Stories of Survival

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With counseling, Deyanira broke the intergenerational cycle of abuse

By the age of 15, Deyanira had already been victimized by a culture of violence and abuse. She had been molested and assaulted by neighbors and strangers alike. Deyanira was so entrenched in an intergenerational cycle of violence and abuse, she did not have the words to make sense of the trauma she had experienced at such a young age. To her, violence was “normal.”

This childhood history of abuse shaped her view of healthy relationships, and Deyanira soon fell victim to violence in her relationships as a young adult. When Deyanira met her significant other and gave birth to her two youngest daughters, her partner used every type of abuse he could think of to manipulate, control, and threaten her life. Abuse continued to be Deyanira’s devastating reality.

“He called me names, like “prostitute” and “stupid.” I didn’t think it was important, because I heard my father calling my mother many names, so I didn’t pay attention.”

While belittling her with degrading names, Deyanira’s partner restricted her interactions with the outside world, refusing to let her find a job and threatening her if she left her home. Some nights, he would come home late and, while intoxicated, rape Deyanira with her daughters asleep in the next room.

“I was hoping my daughters didn’t know, that they didn’t realize the abuse. But that wasn’t true, because they knew.”

One day, after her abuser beat her and kicked her in the face in front of her daughters, Deyanira fled to a local police station to find help. Arriving at the station with a bruised face, her eye purple and swollen shut, the officer immediately sent her in an ambulance to a hospital where her wounds could be treated. There, she and her daughters were directed by a social worker to a shelter in Brooklyn where they could find safety away from her abuser.

After arriving at the shelter, traumatized and terrified that her abuser would find her and her daughters, Deyanira and her girls were referred to Sanctuary’s counseling services at the Brooklyn Family Justice Center. Through Sanctuary’s Children and Family Services Program, Deyanira’s daughters began receiving counseling, where they were given the space to process and heal from the trauma they had witnessed.

“My youngest daughter couldn’t sleep at night and had nightmares. Counseling helped her to understand her emotions.” 

When Deyanira saw the life-changing effect of Sanctuary’s counseling services for her daughters, she realized that she, too, needed support to begin healing. Through almost a year of individual counseling with one of Sanctuary’s masters-level social workers, Deyanira started to see a new life open in front of her. After a lifetime of abuse, Deyanira could see that the intergenerational cycle of violence was finally being broken.

Today, Deyanira and her children are thriving and free from their abuser. After she and her daughters received counseling, Deyanira learned about Sanctuary’s Survivor Leadership Institute, where she is now a peer educator and advocate for other survivors. Deyanira also serves on her local Community Education Council, where she works to help families have access to a high quality education. She is passionate about sharing her journey to encourage other survivors to never give up hope.

“If Sanctuary for Families had not helped me, I don’t know where I would be now. Sanctuary for Families is my second home. There I truly began to live.”


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