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.”
In Her Words: DV Survivors Speak about Women They Honor
At Women’s Center & Shelter, we celebrate women every day. And March presents a particularly special reason to celebrate. Not only is it Women’s History (Herstory, if you will) Month, but March also features International Women’s Day on March 8th. For this special day, WC&S staff members and residents share in a lively midday party with international foods from community vendors, world music, games, raffles, and more! It’s an empowering afternoon to come together and celebrate women around the world!
During the festivities, we each have the opportunity to talk about women who are inspirational to us. Ahead of the event, I asked several residents about women who have inspired them and why. Here are their words:
“That’s easy—my mom. I watched her go through some of the same stuff I’m going through right now. Looking back now, and especially having kids, I know it wasn’t easy dealing with that stuff my dad put her though and trying to take care of us at the same time. I really don’t know how she did it actually.”
“Whoever it was that answered the phone when I first called here. I wouldn’t be here without that lady.”
“My sister, Rachelle. Though she’s relapsed a few times, she’s been sober for a little over a year now. I watched her go through some very rough situations because addiction is a powerful thing. She finally learned that she is more powerful than the drugs. If she could get through those dark years and make it to the other side, I know I will be able to, too.”
“My grandma. She raised me and took care of me and my sisters when no one else was there. There’s no better woman in the world than her. I miss her so much.”
“Can I say you ladies here at the Shelter? Because I think all of you are inspirational. You make me feel like I’m important and that my life and needs matter. I don’t know how you did it, but you pulled out hope that was deep down inside of me. My life isn’t gonna be like this forever and now I know I don’t have to go through what I’ve been through anymore.”
If you’d like to celebrate with us, click here for a sign you can print out to tell us why you celebrate International Women’s Day! Share it with us on social media using the hashtag #WCSWomenToCelebrate.
All names have been changed for the safety of the residents. Thank you for understanding.
January is Stalking Awareness Month: How Can You SPOT a Stalker?
After a long week, you decide to spend Friday night journaling at your favorite café while sipping earl grey. The cupcakes look decadent so you bend down to select the one in the back with the sprinkles. Cupcake in hand, you rise and turn and bump into the guy behind you. You apologize for your clumsiness, give a half smile, pay the barista, and make your way back to the table.
A few days later, you go to your usual Wednesday morning spin class. The 5 am time slot is mostly filled with the same die-hard early birds, but this time, there’s a guy already warming up on your favorite bike. You’re somewhat annoyed because that’s your spot, but slide on to the one next to him so you can still get the same view. After class, you look over to catch a glimpse at the seat-stealer. Hmmm. Why does he look familiar? You shake it off and hurry home to get ready for work.
Your Sunday isn’t a Sunday unless you spend an hour at Trader Joes after brunch. How else would you be able to post a picture of your #groceryhaul on Insta? Walking through the aisles in search of the newest finds, and your trusty staples, you see a crowd standing in front of the sampling station. You just want to reach around, grab the mini cheese wedge and go, but there’s a guy in your way. As you slide to your right, he slides to his left, and turns around almost hitting your cart. Is that Mr. Seat-Stealer? And come to think of it, he looks like the same guy from the café. You start to think he’s following you, but second guess it. That’d be crazy; it’s all in your imagination—it’s a coincidence…right?
Coincidences are just coincidences, until they’re not.
Stalking is serious and it’s a crime. In fact, a month is dedicated to it–January is Stalking Awareness Month. If you’ve ever been stalked, or know someone who has been, you know it’s not about love or to be romanticized like it is on the Netflix series You. Stalking is about control and power—taking yours and strengthening theirs.
But how do you know you’re being stalked? It’s possible to have a situation like the above, but what if it’s not so obvious? What if you have no idea someone is stalking you? Begin to take action now. Nothing is foolproof, but you can begin doing these four things to try to help prevent a scary, or potentially deadly, situation in the future. To help yourself remember, think of it as SPOT.
Surroundings – Be aware of your surroundings. Notice the people around you. Put the phone down. Turn your earphone’s volume to a lower level.
Posting Locations – When you tag your locations so your friends can find you, chances are someone who is intent on stalking you can, too. Resist the urge to tag your every move, especially if you stick to a routine.
