Domestic Violence Awareness Month: Finding The Strength to Leave

October 6, 2013  |  


Earlier this week, I left work around 8pm after a very long day. I walked down the sidewalk past the Women’s Shelter next door to my building. Sometimes there are women outside smoking cigarettes, talking on their cell phones, or arguing with each other in the street. Sometimes there are even police officers called to the shelter to break up some dispute the women are having among themselves. Not often, but I’ve seen it.

I used to think to myself, “why did they put the shelter here, on this street, where there are businesses and professional people walking around? Not a good look for any visitors to the area.”

As I approached the corner, a woman stopped me. She was probably in her 40’s, although life made her look much older. She was carrying a bag, had on a jacket (even though it was hot and humid outside), jeans and sneakers. She looked like she had on a few layers of clothing…like she was wearing everything she owned.

“Excuse me. Is there a women’s shelter around here?” she asked me.

I turned and pointed up the street, “Yes, right there…under the scaffolding, on the left hand side of the street.” She looks and pauses…she doesn’t move.

“Do you ever see women fighting there? Is it safe?”

I was surprised by her question, because she asked as if she’d been in unsafe shelters before.

I told her it seemed okay to me, and that even though I’d seen police there before, it was a safe area and the women seemed nice. She searched my eyes for something more…and then hers welled up with tears.

“I left my husband. He beats me.”

I think I stopped breathing for a few seconds. My heart broke in a million little pieces as a tear rolled down her cheek. Without even thinking, I hugged her, and she hugged me back.

And then I had to check myself. Here I am wondering why they put a women’s shelter on this busy, “business-district” street in Midtown, when I should be grateful that the shelter even exists. Any of the “professional women” I see walking around on a daily basis could  be in a domestic violence situation and easily end up in a shelter one day if we’re not careful. Maybe even me.

Of course, we’d like to think that could never happen to us. I can’t even imagine myself as the type of woman who would allow a man to abuse her. But I’m sure the many women who are abused each year never thought it could happen to them either. Domestic violence transcends all race and class boundaries. While I do believe that there are some serious emotional and self esteem issues plaguing women who find themselves in abusive relationships, anyone can find themselves in the wrong relationship where they didn’t see the abuse coming – both men and women.

After I hugged her, she thanked me and reluctantly headed up the street towards the shelter. I stood watching her for a moment, thinking how brave she is to leave and how afraid she must be doing it. So many times we ask ourselves why women who are victims of domestic violence don’t “just leave.” But sometimes, they simply don’t have any place to go – and if they do, the place they’re going to might not be any safer. I can’t imagine leaving one hell, just to end up in another one. At least the hell they know at home is familiar to them…unlike the unknown of a shelter in Midtown.

I said some extra prayers for her that night. I hope she got a good night’s rest and had some peace of mind. I even asked God to forgive me for having the thoughts I did about the shelter in the first place. Maybe if my grandmother would have had somewhere to go and the means to do so, she would have left my grandfather long before she passed away at the age of 42. Maybe she would have lived longer instead of suffering in an abusive marriage that probably led to her diminishing health. Maybe I would have gotten a chance to meet her.

The woman I met that night took a stand and finally decided to leave her abuser. I know, we think that women should be that brave. But women who are financially dependent on their husbands, who have children, who are afraid, who are intimidated, and who are isolated from friends and family may not find “leaving” so easy to do.

Yes, women in abusive relationships play a key role in improving their own situations. No one can leave for them. However, in most cases, they can’t do it alone either. They need support and resources, which are still grossly inadequate in many cities and states. Most cities are required to have more animal shelters than shelters for abused women and children. Does that make sense? Don’t get me wrong, I’m an animal lover…but seriously?

Given that reality, I think the question we should be asking instead of “why don’t they just leave?’ should be “how did they manage to leave their abusers in the face of so many obstacles?” Maybe if the woman I hugged the other night stays at the shelter and I see her again, I’ll ask her.

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  • Indigofera Beauty

    This is a very important issue, so glad to see this article on domestic violence.
    I believe it is important to empower our girls and young women to have a stronger sense of self worth and make better choices in men. ( Of course, I am not implying abuse is the woman’s fault) However, so traits, situations and backgrounds can increase the probability of violence and abuse. Black women need more protection from our families, and communities as a whole. We are valuable.

  • mo pope

    i left an abusive relationship almost a year ago. and it’s true there are signs that you’re in abusive relationship but you tend to ignore them because you love this person. my ex and I decided to get engaged the night he put his hands on me. I was so afraid because i felt like no one would have believed me and everyone loved him. he was more emotionally and financially abusive. I tried to leave but no one seemed to want to help me leave and that was a month before he hit me. I already lived 9 hours away from my family so he could not seperate me from them but he did drive a wedge thru a lot of my friendships. but one day i decided that I deserved more and my friends mother who already felt like he was abusive offered to come get me and i got a cop and i packed my stuff and I have not seen him since. I always feel blessed that I got away. It was only God. I’m glad i did leave because he ended up cheating on me with 8 different girls and got one of them pregnant.

  • Nope

    My heart goes out to anyone that has or is experiencing this.

  • hiswomanandlovingit

    i was in a dv relationship for 10 years. and despite what people think, the abuse hardly ever starts off day one physically. if a man were to slap you right after your first date, of course you would leave! but it starts slowly. you get separated from friends and family so slowly, so smoothly that you dont even notice that it is happening. when it makes it to a physical point, (and for some it never does) you feel so alone that you feel like no one would believe you because to others the other person is the most caring and charismatic person around. there are many reasons why people dont leave. i can only say why i didnt leave. when you dont have a strong support system it is harder to leave especially when you have children. it is very easy to say what you would do when you arent facing a man twice your size hitting you like you are a man, stomping on you like you are a stranger, and then holding close like a lover. it is easy to say what you will do when you know you have friends and family who would do anything for you and you have never experienced having drug addicts for parents and “family” who only kept you because they were forced to and remind you how easily you can hit foster care if you dont act they way they want you to. it is easy to say anything you want to. just know that if you havent lived this life, you shouldnt make assumptions that people are too stupid to leave.

  • Chas

    I was in that situation for 3 years and its hard to explain why you stay so long or are scared to leave because it never makes sense to someone who who hasn’t lived it. I’m very thankful for the lesson I’ve learned and the love I have for myself now. Having gone through what I did i’m glad there is a place where people can go and start over.


    who cares

  • bluekissess

    I seen on an episode of Dr. Phil that it’s always not safe to up and leave. A woman needs an exit plan and alot of family support and love. I can’t even imagine hearing “your not good enough,” “nobody will love you like I love you, ” “your nothing without me.” I’m thankful I have enough self love and self respect to not allow myself to be in those situations.

  • guest

    I believe some stay because they have no where to go or because they feel they can’t make it in their own. I had a boyfriend that hit me once it was one time to many. I left and never went back. He called he begged and pleaded but I told him I can’t be with you. Because if you hit me again I promise you I’m going to prison. I have a very supportive family and I made it. But some women have no where to go and no one to turn to for help. Love is not suppose to hurt and I’m not going to let anyone beat me or my children. I will go to hell or jail to protect them.

    • bluekissess

      It’s so many mind games these abusers play. They isolate the abused. It’s sad.

  • Laine

    I have never been in an abusive relationship. But I always believed that women that choose to stay in one do that, not because they are afraid to leave, but because they think they have the strength to stay endure it. But I could be wrong of course

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