Stories of Survival

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Monica and her daughter found a community of support

Monica could never have imagined the future that would come when she married her husband. Abuse slowly crept into their relationship, as domestic violence often does, ensuring that Monica never felt safe, even years after their separation.

“I wasn’t even thinking about my safety, I was thinking more about my daughter.”

Soon after they were married, Monica became pregnant with her daughter, Lavender. At three months old, Monica left Lavender with her father while she went out with friends to enjoy a birthday dinner. Shortly into her night out, her husband called, frantic and enraged, because the baby was crying. Monica promptly left dinner to take care of Lavender. From that moment on, her husband refused to watch the baby whenever Monica needed to leave the house; he said he was no ‘babysitter’.

“He was abusive before he was violent. I didn’t even realize it.”

Signs of his emotional manipulation continued to emerge, and soon after, the physical abuse followed. The first time, her husband started yelling at her, backing her into a corner and pushing her onto the bed. He sat on her chest. Monica screamed, and her oldest daughter burst through the door and saw what was happening.

When divorcing her abuser after five years of marriage, Monica’s primary concern was her daughter’s health and safety. After her divorce, she continued experiencing violence and didn’t know where to turn. One day, he attempted to break her arm by closing it in a door in front of her daughter. Monica knew that she needed help to get away from her abuser to save her children’s lives.

“[At] one of my daughter’s birthday parties, I actually hired a bodyguard to come. Could you imagine that?” 

Afraid she wouldn’t be believed but with no other options, Monica rushed to her local police precinct. Her ex-husband, using the legal system to manipulate her, also filed a complaint claiming she had hit him, leading them both to be arrested. Her ex-husband’s plans to exert control over Monica continually kept her from feeling safe, and it was only after appearing in court that Monica’s case was dismissed. It was clear the real perpetrator was him.

Some time later, in 2013, while on the subway, Monica saw an ad for Sanctuary for Families. She called the number on the ad and made an appointment. Monica and Lavender, then 13 years old, began to meet regularly with Sanctuary counselors who helped them heal from their trauma. This was the first time Monica identified herself as a survivor of domestic violence.

“Lavender felt like her counselor was helping her access her voice, because she was becoming more verbal about how she felt and was able to express things about her father’s behavior.”

Monica’s ex-husband wasn’t happy to be losing control of Monica and Lavender, and three months into their counseling, he called her to court to fight for custody and child support. Even though Monica’s ex-husband had open visitation rights and could see Lavender whenever he pleased, he still attempted to gain control by seeking custody of their 13-year-old daughter.

Monica’s counselor immediately connected her with Sanctuary’s Legal Center and attorney Lisa Vara, who worked diligently with Monica and her counselor to help win her case. It was clear from the beginning that her husband had no basis in fact, and his claims were quickly overturned. The Judge also ruled that Monica’s ex-husband needed to make the previous unpaid divorce settlement and child support right.

“While Sanctuary focuses on domestic violence, it’s really a healing process for any kind of victimization. Sanctuary has the capacity and resources to leverage victims from victimization to healing to leadership. I don’t know any other organization that does that.”

Monica and Lavender remained with their Sanctuary counselors for more than a year, utilizing the incredible support system that Sanctuary’s Legal and Counseling teams provided.

Today, Lavender and Monica remain close to Sanctuary. Now that she’s older, Lavender is considering accessing Sanctuary’s counseling services again to help her process her traumatic memories. Monica is a proud Survivor Leader, mentoring other survivors and sharing her story with the Sanctuary community. Neither could have imagined the freedom and family they would find when they first saw that Sanctuary for Families subway ad.

It’s good to have a community, Sanctuary provides that. It gives you the space where you become a part of the community, and in your relationship development with the other survivors, you formulate a tribe.