Did you know that one in four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime? Domestic violence is an epidemic affecting women in every community, regardless of age, economic status, race, religion, nationality or educational background.
At our Women’s Resource Center in Phoenix, Fresh Start Women’s Foundation sees new cases every week. We have visits from approximately 26,000 women every year and almost 40 percent of the women we see have experienced some kind of abuse.
The ones that make it through the doors of Fresh Start are usually the lucky ones — they have gotten to that point in their life where they are ready to make a change. Unfortunately, there are so many that don’t make it to us. Almost one-third of female homicide victims that are reported in police records are killed by an intimate partner.
I spoke recently to one of our clients who experienced this horror. Debbie moved from Arizona to Oklahoma where she met her husband. By then, the children from her first marriage were teenagers and spent little time with them. Her husband had previously been charged with domestic abuse, but Debbie never knew.
They were married for 16 years and lived first in Oklahoma and then in Missouri. During their 16-year marriage, the abuse and control grew worse. He didn’t allow her to work or even leave the house without him except for 10 minutes to walk the dog.
On the rare occasion she baby sat, he drove her there, sat in the car and waited. Outsiders never sensed how controlling and violent Debbie’s husband was. Finally, a woman at her church realized what was going on and helped her get out. She left with the clothes on her back and fled to a shelter. One of the hardest things she ever did was look down as she was leaving and say goodbye to her dog — her one bit of freedom for 10 minutes a day.
She received no alimony, and her husband hid her things in storage and sold them. She entered the “Address Confidentiality Program” program and was at last finally able to feel safe from her abuser, knowing he would not find her.
There are so many women like Debbie that we see at Fresh Start every day. Fresh Start supports these women with counseling, education, career services, legal services and support groups.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. I hope that you will join Fresh Start in educating others about domestic violence. It is critical to get these women out of their situation. We hope to help more women every year who have the courage to make a positive change in their life.
• Susan Berman is president and CEO of Fresh Start Women’s Foundation.