Anna: No Longer Afraid

 
 

Anna* left her abuser and took Katie*, her 6-year old child, with her. She was on track to get her life back: she was working to get her green card, and she was determined to raise Katie on her own, despite the lack of financial support from her ex-partner.

But her abuser kept calling and calling her at all hours, with pleading (“I want us to be a family again”) and threats (“I’ll take Katie and make you go back to Italy”) and promises to change his ways, if only she came back home.

          Instead, she came to WIT.

          With her WIT counselor, Anna created a safety plan for herself and Katie, and learned how to handle his incessant phone calls. He’d call her and leave numerous messages, promising he’d change his ways if only she went back to him.

          She learned how to document and report every incident for law enforcement, to build a case against him. Emotional safety planning was key: “I will not dial pain,” she’d tell herself whenever she felt her resolve weakening and giving in to his calls.

“I’m not afraid of him anymore"

Today, Anna has successfully blocked all contact with her abuser, and has had a three-year standing Protection From Abuse (PFA) order.The other day, she said to her counselor, “I’m not afraid of him anymore, and he’s not bullying me ever again. I’m different now and I will never be that scared woman again.”

 

 *Names changed for confidentiality

Samantha: A Trans Survivor

 
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When Samantha* first came to WIT, she was homeless.

She had been in an abusive relationship with her wife for 5 years. Samantha was defending herself against her wife's attack when the police were called. Because Samantha is a trans woman, the police assumed Samantha was the perpetrator, and she was arrested.

Her wife obtained a Protection From Abuse (PFA) order and evicted Samantha from their shared home. Upon her release, she was instructed she could not go back to the only home she had, not to even collect her belongings. Samantha reached out for help to the few family members who had not turned their backs on her because of her identity.

Her cousin gave her shelter for a little while, before telling Samantha that she didn't want "any drama" and asked her to leave. Samantha started reaching out to various shelters, and was turned away from the first few she called. People's voices changed, she said, once she disclosed that she was a trans woman.

She began crying before she had even taken a seat

A friend referred her to WIT to receive counseling services. She attended Sister Circle, despite worrying about the biases she would meet from other group members. She needed the support.

At the end of her first group, she was surprised by the acceptance she had received. Although some group members were noticeably uncomfortable with her presence, the WIT counselor had made her feel welcome.

She pulled the counselor aside to thank her. The thank you turned into a conversation. By the end of the conversation, Samantha had requested an appointment for intake.

On the day of intake, she began crying before she had even taken a seat. Samantha revealed she had a history of substance abuse, that she grew up in the DHS system, and that she had been rejected by just about everyone she knew. Together, Samantha and her counselor worked on a safety plan around everyday activities like getting on the bus, going to public restrooms, and being safe on the street: all key to her survival and recovery.

Samantha attended counseling for six months. She is currently living in transitional housing, working part time, and rebuilding her life. Samantha relapsed 2 months ago, but immediately went in an Intensive Outpatient recovery program. She still attends Sister Circle, and is grateful to WIT for providing her a safe space to be herself and to feel accepted.
 

*Name changed for confidentiality

Gabrielle: An Immigrant Survivor

 
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"I'm not the person I was when I met him. I was outgoing, I had an education, I had a plan for my future."

Gabrielle* is a 35-year-old mother of three American-born children. She met her husband, Albert*, through friends in their home country. After more than a year of dating, she became pregnant with their first child and moved to Philadelphia.  She left her country, her family and friends and a stable and well-paying job with medical benefits. She was looking forward to starting a new life with him in a new country.

Gradually, Albert changed...

Initially, Albert offered to sponsor her and help her become a permanent U.S. resident. Gabrielle was thrilled, as this would make it easier for her to find a job after having her first child. But gradually, Albert changed and he refused to sponsor her. He wouldn't allow her to get a driver's license, a car, or have a bank account. She couldn't apply for a job. He refused to provide medical insurance for her and their children. Things got worse when he even refused to take them for medical check-ups or emergency visits. The children had never been to the dentist or an eye doctor.