Oversharing – Commenting on social media. Watch what you say on your own social sites, but on the sites and pages where you comment. A simple comment of, “Oh, I love Frick Park. I go there every Tuesday afternoon,” tells a potential stalker where to find you just as easily as tagging your location does.
Trail – Keep a paper trail. If you begin to notice seeing the same individual no matter where you are, write it down. The time, the day, the location, what they were wearing, etc. Should you ever need it for documentation purposes with the authorities, you’ll have it.
Be safe out there and stay alert. If something doesn’t feel right or is causing you to question “coincidences,” by all means, trust your gut. SPOT the stalker.
A Day in the Life of a Child at Women’s Center & Shelter
“Mom seems really upset lately. I asked her what was wrong, and she didn’t answer me. She used to always greet me with a smile when I got back from school, which I never see anymore. I think she’s afraid of Dad; he always gets really angry when he’s around her. They always tell me to go up to my room but I can hear the yelling from there. Mom never seems to yell back and just listens. I want to ask and know what’s wrong, but Mom would never tell me. It’s hard to fall asleep sometimes; usually I’m worried that Mom is sad. Being at home makes me sad too, because I’m scared of all the yelling. I want to help Mom, but have no idea what to do.”
Domestic violence affects children, too. At Women’s Center & Shelter, the goal of our Children’s Program is to help children feel safe and explore their feelings in a positive environment. While the mothers are discussing housing, employment, and other pressing concerns, children are able to feel safe and cared for. The Program has many activities that promote physical, emotional, interpersonal, and social wellness for each child, all while giving them the support they need to cope with trauma and heal in a steady and positive manner. Here at WC&S, we help children all the way from birth up to and including age seventeen (for young men). What are the different types of support we offer for the children?
Children talking about the way they feel is instrumental in the recovery and moving forward from witnessing domestic abuse. Our Child Advocates provide daily check-ins with the children so they’re able to express how they’re feeling and receive the help and support they need. The children also receive information about domestic violence; however, all of the information is age-appropriate and provided to the children only at the right time. If extra counseling is needed, the children are referred to counseling resources to help them cope with their emotions. Some types of therapy we provide here at WC&S are music and writing therapy.
On-site programming is offered before and after school through the Homeless Children’s Education Fund, to help make sure kids are performing to the best of their abilities. There is access to tutoring, reading programs, a Computer Learning Center at WC&S. We also offer a library full of books and school supplies for those who need them!
Interpersonal and Social support
To help the children socialize, have fun, and just be kids, we offer field trips and summer camps, letting kids build connections and friendships. In August, we host our annual Children’s Festival, as well as ongoing events scheduled with our partner organizations such as Lab Rats, Carnegie Museum, the Dreaming Pillow Project, and Beverly’s Birthdays. Volunteers at WC&S often host children’s parties, with games, arts and crafts, treats, and activities. Many of the activities include celebrating cultural diversity, which allows the children to recognize and embrace their diverse backgrounds!
Advocacy and Referrals
Many of our community partners allow for connections to medications, clothing, prescription eyeglasses, and other necessities. We offer contact with school advocacy services, and facilitate school enrollment and transportation. We also provide access to a pediatrician and dentist for children staying in Emergency Shelter.
“Mom seems so much happier now. There is no more yelling, so I can finally get a good night’s sleep. I saw her smile for the first time in forever; I missed her being happy. I was finally able to talk to someone and tell them how the entire situation at home made me feel. They understood how scary it was and taught me ways to make myself feel better. I still get to do all of my schoolwork, and get help from people when my homework is too hard. I have met some other kids here, and look forward to the fun field trips we get to go on together! Most importantly, I feel safe here at the Shelter, as does Mom, and we don’t have to live in fear anymore!”
Celebrating Survivors 2019: Pittsburgh Bureau of Police Sgt. Eric Kroll and the late Joyce McAneny to be Honored
Our premier event is almost here! Celebrating Survivors, will take place at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh the evening of Friday, April 26, 2019. Sponsored by UPMC Health Plan, this event celebrates survivors of intimate partner violence (IPV), remembers those who have lost their lives to IPV, and will honor Pittsburgh Bureau of Police Sergeant Eric Kroll and WC&S’ beloved former Legal Advocacy Manager, the late Joyce McAneny, with Ted Craig Humanitarian Awards.
