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Safe haven

EDITOR’S NOTE: Today, the Journal concludes its annual Help for the Holidays series, which spotlights areas where community members can reach out to neighbors in need.

If there’s a stereotype of an abused spouse, Gina is not it.

She’s in her 50s, well-educated, a respected school teacher, doting mother and grandmother. She was married for nearly 30 years to a man who was abusive from the beginning, but to whom she felt a moral obligation to stay, ’til death do you part.

It could have easily come to that.

“I’m a strong woman. I can take a lot of pain,” said Gina, a pseudonym to protect her identity.

Gina reached the breaking point just more than a year ago. It was not the nearly nightly beatings, the strain of keeping them hidden from friends and co-workers, nor the crushing guilt she felt as her daughters and grandchildren witnessed the violence inflicted by the man she once loved.

“I thought his violence was going to be passed on to the next generation, my little granddaughters,” Gina said. “I decided he’s not going to do this to my grandchildren.”

It was her husband’s probation officer who steered her toward the Domestic Violence Resource Center, a place where any abused partner can find help escaping from an abusive relationship. At the time, her husband was on probation for aggravated assault and battery on a household member.

“Her children all grew up witnessing domestic violence,” said Erin West, a therapist and licensed social worker who has worked with Gina for the past year. “What finally did it for her was when he pushed her while she was holding the baby, and she fell to the ground.”

Through the resource center, an integral part of the city-run Albuquerque Family Advocacy Center, Gina obtained a one-year protective order that required her husband to move out of the house they shared with their two daughters and grandchildren, and to stay away from her.

Initially, Gina was simply looking for a way to keep her and her family safe from a man who had grown increasingly violent over the years. But she soon learned the center could be far more than a port in a storm: It could restore her family, minus the abuser.

“She was so shy at first,” West said of Gina. “Most of the people in her family didn’t know what was going on. Just getting her to open up took a good four months.”

Gina’s ex-husband was a controlling brute who would not allow her to wear makeup, and demanded that she wear unflattering, baggy clothing to make her unattractive, West said.

“But her desire and willingness to learn finally came though,” she said. “She’s beautiful and exuberant and has a glow about her. In the beginning, you couldn’t see that. It had been beaten out of her.”

Escaping domestic violence

The Domestic Violence Resource Center, housed in the same downtown building as the Albuquerque Family Advocacy Center, offers everything an abused partner might need, from immediate safety and shelter to long-term legal assistance and counseling.

With several special units of the Albuquerque Police Department housed just upstairs, the center is secure around the clock and available at a moment’s notice. Help is a phone call away – 884-1241 – or, when in imminent danger, by calling 911. The advocacy center, on the second floor of 625 Silver SW, also accepts walk-ins.

The domestic violence center is essentially a gateway to all the help an abused partner might need, and it’s available 24/7, executive director Lynn Gentry Wood said. Abused partners, she said, “need to know that we exist, and that there is a place for help.”

The center offers a direct link to state services, ranging from the Children, Youth and Families Department to crime victim reparation. Staffers can fast-track protective orders, help with emergency housing and even provide on-site sexual assault exams. The center also offers crisis intervention, adult and children’s counseling, case management, legal advocacy and other services that might be needed by an escaping spouse, or one who is planning to leave, Gentry Wood said.

Lives restored

The resource center, Gina said, probably saved her life. Its staff helped her understand the dynamics of an abusive relationship and how to stop it.

“I am 100 percent sure that I will never go back and give my ex-husband another chance,” she said. “I’ve learned that these domestic violence offenders don’t ever change. I guess I was fooling myself that he would change, but … I don’t think he ever will. I will never go back to living that kind of life. And I will definitely never let my children or my grandchildren go through that again.”

Today, Gina, her daughters and her grandchildren are learning “to be happy again,” she said.

“Now, we don’t have to come home to all the stress of being yelled at and seeing things being thrown around,” she said. “We don’t have to worry about getting pushed or hit for no reason.”

“We come home now, and it’s calm and peaceful. We enjoy being home! We don’t worry about that door opening and not knowing what’s going to happen next,” she said.

What you can do

Gentry Wood said the Domestic Violence Resource Center’s annual budget is about $850,000. It gets about half of that from the city and state, and whatever federal grants it can qualify for. The remainder comes from private donations, including United Way contributions.

Tax-deductible donations can be made through its website, www.dvrcnm.org, or by contacting the center at 843-9123. “Any amount helps,” Gentry Wood said.

If the center had just one item on its Christmas list, it would be community support.

“What would be really helpful is if some businesses or organizations could sponsor fundraisers for the center,” she said. “A golf tournament, bowling tournament, sports event … whatever they can put together, we’d be grateful. We have the greatest staff in the world, but they just don’t have much time to do fundraisers.”

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