Everything she did upset him. He would verbally abuse Gabrielle and the children.  Gabrielle, as an undocumented immigrant, knew that she was at risk of deportation. Exploiting that, Albert threatened to report her to immigration and get her deported. During her pregnancy, he would accuse her of having affairs and would repeatedly tell her that the child she was carrying was not his child.  He made her feel like she was an embarrassment to him and his family.

Apart from verbal abuse, she was being physically assaulted. If they went out, he would punch her face and try to push her out of the car. Sometimes, he would purposely slam the car door on her hand.

Albert also refused to provide for them financially. Gabrielle sold her engagement ring in order to pay for their groceries, bills, and any emergencies that may arise. Albert's family was kind enough to provide them with a house in the suburbs of Philadelphia. But recently they were asked to leave, which meant they would have nowhere to go.

She was referred to WIT.

One evening, after being hit by Albert, Gabrielle locked herself in a room and called the police. But by the time the police arrived, he was gone. Soon, she was granted a protection from abuse order which was valid for three years. She was referred to WIT, where a counselor assisted her with writing a letter to Nationalities Service Center, documenting the abuse, which is an essential part of the VAWA self-petition process.

Her WIT counselor assisted Gabrielle with safety planning, and supported her in setting and reaching her goals. Now, she has a visa, sole custody of her children, and has relocated to her own apartment.  She is living separately from her husband and raising the children on her own.  She plans to continue working and provide her children with a safe, loving and supportive environment.

*Names changed for confidentiality

Kathleen's Story: Coming Full Circle

 
        Kathleen and her son, 25 years ago

 

 

 

 

Kathleen and her son, 25 years ago

 

25 years ago, she came to WIT as a client.

In August 2016, Kathleen Albertson was transferred to the Stephen Girard Building (WIT's former location) for her work. When she stood in the lobby, she was struck by the feeling that she had been here before.  But it wasn’t until she went floor to floor to meet each tenant and she saw the Women In Transition sign on the 6th floor that she remembered when or how. She had been here. 25 years ago, she came to WIT as a client.

She felt utterly trapped and alone. 

Kathleen was 15 when she started dating a neighborhood boy. When she was 16, he pulled her hair for talking to a male friend across the street and beat up her friend. Normal jealousy, she thought at the time. They continued to date. A few years later, she got pregnant and moved in with him. Four days into living together, he punched her for the first time.

She didn’t know what abuse was, and she didn’t know she was being abused. Her boyfriend controlled what she ate, saying “I don’t want a fat girlfriend.” She constantly had bumps, bruises, black eyes. When he hit her, he’d blame her: “Look what you made me do.” He called her stupid and ugly, told her that no one else would want her if she left him. When he was angry at her, he would throw their kitten against the wall, saying, “I did this so I wouldn’t hit you.”

She felt utterly trapped and alone.  Her boyfriend had convinced her that she didn’t need any other friends but him.

Kathleen left him the first time to give birth to their son. Her boyfriend called and called after her birth, and convinced her to come back to him. Then he hit their son while he was teething, and this second time, she left for good.

At WIT, she realized that she wasn’t alone and that she wasn’t crazy.

Kathleen reached WIT through a Courage Card that a police officer gave her father. She called our hotline and came to WIT for group counseling and individual empowerment counseling. Coming to Sister Circle, hearing everyone else’s stories, made her realize that she wasn’t alone and that she wasn’t crazy. And Kathleen learned that what she had experienced was domestic violence.

She went to night school for her high school diploma. Later, as a stay-at-home mom with 4 children, she went to college at night. Today, she is an Account Manager for Allan Industries, volunteers for the Women’s Center of Montgomery County, and speaks out against domestic violence. All her children know her story.

Coming back to WIT made her realize she had come full circle.

“25 years later, I wish you’d hear less about it, but you don’t,” Kathleen says. “There’s more education. There are more examples of stars in Hollywood or in the media coming forward about abuse…. [in speaking out myself], I do know that I make a difference.”