Before you dismiss this column as just another story about an abused woman and move on to one “that really affects me or people in my life,” it’s worth your while to consider Monica M. Because she disproves the inaccurate stereotype of an undereducated, underemployed woman who accepts an abusive relationship. And she defies the cookie-cutter label of a victim.
In 2012, the now-36-year-old single mom was studying nursing at Central New Mexico Community College, working in a health plan office, raising her daughter and had been dating a guy for five years.
One night, she ended up in Presbyterian Hospital’s emergency room with a concussion, facial fracture, nerve damage and a 2-inch cut under her left eye.
Until then, “I didn’t realize (how her boyfriend treated her) was abuse – I just thought it was a dysfunctional relationship.”
“I was raised strong, independent,” she says. ” I wouldn’t stand for an abusive relationship. I used to be, ‘He hit you? I would leave.’ Five years later, I was like, ‘What the heck happened?’ ”
“What the heck” happens to thousands of women – and men and children – in New Mexico every year, where one out of three people will be affected by domestic violence. As Monica says, “The scary thing is there’s no name on that bullet. It can affect anyone.”
In the Albuquerque area, the nonprofit DVRC (formerly the Domestic Violence Resource Center) on Silver SW assists 2,500 to 2,700 people each year, according to Executive Director Lynn GentryWood.
Clients range in age from 2 months to 98 years, from qualifying for federal assistance to bringing home six-figures incomes.
As for offenders, “These are not the dregs of society,” GentryWood says. “They are fine, upstanding citizens.”
“Name any major business in Albuquerque,” GentryWood says, “we have an offender there.” Domestic violence is “really widespread” in the Albuquerque area. “It’s the No. 1 call for the Albuquerque Police Department in volume.”
And it used to tie officers up for hours as they drove victims around in their patrol cars because there was no safe place to land – if shelters were full, family and friends weren’t readily available and an abuser had not been arrested, the back seat of a police cruiser would become the last, best option.
That changed when four officers’ wives worked with APD to start the DVRC in 1995, GentryWood says, providing a quiet and safe place for adult and minor victims to report abuse, undergo an exam if necessary, take a shower, put on clean scrubs or sweats, grab a snack or a nap and work the phones and the complex system so tomorrow will be better and brighter.
That better and brighter revolves around establishing a safety plan, as simple or as detailed as a victim needs. It could include a restraining order, legal or financial assistance, help navigating the court system, securing job interviews and up to two years of counseling.
“We won’t tell you what to do,” GentryWood says. “For the first time, we are putting you in charge (and) trying to give you choices.”
The DVRC is part of the Albuquerque Family Advocacy Center, which offers close to a one-stop shop for victims and, in the wake of the beating death of 9-year-old Omaree Varela, includes staff from the state Children,Youth and Families Department, in addition to several APD units and University Hospital’s Para Los Niños sex-abuse program.
Monica says she went to the DVRC after spending eight hours in the Presbyterian ER and discovering her boyfriend “nailed 12 to 13” of the 15 or so signs of domestic abuse. She got a restraining order, some help with her rent and eight months of counseling that included a lot of “talking, venting, reminding me of my self-worth, digging deep enough to find the roots of me again.”
And those roots are now reaching out to others in the community. Instead of focusing on lost opportunities, Monica has become an entrepreneur and opened a boutique, Thrive to Revive. Complete with purple walls, the color of domestic violence awareness, the shop at 2612 Adams NE features donated women’s “brand-name clothes at affordable prices.” (Nothing goes to waste, though – Monica gives any men’s and children’s clothing to neighbors and charities.) Her business plan is to eventually buy used clothing, but one currency that will always be welcome are victims’ narratives.
“Girls come in and tell me horrific stories,” she says, and when they all share their experiences, and the knowledge that you can get through it, “it’s pretty awesome to know you’re not alone.”
One of her clothing racks prominently displays the DVRC pamphlet. On Oct. 10, in honor of domestic violence awareness month, “all the proceeds I make that particular day will be donated to the DVRC.” She says she wants other victims to know to “never forget your self-worth. … No matter what you go through, it does not have to define you. Turn that negative into a positive. … Always know there is help out there.
“And there is a way out.”
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to assistant editorial page editor D’Val Westphal at 823-3858 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Go to ABQjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.