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
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
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
“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
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
She grabbed her son, threw all her belongings in a backpack,
withdrew $500 from her bank account and took a Greyhound bus to
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
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
“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
“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
Crossroads also provides outreach services, such as community
education programs, counseling for community members and
presentations in local high schools on recognizing domestic
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.”
Crossroads Safehouse: 482-3535