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Womens Center & Shelter

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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For the love of dog

“Animals are such agreeable friends—they ask no questions, they pass no criticisms.”
~~ George Eliot

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Imagine this: Your closest companion is your dog.

Your dog loves you, she comforts you, and she never judges you. Whenever you need a laugh—she is there chasing her tail. Whenever you need a hug—she is there putting her paw on your lap. Whenever you need comfort—she is there licking away your tears. She is your closest companion in a world fraught with fear and anxiety because, although she is always kind, your partner isn’t. Instead, he is constantly putting you down, interrogating you, criticizing you, and intimidating you. The only one you can really count on is your dog.

Imagine this: You decide it is time to get out of this abusive situation.

But you can’t. You know him and you know what he is capable of doing. He has kicked your dog before. He has withheld her food. He has made her stay outside when it’s been too hot or too stormy. He’s threatened to just let her out the door. He has threatened to kill her. You couldn’t possibly leave him because you couldn’t abandon her. What’s more, you couldn’t bear to be without her—she is your closest companion and your biggest support. But you don’t know if you will be able to survive—emotionally or physically—if you stay.

But then, imagine this: You find out there is support for you and your dog.

You call the Women’s Center and Shelter’s 24-Hour Hotline (412-687-8005 x 1) and explain that you want to get out, but that you can’t leave without your dog. You learn that there are several options available to assist you in getting yourself and your dog to safety. You create a safety plan with a Hotline Advocate.

Now, imagine this: Your dog is one of your closest companions.

Your dog loves you, she comforts you, and she never judges you. She’s been there with you through thick and thin, and the wag of her tail tells you that she is as happy as you.

Did you know?

  • If you are in need of shelter due to intimate partner violence, Women’s Center and Shelter may be able to provide immediate, short-term shelter for your dog, cat, or other companion animal.
  • We partner with local animal shelters to find temporary or permanent placement for your pets.
  • Your pets can be protected by a Protection From Abuse Order—our Legal Advocacy Department can assist you in listing pets on the PFA. Call our Legal Advocacy Department Monday through Friday, 8am-4pm at 412-355-7400 x5.
  • Humane Officers can assist you in retrieving your pet from the place you fled.
  • Free and low-cost veterinary services are available through local animal shelters.
  • Our Hotline Advocates can assist you in creating a safety plan for you, your children, and your pets. Even if you determine you must stay in the abusive situation or leave your pet behind in order to safely flee, we can support you in your planning and decision-making. Call us anytime day or night at 412-687-8005 x1.

Imagine this: One day all women, children, and pets are free from abuse.

How does your pet support you? Have you ever considered leaving but been afraid to leave your pet behind? What is the best part about having a companion animal, to you?

Women’s Center & Shelter thanks Pittsburgh’s Animal Rescue League and Animal Friends for the varied and integral types of support they provide for our clients and their pets!

Learn more about safety planning for your pets. (Brochure adapted from the Humane Society)