Last updated: September 06. 2013 3:57AM - 141 Views

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Editors note: This is the last in a series about Citizens Against Spouse Abuse, Inc., which provides services for victims of domestic and sexual abuse. If you or someone you know is the victim of physical or sexual abuse, call the CASA Hotline at 827-5555. All calls are confidential and answered 24/7.

Often, victims of abuse find themselves in a cycle of abuse a parent abuses a child because the parent was abused himself as a child. Some victims, however, have no history of violence in their family. An assault or attack happens to them randomly, a victim of unforeseen circumstances. Sue is one of those survivors.

At 13, Sue was violently raped by a 24-year-old family friend and for nearly 40 years, she told no one.

Pieces of that day are still missing from my memory, she said. I do remember feeling scared, hurt, lost, discardable. After that day I became two different people the outside girl who was just the same as before and the inside girl, too afraid and lost to do anything.

Sue, who asked the Democrat not to use her last name, has received free therapy through Citizens Against Spouse Abuse, Inc., something she calls a lifesaver.

Im not sure where I would be or who I would be without CASA and Juanita (Holmes, CASAs adult therapist), she said. Theyve been a blessing to me.

A new start

When a woman leaves CASAs shelter she is required to have some sort of safety plan.

The plan maps out the next step for a survivors life, whether that be moving in with friends or finding their own place, said New Beginnings Coordinator Debbie Fisher. Sometimes the plan is to go back home and if things get bad again, come back to CASA.

Fisher actively stays in touch with the women and children who leave the shelter, even if its just to check up on them and have a quick chat.

We dont push them out the door and say, OK, youre on your own now, Fisher said. For many of these women, living at CASA has been very inclusive for them they dont have to worry about anything here except themselves and their children. But once they leave it can be overwhelming to be back in the real world again, dealing with all of lifes problems.

Fisher works with different social agencies in town, particularly Pettis County Community Partnerships Putting Roofs Over People program, to help find survivors affordable housing. CASA will also help furnish apartments or homes as much as possible.

Some of these women left their homes with the clothes on their backs and whatever they were able to grab, which isnt much, Fisher said. Theyre starting over from scratch essentially.

Many times women will still use CASAs services, such as therapy or different life skills programs after they leave, she added.

I wish Id known about CASA and the therapy services years ago, Sue said. I could have had a different life.

After her rape, Sue decided to not tell her parents what happened. Aside from the shame of the incident, she believed her father would seek revenge.

My daddy would have taken a shotgun to him, I know he would have, she said. I thought I could just get through it myself.

During her teenage years Sue was plagued with thoughts of suicide. Her saviors turned out to be the puppies her family raised on their country farm.

The dogs knew when I was upset, they cared, she said. I could talk to the dogs, tell them everything I couldnt tell my parents. In a lot of ways, I really do think they saved my life.

Sue kept her secret, she got married and had two children of her own. She had a happy life, she says, but her past continued to tear her apart.

When I heard about CASA I thought, well, maybe I should start to talk about it, she said. It was hard. I had been this other person for so long, to go back and revisit those memories that lost little girl has never left me, shes still inside me. It was hard to be OK with her coming out, with admitting what happened.

Hope for the best

The staff at CASA like to remind clients that abuse doesnt discriminate, it crosses all age, race and socioeconomic barriers. CASAs full-time Outreach Case Manager, Giselle Cruzdebaeza, sees this first-hand working with the local Hispanic community.

In the Hispanic culture abuse is seen as normal, Cruzdebaeza said. The man is the head of the family and what he says goes. If a woman decides to leave her abusive husband and go back home, her father may tell her no, you have to go back to your husband.

Girls are often told if your boyfriend or husband doesnt hit you, if he isnt jealous, he doesnt love you, said Bertha Lerma, CASAs part-time bilingual Sexual Assault Case Manager. When thats what you grow up with, when everyone around you is being abused in some way or another its just normal. Thats just life.

Cruzdebaeza and Lerma work together to combat that way of thinking. Between them they have approximately 40 clients who speak little or no English and unlike English speaking victims who may come to CASA and interact with each member of the staff, for Spanish-speakers, Cruzdebaeza and Lerma are it.

A lot of our work is helping survivors obtain legal documents, Cruzdebaeza said. Some of these women are married to U.S. citizens who abuse them and tell them, If you tell anyone, Ill call the police and theyll send you back because youre illegal. These women are frightened theyll be forced to leave their children.

Through the Violence Against Women Act, victims of abuse who are in the country illegally are allowed to apply for a VAWA Visa or U Visa. According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, to apply for a VAWA Visa, the victim must establish theyve had a relationship with the abuser, have been the victim of battery or extreme cruelty, reside with the abuser and have good moral character. If granted, a VAWA Visa gives a victim two years to apply to become a U.S. citizen.

U Visas require victims to have documented proof of the abuse, including assisting law enforcement in a case against the abuser, and character references, among other qualifications. If granted, victims have four years to apply to become a citizen.

Not all victims leave their abusers, Cruzdebaeza said. A few years ago I had a client who was married to an American and when he drank he would beat her. She told me she was afraid to call the police because she was illegal and her husband threatened to take their child and leave. She couldnt work, didnt even know how to drive.

Cruzdebaeza convinced the woman to take the man to court, where he proceeded to tell the judge she was an illegal immigrant.

The judge said, I dont care about her status, youre an abuser, she said. He was put in jail for a time and now shes a legal resident. Theyre still together but he quit drinking and now shes driving. Sometimes thats the best you can hope for.

For Sue, hoping for the best includes getting beyond her past. Two years ago she told her mother about the rape and she took it as well as she could have.

Sometimes Im angry at my parents, that they didnt realize something was going on, that they didnt think to ask, she said. But I realize its all part of my journey to happiness. It hasnt been until the last year or so that Ive really accepted that I deserve to be loved. I still have a lot to learn about not blaming that child I was.

The courage to leave

It takes an abuse victim an average of seven attempts before she finally leaves her abuser for good. Of the women who leave CASA, Fisher knows shell probably see one or two again. Sometimes within a few weeks, other times it may be a year. No matter what, she said, theyre always welcome back.

Its a tough thing, leaving, she said. Because youre not just leaving the violence. Youre leaving your entire way of life, everything youve known you have to change. Its incredibly hard for these women, so to see them succeed, it makes everything worth it.

Six years ago, Fisher worked with a woman who came to CASA with her daughter after suffering years of abuse.

There was a horrid custody battle between her and her husband, absolutely terrible, Fisher said. She won. He went to prison. And now shes doing wonderfully, she has her own apartment, her daughter is thriving. Its good to hear those stories, to run into the survivors in town and have them tell me theyre on this new life path.

For Sue, her main goal in life right now is to continue healing, for herself and her granddaughter.

I didnt want to tell my story, I thought about it for a long time and even right now, Im still scared to be talking about it, she said with tears in her eyes. But if my story can help just one little girl know shes not alone, if I could save one person from feeling what I felt, it will have made my journey worth it.


CASA is looking for new or gently used furniture, particularly beds and couches, to give to survivors when theyre able to leave the shelter and set up a new home. Other household items are also appreciated. For more information about how to donate, call 827-5559.

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