Shelter from the Storm: Women should not fear getting help from abusive relationships
COACHELLA VALLEY, October 2014 — For a short period of time, Elena was in paradise.
Leaving behind Mexico’s poverty, she found her way into California and married a man who seemed like a perfect fit.
“He didn’t smoke. He didn’t drink. He didn’t do drugs,” she said in Spanish. And for the first six months of their marriage, he was a perfect gentleman. Then the nightmare began.
“It seemed like he changed overnight,” she said. “He became very abusive — physically, psychologically and verbally abusive.”
For the next year and a half, Elena found herself and baby boy trapped in the kind of abusive relationship that strikes one out of three women in the U.S., according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Only in Elena’s case it was worse. Being undocumented, Elena feared that if she told authorities about the abuse she was suffering that she and her son would be deported.
So she kept quiet and endured her husband’s physical, psychological and emotional abuse for about a year and a half. A friend later suggested she start using her cell phone to take photographs of her bruises to show police.
She did. Then one day, after enduring another beating, she went to a police station near her home and gave them a report.
“I still had bruises on me when I filed the report,” she said. And when the police found Elena’s husband, they arrested him and put him in jail — for all of about six hours before he was released on bail.
But in that short period of time, Elena’s life began to change.
“The police put me in touch with Shelter from the Storm, and relocated my son and me to the Coachella Valley,” she said.
Lt. Misty Reynolds, Coachella’s assistant chief of police, said she feels heartbroken by the stories she hears of women who are being abused in their homes and don’t call police for fear they will be deported.
“Undocumented women who are suffering from abuse in the home need to know they call us because we can help,” she said.
Elena also learned something else she didn’t know before: Immigration laws give undocumented victims of intimate partner domestic violence the right to apply for residency.
“This is a message every undocumented woman needs to hear,” said Angelina Coe, executive director of Shelter from the Storm’s office in Palm Desert.
“If you have photographs and statements of witnesses who can prove you suffered abuse, you can apply for legal residency. Undocumented victims of domestic violence need to know that the law is on their side.”
Unfortunately, Coe said, thousands of undocumented women in Riverside County and across the United States are needlessly suffering from abusive relationships because they don’t know the law.
“I literally felt like I was in prison,” Elena said.
But after Shelter from the Storm relocated her and her son to a safe house and told her that both she and her son could apply for legal residency, Elena said she felt her nightmare could finally come to an end.
Coe said there are thousands of women like Elena in the Coachella, particularly in the eastern Coachella Valley. But Shelter from the Storm can help them.
“All they need to do is call our crisis line at (760) 328-7233 and we can give them information that can help them end the nightmare,” Coe said.
Shelter from the Storm not only relocates abused women into secret shelters, but it provides them with counseling, including group sessions, as well as assistance finding employment and applying for residency and/or citizenship.
Between July of 2013 and June of this year, Shelter from the Storm provided shelter and services to 923 victims of domestic violence, 589 of whom were children 16 and under.
Coe said it’s also important for women to know that abusive behavior is learned. So if they want to stop the cycle of abuse in their families, they have to take action.
She added that it’s also not always men that start the cycle of abuse in a family. Elena’s husband learned abusive behavior from his mother — a fact Elena did not learn until several months after she married him.
And while Elena asked not to disclose her last name, she agreed to share her story because she wants to help free other undocumented women from the physical, psychological and verbal abuse they are suffering from abusive husbands in the United States.
She also commended Shelter from the Storm for providing her with the therapy as well as shelter and support to get back on her feet and create a new life for herself and her son.
“My son was the one who really inspired me to end the nightmare,” she said. “Abusive behavior is learned. I didn’t want my son to grow up like that.”
For more information about Shelter from the Storm and the resources that are available in the Coachella Valley and Riverside County for battered and abused women, please visit www.shelterfromthestorm.com or call (760) 674-0400. The Crisis Line is (760) 328-7233.