The word “refuge” is evocative. It means a plethora of different things to different people, but perhaps the most common associations that come to mind are home and family. Sadly, for many of our clients, this is just a fantasy. For one such client, Leslie*, home was not a refuge; rather, it was a place where she had to protect herself and her children from her husband, the person who vowed to honor and cherish her until death did them part. The last straw came when Leslie’s husband graduated from hitting her to hitting their children. One day, she came home from work to discover that he had beaten their three-year-old daughter, Samantha*. This small child looked up at Leslie and told her that she was scared of her father. Leslie knew the situation was untenable. And so, a few days later, while her husband was out of the house, Leslie made her move. She packed up some belongings and she and her three children fled to the Julian Center.
Although the Julian Center was full, they referred Leslie to another safe place she and her family could stay. They also referred her to the Legal Clinic through the Victim Justice Program. Noemí Gallegos, one of the paralegals who worked on Leslie’s case, was in awe of Leslie’s spirit and how well she was able to keep things together for her children. Noemí says, “That’s hard, especially when you’re going through something that’s emotionally crippling you as a person. She was able to put herself to the side and say, ‘No. I’m going to make sure they’re safe and I’m going to do whatever I have to do to make sure they’re safe.’”
For Leslie, faith became her refuge. Noemí says, “She went through this terrible thing, but with her faith she was able to pull herself out from it without just falling down.” Leslie did everything she needed to do, and everything that was asked of her. She worked with the police to help put her husband in prison for child abuse; she worked with the Legal Clinic staff to get a divorce and obtain full legal and physical custody; she got counseling through another social service organization, and so on. Staff Attorney Aimee Heitz says, “When you see Leslie, she is a smart, educated woman. She is successful in her job … She doesn’t necessarily fit the mold of some stereotypes of woman that might fall into domestic violence relationships … It really just shows that this can happen to anybody. You can find yourself in these situations and it becomes really hard to escape.” Noemí adds, “The face of domestic violence are many.”
Currently, Leslie and her children are thriving. Leslie is even using this horrible thing that happened to her and her family to educate others. Aimee says, “[Leslie] has really grown from the experience to become more independent and now she’s sharing her story and able to try to help other women.” Through her work with the Clinic and other social service agencies, Leslie has been empowered. She says of the services she received, “The fate of my future and my children’s future would be different if I didn’t come to the Clinic. You not only changed our lives. You kept us safe.”
*Names have been changed
Photo by Sean MacEntee: https://goo.gl/3t7uC4