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Lisa’s Survivor Story: Free from Abuse, 42 Year Later

“I was born into a family with many problems – drugs, alcohol, and abuse,” Lisa began. She spent her early life in a tumultuous home with an inconsistent father an abusive mother.   

In her teens, Lisa’s father kept a close eye on her and her sister, but one activity they were permitted to do alone was play tennis. It was there, on the court, where Lisa met her future ex-husband, Bill – when he was 20 and she was 14. 

“We started to see each other and soon, he began to buy things for me. He saw I had nothing. He bought me shoes, a watch, and then an engagement ring,” recalled Lisa. “I never had so much attention and so I thought it was love. I had NO idea what I got myself into.” 

When Lisa was 16, there was a family argument about Bill. Her parents made her end the relationship and sent her away to her grandmother’s house. Lisa’s adult male cousin was also staying with their grandmother. One night, he manipulated her into sharing some drugs and alcohol, and then her cousin sexually assaulted her.  

“I told my Grandmother that I was sick and needed to go home,” Lisa remembered. “I left, promising to stay away from my fiancé, and I tried. I wanted to listen to my parents, and I was struggling with what happened to me that no one knew about.” 

Bill heard that Lisa was back in town and their relationship began again. After a particularly difficult time for Lisa’s family because of her father’s abuse, her parents consented for her to marry 22-year-old Bill at the age of 16.  

“Our wedding night was very strange. He asked his best friend to go to the drive-in theater with us. They sat in the front seat together, and I sat – utterly alone – in the back seat,” lamented Lisa. “The day after our wedding, he became a totally different person. I remember thinking, ‘Oh my God, what have I done?’” 

Bill began to coerce Lisa into sex. “One day, I asked my mother-in-law for some advice. She told me a good wife will submit to her husband, no matter what he wants,” said Lisa. “She twisted scripture to try and make me believe this, but I couldn’t let it go. I told my husband how I felt, and he said he was doing nothing wrong. I argued and this is when the beatings began.” 

After a few months of physical abuse, Lisa was determined to leave. Bill lied; he said he was now her legal guardian, and he would have her committed. She was terrified, so she submitted to survive.  

“I tried to work, but I couldn’t hold a job, because he would accuse me of cheating on him. I never did!” explained Lisa. “He became so controlling that I was suffocating. I couldn’t make my own decisions. I was never allowed money, even if I worked for it.” Bill even prevented Lisa from finishing her college degree.  

Bill lost his job, and although money was tight, he began to beg Lisa for more children. “After our third child, I had a miscarriage. I didn’t want to try anymore. I didn’t think I could carry a child to term,” she shared. “He insisted and I continued to tell him no. Then, he secretly stopped using protection and I ended up pregnant.”  

Lisa kept the peace to ensure a healthy pregnancy and a “happy family.” For the next six years, there was a “honeymoon period” and she experienced no abuse. Lisa, Bill, and their five children moved and became involved with a church near their new home. Things were looking up. Then, an incident with a youth pastor and their youngest child sent things spiraling into despair. Bill got into legal trouble with their church, and they had to leave. Lisa’s support system had been ripped from under her and she was forced back into isolation.  

The family attended therapy together until Bill decided that he no longer needed to be included because “he was not the problem.” Their youngest child disclosed to a therapist that Bill was sexually abusing the child, who was removed from the home and from the safe arms of Lisa.  

This was the final straw. Lisa left and got custody of their youngest child. They lived with a friend and received services at a nearby domestic violence program. Through a referral, Lisa got connected with WC&S for her divorce case.  

In 2016, WC&S Civil Law Project (CLP) attorneys helped Lisa obtain a Final PFA Order to protect her and her child. A WC&S CLP attorney represented Lisa in 2017 for her spousal and child support case. Then, things took a turn. Bill and their adult children pressured Lisa into dropping the divorce case. They prevented Lisa from accessing the home to pick up church ministry instruments, her clothing, and other sentimental items. 

Lisa decided to move forward with her divorce case with her CLP attorney in 2020. After a hard-fought battle, the divorce was issued in April 2021. Lisa found the freedom she had yearned for, for 42 years.   

“After almost 5 long years of court, I am divorced. I lost everything, including 4 of our children he turned against me,” said Lisa. “But it is finally over, and I am so relieved.” 

Lisa and her youngest child are now happily living together in their own home. “I learned so many important lessons: there is help available, love does not hurt, and you are stronger than you know. I stayed quiet, and I never told anyone outside of my home what was happening. This was my mistake. Please learn from it. You do matter. There are people who care and can help! You can make it without your abuser.” 

Helping Women and Children of Domestic Violence

Margaret never thought it would happen to her. She had a good job, a nice home, wonderful children and supportive friends and family. But Margaret had something else, a secret.