“Having worked doggedly over the years to bring the Lethality Assessment Program and domestic violence training to the City of Pittsburgh Police, Sgt. Kroll and Joyce McAneny have both shown exemplary advocacy for survivors of intimate partner violence. Sgt. Kroll and Joyce have given so much; they are both truly deserving of this honor,” said Nicole Molinaro, President/CEO of Women’s Center & Shelter.
Known as one of the training experts within the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, Sgt. Kroll spearheaded the implementation of the Lethality Assessment Program (LAP) in the City of Pittsburgh. Police officers who are called to a home where intimate partner violence is suspected use the eleven-question lethality assessment with victims. If the officers determine a victim to have a high risk of being killed, they will connect the victim with WC&S while still at the scene. Working alongside law enforcement, the Office of the District Attorney, WC&S, and the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence and others, Sgt. Kroll took the lead on developing the policy, the training curriculum, as well as the implementation of the LAP smartphone app. Driven by a family member’s experience with domestic violence (DV), Sgt. Eric Kroll has shown great compassion toward victims of DV and a steadfast dedication to addressing the issue as an officer within the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police.
Joyce was an integral member of the team that implemented the Lethality Assessment Program here in the City of Pittsburgh, which will no doubt be a part of her lasting legacy. She also worked alongside Sgt. Kroll and members of the District Attorney’s Office to provide DV training at the local police academies. Throughout her 20 years at WC&S, Joyce provided court accompaniment and safety planning to thousands of domestic violence survivors and worked to strengthen the justice system’s response to domestic violence. She worked tirelessly with judges, court administrators, attorneys, probation officers, police, and others in the justice system so that victims were better supported and batterers held more accountable.
KDKA’s Lynne Hayes-Freeland is the emcee for the evening and Honorary Event Chairs are the mother/daughter teams of Pat Siger & Carli Siger and Barbara Jeremiah & Abigail Gardner. The evening includes catering by Rania’s Catering, entertainment by The Kevin Howard Band, a Silent Auction, Wine Grab, Mission Moment, and more!
Celebrating Survivors is held annually in the spring with all proceeds benefitting WC&S’ programs and services for adults experiencing IPV and their children.
This year’s event is now sold out, so if you didn’t get tickets yet, we hope to see you next year!
Adopt-A-Family: ‘Tis the Season for Giving the Gift of Empowerment!
The holiday season is full of love and joy. It’s a time to sit back, enjoy some hot chocolate, and feel cozy in a blanket while surrounded by your loved ones. Think back–do you remember a time when you received a special present? As a kid, maybe it was the toy Barbie doll, truck, stuffed animal, or board game you had been pleading for over the past few months. As a parent, maybe it was the joy of seeing your child’s face light up when they opened the present you searched for high and low. Adopt-A-Family!
Many of us dream of our perfect holiday and perfect present; but, some have dreams of a different kind. For many survivors at Women’s Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh, they arrive with just the clothes on their backs or what little they were able to grab while fleeing domestic violence. In addition, many survivors often don’t have the financial resources to buy presents and make the holiday season merry for themselves and their children due to financial abuse, which almost always exists in abusive relationships. This holiday season, WC&S is asking you to help us bring the simplest of joys to those we serve through our Adopt-A-Family program!
By participating in Adopt-A-Family, you’ll bring smiles to all of those beautiful faces!
It’s easy–all you need to do it follow three simple steps:
1. Purchase Gift Cards
You’re giving the gift of empowerment! Gift cards provide mothers with choices when shopping for their children. Recommended gift cards include Visa, Target, and Walmart.
2. Complete the Donation Form
Filling out the donation form provides the necessary documentation for the donation. Along with the gift cards, please provide the name of the donor, organization/company, address, phone number, email address, and gift card amount(s).
3. Send in the Gift Cards!
Mail the gift cards to:
Women’s Center & Shelter
P.O. Box 9024
Pittsburgh, PA 15224
Are you ready to give back to others this holiday season? Ready, set, Adopt-A-Family!
If you have any questions, please reach out to Jake Phillips by calling (412)687-8017 ext. 331 or
Thank you and Happy Holidays from WC&S!