South Lake Tahoe not immune to domestic violence
For more information or to volunteer legal services, call the South Lake Tahoe Women’s Center at (530) 544-2118. Women who need help can call the confidential crisis line at (530) 544-4444.
(Editor’s Note: “Jen,” “Amy,” “Mandy,” and “Emma” are fictitious names used to protect the identity of the women who participated in this story. Ten domestic violence survivors were interviewed for this article.)
In the United States, a woman is battered every 15 seconds and children are just as often witnesses of abuse or are victims themselves.
South Lake Tahoe is not immune to such acts of violence.
After years of mental, emotional and physical abuse, 10 South Shore women are taking their lives back.
“He threatened to kill me a lot, but deep in my heart I never felt like a battered woman,” Jen said. “One day I got a handout from the crisis center class at Lake Tahoe Community College and I read it. It was like, whoever wrote this lived under our bed. For the first time, I actually said to myself, ‘I am an abused woman.’ So I took my kids and $2 and two suitcases and I left.”
Lois Denowitz, community educator at the South Lake Tahoe Women’s Center, said not every woman chooses to leave her situation. Some families opt for treatment.
“If their choice is to leave, we have a safety plan,” Denowitz said. “We work with people on educating themselves to make an informed decision, whatever that decision may be.”
Many women said when they found the strength to leave, they felt they had no place to go.
“It was to the point where I feared for my life,” Amy said. “I still thought I was trapped and then someone pointed me to the Women’s Center.”
The Women’s Center treats anyone affected by domestic abuse.
“Families can heal from domestic violence,” Denowitz said. “There’s treatment for everyone, the abused, the abusers and what we call the silent witnesses, who are the children.”
A 52-week batterers’ treatment program is available at the Women’s Center. The program is designed to break down the belief system which leads to abusive behavior.
Since attending the peer support group at the Women’s Center, survivors of domestic abuse said they’ve also changed the way they think. Part of that is looking back and recognizing warning signs of abuse and control.
“I was not allowed to go certain places or talk to friends or even my parents,” Amy said. “One time turns into 10 times until you are totally isolated.”
Mandy said once she learned to detect warning signals, she began to notice them in other people’s relationships, as well as her own.
“After learning these red flags I was radar, red flag woman,” she said, laughing. “I was so ultra-sensitive to red flags that I actually had to tone down my awareness.”
The peer support group had some advice for battered women who have not yet reached out for help.
“It’s important to know it takes a lot of courage to leave,” Emma said. “Leaving is harder than staying. But even though it’s hard to do, your life gets a lot better. It doesn’t happen overnight, but your life does get better.”
Getting help does not mean being judged, according to Denowitz, who said group discussions at the center are totally confidential.
“I just want other women to know (the Women’s Center) is here,” Amy said. “This is not a men-bashing group. We come here for us. If it wasn’t for this group, I’d still be wanting to get back with him. This group makes me strong and we can learn from each other’s stories.”
Jen said talking about love, loss and heartache has brought her a personal sense of empowerment. She is now in a healthy, non-abusive relationship.
Other women still struggle with their batterers. Some have lost their children to their abuser, and many of these women cannot afford legal representation.
“Some of us have had such a hard time getting lawyers to get custody of our kids back,” Emma said. “We need local attorneys to represent us free of charge.”
The need for such a service is crucial to survivors of domestic abuse, according to Denowitz, who said the center offers consultation but does not provide representation.
“I would like to put a challenge out to the attorneys in our town to take on one case, just one,” Denowitz said. “We need lawyers to represent domestic violence victims at the Women’s Center pro bono.”
The Women’s Center’s new building is located at 2941 Lake Tahoe Blvd. The building was bought through a low-cost loan from the Rural Community Assistance Corporation.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The following information was provided by the Women’s Center.
You may be a batterer if you:
– are very jealous
– sulk silently when upset
– have an explosive temper
– criticize and put down your partner a lot
– have difficulty expressing feelings
– drink heavily or use drugs
– believe that it is the male role to be in charge, and/or have contempt for women
– are protective of your partner to the point of being controlling
– are controlling of money, decisions or your partner’s behavior
– have broken things, thrown things at your partner, hit, shoved, or kicked your partner when angry
– were physically or emotionally abused by a parent
– have a father who abuses, (or abused) his wife
You may be a battered person if you:
– are frightened of your partner’s temper
– are often compliant because you are afraid to hurt your partner’s feelings or are afraid of your partner’s anger
– have the urge to “rescue” your partner when or because your partner is troubled
– find yourself apologizing to yourself or to others for your partner’s behavior when you are treated badly
– have been hit, kicked, shoved or had things thrown at you by your partner when he or she is jealous or angry
– make decisions about activities and friends according to what your partner wants or how your partner will react
– drink or use drugs
– have been abused as a child or see your mother abused
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