One woman. One horse. One goal: 48 states for Domestic Violence Awareness

Check back often for the latest updates and stories from Meredith and Apollo as they journey 10,000 miles on a four year ride around the USA.






No Room at the Shelter, Now What?

Domestic violence is a dangerous situation to live with, but is actually most dangerous when a woman (or man) leaves their abuser.  As awful and damaging as it is to be verbally, emotionally and/or physically abused day in and day out, there are even more risks once the courageous step to leave is taken.

Leaving an abuser is not like a normal break up.  It is never mutual, for starters.  The abuser's position throughout the relationship is to maintain control over the victim. When they break free of that control to leave, the abuser's reaction is to regain control, and this can be extreme.  This is the time in an abusive relationship when the victim is most likely to be murdered.  But even if it does not come to that, a victim is at extreme risk of being injured if their abuser locates them.

Should a victim safely escape their abuser, they also face other huge challenges.  Many victims are unemployed, without financial means to support themselves (this is called financial abuse).  They may have become isolated from family and former friends, and thus feel they have no one to turn to.  Or their supportive network is in the same small town as their abuser, which would not provide the safety they need.  If they have children, the problems are tenfold.

The primary tool for a victim to become a survivor is often her local women's shelter.  Shelters provide a safe haven where the abuser can not locate them.  They also provide other support, such as finding employment, housing, and other services, as well as food and clothing (most women must leave their belongings behind when they escape).  This is all provided free of charge for as long as the survivor needs to get on their feet.

However, there is a serious shortage of space in shelters across the country.  The National Network to End Domestic Violence estimates that one in seven women who request a shelter bed are turned away - 167,000 women per year who could not get help when they needed it.  If these women feel they have no where else to go (as is normal in this situation), they will either return to their abuser or  become homeless.

Think of it... 167,000 women each year! Each one who must make the heartbreaking choice between a roof and a meal or freedom from violence. 

But this has all been said before... what is missing in these reports is what, if any, other options these women have. 

Is there anywhere they can go when the shelter is full? How could they survive without means?

These questions are best asked by each woman before she leaves.  Coming up with a plan is essential to success.  The more options, even crazy or less than ideal ones, are better than not having a plan.

First, of course, are the options of the local shelters if there are any with beds available, and of a friend or relative's house. 

Plan C requires some creativity, and possibly planning ahead for leaving.  Is it possible to siphon away some cash, to have available when its needed? If not, is it possible to open a line of credit that can be used for this emergency? (Though living on credit is not a good life plan, it can work for a short term solution).   Is she already employed, and can count on that income? If not, is she physically and psychologically ready and able to become employed? There are many programs and opportunities for live-in employment, from "normal" jobs to alternative workshare programs like HelpX.  These are just a few ideas out of many options. 

When I left my abuser, I was one of these unemployed women with no money, no belongings except what fit in a backpack, not even a car to sleep in should I have chosen the homeless route.  Luckily I had family to shelter me until I could make my own way, because there were no shelters in my area.  My Plan B if my family couldn't or wouldn't help (as my abuser had so often told me would happen if I tried to leave, that I had started to believe him), was to go to the nearby Buddhist retreat center where they provided shelter and meals in exchange for work.  I have no doubt that plan would have worked, but I am glad it was not necessary.

Also when I left, I did not know there were such things as the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-SAFE (7233)), which is a great primary resource for women who need information before, during or after leaving their abuser.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, call the Hotline, make a plan, keep your hope alive!  There are resources available, even when the shelters are full. 

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