Domestic Violence is tough topic. It’s hard for the victim to admit and accept that it is happening to them. It is hard for family members to understand and know how to help. It is taboo to talk about it in public. There is one place, however, in Monmouth County where from the first phone call to the hotline, where it is ok to admit, talk about, and get help for the epidemic that is sweeping our nation. That place is 180 Turning Lives Around, Inc.
As a victim of severe physical violence, I felt that since my abuser was in jail and soon to be in prison for at least 5 years that I was safe, at least for the time. It was strongly suggested by a DCP&P worker to call 180, and to start the program on my own (or I would be mandated by the court to go). I went thinking I would “do my time” and just leave. What actually happened was amazing. I found myself surrounded by women that were just like me; hurt, scared, and ready to move on with their lives. Over the next two years, I was a regular member of multiple support groups, found the strength to share my story with others, and went back to school to get (eventually) my MSW.
Today, I want to share with you the experience I was able to have, five years after the abuse stopped with the wonderful women who man the court advocacy program. Early in the month of September 2015, I received an email notification that my abuser would be released from State Prison. Suddenly, it was as if he was right there beside me. I became anxious, and scared and aware that he would immediately try and contact me when he got out of prison. We have a child together, and I was sure he would use my sweet child as a vehicle to begin the abuse all over again. I immediately went to the court and filed for a temporary restraining order. To my surprise, as soon as I began to speak about the abuse (the last physical assault was in 2009) I started to shake and cry. Just talking about this man put me right back to where I was five years prior and I was terrified. The parole officer and hearing officer were amazing. They listened to me, took everything I said into consideration, and issued me my temporary restraining order. I was told it may be difficult to serve him while in prison, but to come back on the following Wednesday for the trial for the final order.
I went back on Monday, since I received an email that he would be released earlier than thought to speak to the judge. I spoke with Sally* from the 180 office instead. She calmed me down, spoke with me and told me to come in on Wednesday for the scheduled court date. Wednesday came and I was a mess. I met with Sally* before seeing the judge and was informed that even though he was still in prison he had not been served and I would not have my trial that day. I was so angry and upset. How could this happen? If the state could not serve a man serving a prison sentence, how could they ever find anyone? My trial was rescheduled for two weeks from that day and I was sent on my way. Before I could leave, Sally* took me to the side, and told me to be safe, and if I needed anything to call her (she gave me her card) or the 180 office; she was my calm in the tumultuous storm I was drowning in.
The day of the trial came, and this time I was greeted by Laura*, the other 180 advocate in the court. From the moment that I entered the waiting room, her calm demeanor helped me through one of the hardest and terrifying days of my life. She sat in the courtroom with me. When my abuser walked through the door and stared at me, trying to intimidate me, she helped me move my seat, spoke to the sheriffs officer (to let him know what my abuser was doing), and made me feel safe. What was amazing was I was not the only one there that day. She was able to help me calm down, while still helping the others in the courtroom. During the very long trial, when the judge needed to take a break to look at all the paperwork that was handed in, she helped me to the bathroom so that I could wash my face and take a breath. She told me that I was doing a great job and told me to be strong and brave. Her words and presence were everything I needed right at that moment. She was my ally, my life preserver, my friend. When the trial came to an end, and I was given my final restraining order, she was there to give me a hug, tell me that I was brave, and to give me a tissue so that I could wipe away the tears of relief that were streaming down my face.
That day, five years from the last physical assault, was terrifying. I am not sure if I would have had the strength to endure that day, had it not been for the support of Sally* and Laura*at the courthouse. I cannot imagine having to be alone, to deal with this type of trauma without them. So I take this opportunity to not only thank 180 Turning Lives Around, Inc for helping to save my life and the lives of my children, but to thank Sally* and Laura* for being there, right next to me in court. There are not enough words or even the right words I can use to explain how their mere presence, gave me the strength to speak my truth, and get the protection that I need for my family. For that I will be eternally grateful. You are my angels. I thank you forever for what you have given me. Peace of mind, a restful night, and safety.
*Names have been changed to ensure safety