Nov 052003
 
Authors: Alicia Leonardi

It’s 9 a.m. on Thursday morning. Toni parks a red van, gets out,

walks around to the passenger side and opens the door for a younger

female.

Toni embraces the woman and helps the woman’s child out of the

vehicle. The woman breathes a sigh of relief. She is safe now.

The trio enters Crossroads Safehouse, Fort Collins’ only

battered women’s shelter and disappears into a back room.

Behind closed doors, Toni performs an initial screening to place

this woman in one of the shelter’s 12 rooms. As one of only 14

full-time staff at the shelter, she does many of these intakes. In

the first six months of 2003, Crossroads provided shelter to 113

women and 123 children.

At 61, Toni, who does not want her last name used for

confidentiality reasons, has seen life from both sides of the

intake desk. She has been working as an advocate at Crossroads

since 1997. She lived with abuse for the first 55 years of her

life.

Many young girls learn patterns of behavior from their mothers.

So did Toni. She said that since she was raised by an abusive

father and a passive mother, she came to regard patterns of abusive

behavior as normal.

“I knew to keep my mouth shut because that’s what (my mom) did,”

Toni said. “You grow up thinking you are a bad person so you

attract people who are going to treat you bad.”

Crossroads teaches that domestic abuse is not series of isolated

incidents. It takes the form of a cycle, where the relationships

begins happily, builds up to an abusive situation then cycles back

to a happy period.

As a child, Toni learned that she was not going to receive

positive attention from her father so she began to seek out

negative attention. Rather than hugs, Toni soon came to expect

frequent insults and beatings with a belt at the hands of her

father.

“He always told me ‘Who’s gonna have you? You can’t do

anything,'” Toni said. “He was an adult so you respect what they

say and do. . . but you know deep down in your soul. . . you know

they’re lying.”

Many of her father’s scathing remarks were echoed by Toni’s

first and second husbands.

At 15, Toni was engaged to her first husband. They married for

the first time in 1962. She said he was very kind, trusting and

supportive while they were dating but became both verbally and

physically abusive within their first year of marriage.

Until she finally divorced him in 1978, Toni left and returned

to her husband, whom she now refers to as “the idiot,” many times.

She estimated that they only lived together for about four years of

their 16-year marriage because she left him so often.

Toni was five-months pregnant with her fourth child when she

finally left “the idiot” for good.

She tossed her belongings into a garbage bag, grabbed her

children and went to a friend’s house. She did not go back. She had

a better life waiting for her.

Shortly after her divorce, Toni married her second husband in

1978. She said she did not foresee abuse in this second

relationship. It turned ugly within eight months.

In 1985, Toni got fed up with the abuse, left her abuser on the

East Coast and embarked on her first experience with domestic

violence shelters.

She grabbed her son, threw all her belongings in a backpack,

withdrew $500 from her bank account and took a Greyhound bus to

western Colorado.

In the 1980s, when Toni left her husband, awareness of domestic

violence was still a relatively new thing. Many early safe places

for women fleeing domestic violence were private homes rather than

organized shelters such as Crossroads.

Toni and her children stayed at the home of an elderly couple in

Utah while she worked with a local domestic violence center to

educate herself and put her life back together.

Within one day of her hurried departure, Toni’s husband tracked

her down, called her and apologized. She allowed him to follow her

out West.

In her work with domestic violence shelters, Toni has observed

that men often make empty promises but women will often believe

them because they care about their men and are eager to forgive

them.

“Oh my God, they’re so believable,” Toni said. “From the very

beginning they know what it is going to take to get back with us

and they’ll use whatever it takes.”

Crossroads statistics report that on average a woman will leave

and return to an abusive relationship seven times before either

leaving for good or being killed.

According to the Colorado Bureau of Statistics, 15 women in the

state of Colorado have been killed by their partners this year. The

Fort Collins Police Department officers have documented more than

450 domestic violence related offenses since the beginning of

2003.

“I always knew it wasn’t normal, that this was wrong,” Toni

said. “Life shouldn’t be this way. I just didn’t have the tools and

education to figure it out.”

When Toni’s husband rejoined her in Colorado, she says he

stopped drinking and sobered up but he still retained his alcoholic

tendencies. She told herself that since he was no longer drinking

and going on drunken rages that she was no longer in an abusive

situation, she said.

“The more I learned in training the more I realized I am still

in this,” Toni said. “I wasn’t going to be this hypocrite that told

women one thing and then didn’t follow my own advice.”

Toni divorced her second husband in 1997 and plans to avoid

romantic relationships for the rest of her life. She fears her

tendency toward becoming a victim is so deeply ingrained that it

will happen again if she were to pursue another relationship.

For Toni, education was the key that released her from 55 years

of abuse. As a victim’s advocate at Crossroads Safehouse, she aims

to educate other women so they can make informed choices to take

back control of their lives.

Crossroads provides women and their children with a safe place

to stay for up to six weeks while they find more permanent housing.

During their stay women can receive individual, group and family

counseling as well as legal assistance to make them aware of their

rights. Children staying at the shelter also attend group

counseling to learn communication skills, practice playing

non-violently and increase their self-esteem.

Crosstrails, a program organized through Crossroads, finds safe

and confidential temporary homes for any pets belonging to women

leaving abusive situations because pets are not allowed in the

Safehouse.

Crossroads also provides outreach services, such as community

education programs, counseling for community members and

presentations in local high schools on recognizing domestic

violence.

For emergency situations, the center maintains a 24-hour crisis

line and dispatches members of their domestic abuse response team

to the scene of domestic violence related offenses in which the

police have been called.

These team members advocate for the rights of the victim and let

her/him know what options they have for dealing with the abuse. In

cases where children are involved, a children’s advocate is sent to

the domestic abuse scene as well to offer support and comfort.

Advocate Lori Priest said Toni’s personal experience with

domestic violence allows her to empathize with clients.

“She has a really good idea why they are feeling the way they do

because she’s been there,” Priest said.

A five-week resident of the shelter has made the choice to

divorce her emotionally abusive husband because of the support she

has received from Toni, other women living at the shelter and the

rest of the Crossroads staff.

“They’re in the same situation as I am,” said the anonymous

victim who was helped by Toni. “Every woman is different but we’ve

all been abused. We’re all here to help each other.”

OUTBOX

Crossroads Safehouse: 482-3535

 

 

 

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