Stories of Survival

Hear from our incredible clients

Ana secured financial independence and built a new life for her and her son in the U.S. 


Ana was a successful businesswoman living in her home country of Brazil when she met her American partner on a dating website. He was warm, kind, supportive and sweet; they talked every day and began to fall in love. The first time they connected over video chat, he could see her but she couldn’t see him. It was an early sign of his need for control.

“At the time, I was so in love with him. I said, ‘you know what, we can change things.’ But the reality was that he just wanted to control me, and I didn’t know why.”

When Ana’s partner visited her and her son in Brazil, he fit into their lives seamlessly. She hoped he would move to Brazil permanently, but he was insistent on bringing Ana and her son to the United States. When Ana visited him in the U.S. for the second time with her son, he convinced her to stay on a tourist visa. Just a month later, Ana and her partner married.

“The day we got married, he said, ‘Now you’ve signed the papers. You are in my hands now, you have to do whatever I ask you to do.'”

The abuse began immediately. On their wedding day, Ana’s abuser locked her and her son in a room. He didn’t allow them to go outside and kept the windows closed, telling Ana that he didn’t want her to “show herself to another man.” The room didn’t have much light, or food. There was only a refrigerator. This isolation continued for almost six months.

Knowing that Ana’s visa was expiring, he used her lack of familiarity with New York and limited English skills to keep her inside. He told her that if she went outside, no one would understand her and that she would be arrested and deported.

“One day I told him ‘I will call the police, you have to stop.’ He said ‘Call the police, you will be arrested here, and immigration will keep you, because you’re illegal.'”

Her abuser’s controlling behavior continued: when they were allowed to leave the apartment, he forced Ana to take pictures of her location to prove that she wasn’t lying about where she was going. Ana’s husband had the only key to their home, so she and her son had to wait outside for him to let them in. About six months into their marriage, Ana’s husband became physically violent for the first time. He held her down and slapped her.

Ana’s husband took all of the money she had saved back home in Brazil to pay the rent on their apartment and, sometimes, he didn’t even pay the rent at all. Other tenants in their building could hear him yell at Ana, or hear the noises when he slammed her on the bed or against the wall. A few occasionally called the police, but nobody ever came to check on Ana.

“The thing with my husband is that he did everything when nobody was looking. When somebody was with us, he was very calm and charming.”

One day, Ana’s landlord knocked on the door and asked her husband to stop abusing her. Her husband was cool and collected, but the landlord had heard everything and knew better than to believe Ana’s abuser.

Seeing a way out, Ana reached out to her landlord secretly and disclosed everything she had endured. He offered to rent Ana and her son a vacant room on another property. The landlord also planned to evict Ana’s husband for unpaid rent. Soon after, Ana took two garbage bags the landlord gave her, packed up all of her and her son’s clothes, and bravely fled while her husband was out one day. Ana stayed in that apartment, just two doors down the street from her abuser, for a year.

“It was a lot of mixed feelings when we escaped. One feeling was peace because we were by ourselves…the other feeling was fear to go out and run into him on the street.”

Now out of immediate danger, Ana called ‘311’ for help. She was ultimately referred to the Bronx Family Justice Center, where she was introduced to Sanctuary for Families. Ana immediately started counseling at Sanctuary. She developed a newfound confidence in her English language skills as she started to realize how well she could communicate her thoughts and feelings.

“I started counseling but was just crying. I was lost, I didn’t know who I was. But after some time, I started to see that I was able to communicate and express my feelings.”

After a year of working with her counselor, Chloe, Ana felt ready to think about reentering the workforce. Sanctuary helped her to obtain a work visa and Chloe referred Ana to Sanctuary’s Economic Empowerment Program (EEP), where she immediately thrived.

Ana relished the opportunity to gain the expertise she’d need to get a job in the U.S. and continue to build her English language skills. She became deeply passionate about learning all that she could through the program and found tremendous inspiration in the amazing group of women in her cohort.

Today, Ana is a proud, happy Survivor Leader at Sanctuary hoping to find a job that allows her to become completely financially independent. Sanctuary attorneys are currently helping Ana with her divorce and her son recently launched a successful soap business.

“I don’t want people to feel sorry for me. Don’t be sorry, because I am strong. I learned to be strong. Don’t be sorry about things that happened to me because I am who I am now because of this.”