Karen: An Advocate for Change

Karen in 2000, while she was a client at WIT

Karen in 2000, while she was a client at WIT

Karen and WIT Executive Director Corinne Lagermasini in 2019

Karen and WIT Executive Director Corinne Lagermasini in 2019


Karen couldn’t admit to herself that her relationship with her husband was abusive.

They had a young son together and they were business partners. She tried to hide the psychological and physical harm from her son and everyone else in her life. A part of her believed she must have done something wrong in order to deserve the abuse.

“When you trust someone else’s judgement of you more than you trust your own judgement of what’s going on, that is the beginning of going crazy,” she says, looking back on those years.

But when her son began to act out at preschool, Karen realized that she wasn’t concealing the abuse as well as she thought. A teacher from her son’s preschool recognized what was going on, and gave Karen the phone number for Women In Transition (WIT). Knowing that something had to change, she gave us a call.

A Turning Point

On the very first night that she attended a WIT support group, Karen was blown away by the strength of the other women as they talked about what they were dealing with. She saw the parallels between her situation and theirs. And she realized that, though she was cutting herself down and blaming herself for her own abuse, she would never do the same to the other women in the group.

“I made a pact with myself after that,” she said, “I was not going to cut myself down anymore, because I was in the same position as they were.”

That was a turning point for Karen. She kept going to the weekly support group, and slowly began to share more of her story with the other Survivors. Over the course of several months of individual counseling and group support, Karen grew stronger and more open about her situation. She no longer tore herself down or blamed herself for her own abuse. She knew that she deserved better.

“WIT helped save my life.”

On the day that her abuser threatened her life, Karen knew enough was enough. She called a close friend who agreed to take her in. The next day, she gathered her belongings, picked up her son from day care, and went to her friend’s house. Karen was lucky to be able to move into an apartment the very next week. Finally, she was free, safe, and on her own.

“When I first moved into my apartment, I didn’t even have electricity. I slept on the floor the first night. And I felt so light. I felt so good,” Karen said. “I felt a 700 pound weight come off my back. I’d been feeling this deep confusion for months and years, and I didn’t feel confused anymore. It was amazing.”

With WIT’s help, Karen equipped herself with the tools she needed to escape and rebuild her life. She says today that without WIT, she doesn’t know where she would be. “WIT’s counseling was more impactful than any class I’ve ever taken, more impactful than my college degree. WIT helped save my life.”

Today, Karen proudly serves on Women In Transition’s Board of Trustees. She runs her own successful business, Karen Singer Tileworks, and is remarried to a loving and supportive husband. She is a passionate advocate for Survivors of domestic violence. Karen shares her story so that others can understand the transformative impact that WIT’s services can have on Survivors.

back to stories

Karen told her story at the MISSION Story Slam in May 2018, winning first place and $250 for Women In Transition.

You can also hear Karen’s story on the MISSION Story Slam Podcast (March, 2019)

Anna: No Longer Afraid

Anna*, after much deliberation and reflection, gathered the courage to leave her abuser. She took Katie*, her 6-year old, with her, and 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, pleading (“I want us to be a family again”) and making 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.

It was hard for Anna not to return to the life she had known for so long, but she knew that she and Katie deserved better. With her counselor at Women In Transition (WIT), Anna created a safety plan for herself and Katie, and learned how to handle his incessant phone calls.

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 she felt tempted to give 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. Through WIT’s empowerment counseling, Anna was able to build a better life for herself and her daughter.

“I’m not afraid of him anymore, and he’s not bullying me ever again,” Anna said. “I’m different now and I will never be that scared woman again”

 *Names changed for confidentiality

Samantha: A Trans Survivor

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

She had been in an abusive relationship with her wife for five 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 Women In Transition (WIT) to receive counseling services. She attended a Peer Support Group, 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 The WIT counselor had made her feel welcome and supported.

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 an individual counseling intake.

On the day of her appointment, she began crying before she had even taken a seat. Samantha revealed she had a history of substance abuse, 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.

Rebuilding her life

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 into an Intensive Outpatient recovery program: she is stronger now than she was before. She still attends Peer Support Group, 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

"I'm not the person I was when I met him."

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

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 health insurance for her and their children. Gabrielle sold her engagement ring in order to pay for their groceries, bills, and any emergencies that arose.

He got angry all the time; she felt like everything she did upset him. Gabrielle, as an undocumented immigrant, knew that she was at risk of deportation. Exploiting that fact, Albert threatened to report her to immigration.

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.

She was referred to WIT.

One evening, after being hit by Albert, Gabrielle locked herself in a room and called the police. By the time the police arrived, he was gone. But after following up, she was granted a three-year Protection from Abuse order. She was referred to Women In Transition (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

Kathleen and her son today

Kathleen and her son today


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

In August 2016, Kathleen Albertson’s job transferred her into the Stephen Girard Building (WIT's former location). When she stood in the lobby, she was struck by the feeling that she had been here before. But it wasn’t until 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, and then he beat up the 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 have a name for what she was going through. Her boyfriend controlled what she ate, saying “I don’t want a fat girlfriend.” She constantly had bruises and black eyes. When he hit her, he would 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 had to do that 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 after giving birth to their son. Her boyfriend called and called after the birth, and successfully convinced her to come back to him. Then he hit their infant son, and she left for a second time, this time for good.

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

Kathleen reached Women In Transition (WIT) through a Courage Card that a police officer had given her father. She called our hotline and came to WIT for group counseling and individual empowerment counseling. 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. WIT was her safe haven.

Today, Kathleen 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. She raised her four children as a single mom, while getting her high school diploma and college degree in night school.

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

“25 years later, I wish you’d hear less about [domestic violence], but you don’t. WIT is still here because there’s still a need.” Kathleen says. “I consider myself a Survivor. Counseling helped so much, it gave me strength. When I speak out and tell my story, I know that I make a difference.”