he wouldn’t let me leave. Didn’t they hear the part where I hit him? I thought this was my fault. Why am I in the victim’s group?” questioned Aubrey.
Then, another survivor, Brenda, spoke up during a group counseling session. Brenda told her story, so similar to Aubrey’s own, and her jaw dropped. This woman was also trapped in a no-win situation, tried all possible options she could think of to escape, and then, after a combination of unfortunate circumstances, she was arrested. Just like Aubrey.
Survivors who have exhausted all other possibilities may do whatever it takes to get themselves and their families to safety, even if law enforcement or the justice system don’t see it that way. When people who abuse their intimate partners manipulate the system to avoid consequences, it can put DV victims in horrible situations, often facing legal troubles, CYF involvement, a ruined reputation, and a lack of trust in the institutions that are meant to protect them.
Aubrey knew from experience that Brenda was doing the best she could with what she had. She wasn’t trying to hurt anyone, just to survive. “She kept trying to help defuse or fix the problems and they kept coming,” said Aubrey. “I understood — and that helped me to forgive myself so I could begin to heal and grow.”
WC&S advocates provided Aubrey with empowering tools and exercises she could do on her own. “WC&S helped me to stand up after being beaten down emotionally, physically, and psychologically by my ex,” explained Aubrey. “The part of me that longed to be seen, not isolated, not controlled, and not constantly put down was given a voice. I learned I didn’t deserve the abuse that I received.”
Aubrey still looks forward to her support group each week. She says that it fills a void that she just can’t find anywhere else, with people who understand invisible emotional abuse and the lasting effects it can have. “Even if I don’t share during that session, just being there in the presence of other incredible women gives me peace, inspires me, and motivates me to be better because I’m not alone. All I need sometimes is one thing to look forward to per week and WC&S is always there for me,” Aubrey added.
Aubrey’s future is looking bright and she is feeling hopeful. With the help of WC&S services, she is rebuilding her life with a new home, has shared custody of her child, is clear of all criminal charges, and is fully divorced and separated from her ex-husband. “I reunited with the independent, amazing version of myself I’ve always been, but who had been hiding for years because of my jealous, insecure ex,” Aubrey beamed.
Aubrey is thankful for her time at WC&S and for the connections she has made. “You are giving the sun back to sunflower women who felt shriveled. Love and light conquer all.”