“I remember one time, I think I was about twelve years old. I was picking my mom’s teeth out of the shag carpet and through my tears I asked my mom, ‘Why don’t you just leave him?’ She hugged me tightly and replied, ‘I promise I will leave when staying is scarier than leaving.’ That is a night I will never forget.”
I borrowed this quote from a friend while we were sharing childhood stories and sipping wine. I will never forget this quote.
I have visited a domestic violence outreach center twice in my life. Once because I was scared, the other because I wanted desperately to help in any capacity I could. Here’s why. When I started my divorce process, I was terrified of my husband and had no idea how I was going to get out. I had no money, a low paying part-time “mom” job and desperation to leave as fast as I could. This man was not beating me. I wasn’t totally afraid he was going to kill me. However, he was doing everything he could to destroy me, emotionally, financially, and in every possible way except physically hurting me, at least in a way I thought classified as domestic violence. He had a new girlfriend and wanted to get rid of me by chasing me out. If I leave, he gets the kids and the house and he won’t look like such an asshole. He knew exactly how to wreck me and still keep it legal. I was in dire straights and needed help, fast. I had called the police a few times out of fear with several fights we had during the process. I was becoming more afraid of him. I was worried about my safety as well as him taking my children. The police informed me that if he hadn’t actually threatened me or physically assaulted me, there wasn’t really anything I could do legally. I felt helpless until one officer finally took interest in my story and referred me to The Gateway Center.
The Gateway Center is a collaboration between the City of Portland and Multnomah County. They offer services for victims of Domestic Violence. I was confused as to why I was referred to them. I thought domestic violence was physical assault but I called them anyway. I was desperate for any help I could get. After a long conversation with one of the telephone counselors, I was encouraged to visit. So I did.
The Gateway Center helped me understand what was happening, why it was wrong and how to deal with it exactly the right way. They showed me definitions and pamphlets that showed me this was, in fact, domestic violence. They gave me resources, encouraged me to attend group counseling for my children and myself and showed me options. I made it. I’m on my own and we are fine. I still think back and believe I did not have it near as bad as many women but I am just as grateful for their assistance.
Two years later, here I am taking a writing course with a community involvement piece. Guess what? This is my opportunity to give back! I immediately contacted The Gateway Center to see how I could get involved. There are a lot of steps to get involved with an organization like this. I filled out the application and waited. When I was finally able to meet with the assistant director, I had no idea what to expect. I was given a full tour. I was surprised at how big this place was and how lovely it was. It wasn’t fancy but it felt safe and inviting. There were areas for socializing, rooms for private meetings, play areas for the children, and the kitchen had snacks that were donated for the guests. She explained how important the weekly pick-ups were for these donated snacks. Sometimes survivors have been couch surfing for a few days and are quite hungry when they arrive. The reality check sets in at that very moment. I realize just how desperate some women are as they are literally running for their lives. I was heartbroken as I walked by some toddler toys thinking about these precious little souls who may have seen their mother in horrifying situations.
The number of free services they offer was completely surprising. Legal Aide is on-site a few days per week to assist with filing legal documents, housing services, DHS, a police officer, a court clerk, social workers in many languages, as well as people to help with education and employment. She showed me the file cabinet that housed pamphlets on resources. One sheet alone was full of low-cost or free legal services, another several sheets full of safe houses, and yet another for access to food boxes. There were a large number of sheets in just as many languages. It was explained that they couldn’t tell these women what to do, to leave; they have to want to do it on their own. They can only provide them with the resources available to get help. Her eyes were dark as she shook her head and said “Sometimes they just continue to go back, even with the bruises, because they love their abuser”. We continued through the hall and she showed me the clothing closet. This really hit home for me. Some of these women literally grab their children and run in the middle of the night, sometimes without time to even slip on a pair of shoes. These survivors need things like underwear, shoes, even a hairbrush. When I saw how very little was available, I realized just how much they really need these donations. I can imagine something like a simple clean shirt and a new pair of underwear might change how someone feels in a significant way.
Domestic Violence is real, it is prevalent and it is more common that you may think. In the United States, 1 out of every 4 women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. Nearly 3 women are murdered by their spouse or partner each day in the U.S. In the past year, more than 15.5 million children were affected by domestic violence in their home. Please visit The Gateway Center’s “About Domestic Violence” page for more statistics on Domestic Violence. https://www.portlandoregon.gov/gatewaycenter/article/460893
So you want to help, awesome! https://www.portlandoregon.gov/gatewaycenter/52865 is the direct link to The Gateway Center’s partnership page or you may call them directly at (503) 988-6400. There are so many ways to help. They need people to pick up food donations from a few locations around town, donations of personal items like clothes, shoes, children’s items, diapers, bottles, toys, personal hygiene items and anything else you can think of. Sometimes they even need things to help survivors getting into their own apartment. Cash donations are always appreciated. That can make a difference for the one family that is a mere $200 short of a deposit on their new home. This is your desperately needed service that is desperately underfunded. Donations can be time, skill set, money, clothing, food, toys, art supplies for children, or really anything! They are also seeking out partners who can offer services that may be of value to survivors of domestic violence or the organization that helps them.
For more information on Domestic Violence, please visit the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. http://www.ncadv.org/