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  • I worked full-time, then part-time in domestic violence shelters for eleven years. When people hear this, they usually cock their heads and wince, imagining that I was constantly surrounded by beaten and battered women. In fact, that was rarely the case. Oh, we'd get some women coming in to the shelter with a police escort after a physical incident, or we'd get a call from a hospital. But usually these calls from the police or the hospital were on behalf of the women. The case workers there were encouraging them to enter a shelter and they were calling to see if we were full. Sometimes they did come. More often they'd find friends or family to stay with and wouldn't leave until later, when something finally made them decide enough was enough.

    Working in the shelters was anything but depressing. The women there had made a tremendously courageous move in leaving their abusive situations. I think that fact is rarely acknowledged. These women were brave.

    Imagine leaving your home, your possessions, often your job and your support network, to move into a hidden shelter where you had to start all over. Yes, you could bring your kids. But it's not that simple. There are temporary custody orders to get, restraining orders, and so many records and documents that you need to start your life over. You have to enroll your kids in a new school. You have to look for an apartment and perhaps a new job. You need furniture again, and a new bank account, and utilities, and, and, and. The shelter caseworkers help you, but it's not that easy. You have to be willing to build a new life even while someone is threatening and trying to stop you.

    And then there's the emotional side of things. Not just the fear of the abuser, but the fear of the unknown. It may seem hard to fathom, but think about how easy it is to live with what you know versus what you don't. At home, she may have some idea of what triggers his violence. She may have some idea of what to expect. But once she leaves, she doesn't know what life will be like. She doesn't even know where she's going. It takes courage.

    Most importantly, people tend to criticize these women who finally speak up; who finally take action and leave their lives behind. Why did you stay? Why didn't you leave him? There are a million answers and a million things to consider. One of which is love. People are quick to forget that this woman loved this man and that there are times when he wasn't abusive. There were times he said he was sorry and she forgave him. He brought her flowers. They had children. She loved him. That doesn't stop just because she leaves.

    Hopefully women today know there are resources for them. But beyond that, we need to understand how deeply this issue runs. It's not a matter of simply calling the police, or finding a shelter. It's about having the courage to change your life. We need to commend any woman who can do that.
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