As she looked outside at the holiday lights strung in her neighbor’s yard, it seemed so peaceful. Inside is where her secret reigned. No one, absolutely no one, knew what would come next. But she did.

Her husband is screaming in the kitchen – throwing plates across the room as they hit the wall and shatter. She knows she’ll become his next target, and the knot forms in her stomach. The kids are in the living room crying, and in this moment, she knows they cannot withstand this abuse anymore.

Later that night, when she is alone with her children, she tells them to quickly put on their shoes and coats and follow her to the car. There is only a small window before her husband returns from the store, and everything else must be left behind. The kids ask where they are going, but she remains steadfast at the wheel – determined to get to safety.

Because of the generosity of our donors, this family has a safe place to go…Women’s Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh (WC&S). They arrive frightened and weary, worn down by the life threatening events of their lives. Greeted by WC&S Advocates with warm smiles and open arms, their lives begin to change in ways they can only dream.

Everything from legal support, medical care and counseling is offered free of charge. But perhaps most valuable is the moment of peace that begins as they lay down in their own room in our Emergency Shelter. One moment of peace that begins a whole new world.

As mom drifts off to sleep, knowing for the first time in what seems like forever, that she and her children are safe, she hears the words of her advocate ringing in her ears, “I promise, we are here. You are fully supported and won’t go through this alone.”

It is impossible to a put a price tag on the work that your donations allow us to provide here at Women’s Center & Shelter. Transitioning women and their children from a place of abuse and fear to safety and hope is a priceless gift. From basic necessities to vital resources, your support allows domestic violence survivors to move forward into a new life, free from abuse.

Your year-end donation makes all of this possible. Please…

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FAQ about Abuse

FAQ ABOUT ABUSE

“WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?”
“YOU SHOULD KNOW BETTER THAN TO STAY WITH HIM.”
“WHY AREN’T YOU OVER IT YET?”

All too often intimate partner violence survivors hear these words from friends and family. Have you ever said this to a loved one? Women’s Center & Shelter (WC&S) is striving to break this cycle of victim blaming.  Here at WC&S we take a different approach. Instead of asking, “What’s wrong with you?” our staff asks, “What happened to you?”

“WHY DOESN’T SHE JUST LEAVE?”

This is a common question our staff and clients hear.  If you hear someone say this, will you have the courage to counter with, “Why does he abuse?”< BUT REALLY, WHY DOESN’T SHE JUST LEAVE?

What we really cannot stand about this question is the implication that “just leaving” is a simple thing.  In reality, it is the most dangerous time a victim of abuse faces.  It is when most domestic violence fatalities occur.

Have you ever caught yourself asking a loved one this question? Next time, don’t ask him or her to just leave. Instead, provide our hotline phone number (412-687-8005) so that she will have a safety plan to protect her when she does leave.  If she does not want to call, you can call and learn from our hotline advocates how best to support her in this process.

Why *really* doesn’t she leave? There are many reasons:

  • She loves him.
  • She can’t afford to live on her own.
  • She doesn’t want her kids to be separated from their father.
  • She’s only known abusive relationships her whole life.
  • She does not know where to get help.
  • She believes him when he says it won’t happen again.
  • Family encourages her to stay overtly, or by minimizing his actions and cleaning up his mess.
    • For example, a client recently said that in the early years of their relationship, her husband would not physically abuse her, but he would damage the belongings she purchased, such as household furniture.  When he broke the new dining room set she had purchased, her mother-in-law took her shopping for a new set, downplaying the abuse. Her abuser emotionally manipulated her by saying she was too materialistic. Meanwhile, she was financially controlled by continuously losing items she had spent her salary on.

This is only a tiny snapshot of the multitude of reasons women stay in abusive relationships.  They are a complex set of interconnecting factors ranging from social, financial, moral, and safety concerns.  For every individual, they are unique.

SUPPORT FOR WHEN SHE LEAVES – CREATING SANCTUARY

Women’s Center is focused on creating a sanctuary for survivors when they make the decision to leave.  Since 2008, we have been actively practicing the Sanctuary Model, which involves taking a trauma informed approach to working with victims of intimate partner violence.  The focus of Sanctuary is to provide services and to engage in activities that meet the unique physical and emotional needs of the women and children recovering from the damaging effects of interpersonal trauma – because most victims of intimate partner violence suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

We incorporate SELF into everything that we do. SELF stands for Safety, Emotional Intelligence, Loss, and Future. When the women and children leave WC&S we want them to take with them this new way of thinking.  With the tools and skills that we practice on a daily basis, we hope that our clients will be able to go and live their lives in a healthier, safer and more emotionally satisfying way – free from violence

After reading, do you understand how to be supportive to a friend in an abusive relationship? What are some ways that you can help a friend move forward?