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Haven Hills Addresses the Issues of Why Victims Don’t Leave PDF Print E-mail
Written by Diana Martinez | Editor   
Thursday, 18 October 2012 03:22


Sara J. Berdine (Executive Director) and Emily Janes (Outreach Program Coordinator) stand by “Walk in her shoes.” instalation at their office.

This is Part 2 in a series of stories on the complex issue of domestic violence, Haven Hills, the people who work there and those who seek their help. Those that make their way to Haven Hills in the San Fernando Valley are the lucky ones.

They have found a lifeline to stop the violence, and are detached from the people who have selfishly controlled them. Domestic violence, a far more common and widespread problem that continues to be underreported, is an issue that is still discussed in very hushed tones and is often swept under the family rug.

When hearing of domestic violence, the knee jerk reaction can be dismissive, with a retort to ask, "Why the victim just doesn't leave?" But oftentimes, "just leaving" isn't an option for many.

Ivy Panlilio, program director at Haven Hills, a domestic violence agency based in the San Fernando Valley points out that leaving isn't easy for those who would be without basic needs.

"If you don't work or don't have a job or money in the bank …then where do you go? It comes down to money and having a roof over your head…It's scarey to be homeless and scarey to be homeless with children," Panlilio explained.

The staff at Haven Hills refers to their clients as "survivors." "We see that people who go through this experience are survivors and they are very strong.

When your life is connected to a person who is hurting you directly and indirectly it isn't easy to uproot yourself. They need money for food. If people don't have money to have food, what is the option? Starving or staying in a home, where there is food?" Panlilio said.

Haven Hills offers both emergency and transitional housing for victims of domestic abuse, and the job is a challenging one as one of only two shelters in the San Fernando Valley. Outreach as well as funding and responding to needs is among the many daily factors they must balance.

The staff must have a variety of skills and education, along with compassion; being at the forefront of understanding that many victims don't realize there is a way out. And many may not know that there is a facility like Haven Hills for them and for others caught in the cycle of abuse. The hold their abuser has on them can be complicated, confusing and hard to detach.

"It's so hard when you don't have a support system," Panlilio points out. "That's what our shelters and our nonresidential centers provide, and we give them temporary housing and basic needs with food and clothing, so they can escape and they aren't without. We help them get job skills and so that they can eventually become independent."

Many who don't get help, however, return to the batterer who vehemently apologizes and promises that the abuse won't happen again. They recall their relationship initially which wasn't abusive and believe that it can return to what their relationship once was. But without intervention, the abuse reoccurs and can escalate.

Haven Hills had one client who was stabbed several times in her neck, and when she found herself in the hospital she finally knew that this time she could have lost her life. The abuse had escalated and become a matter of life and death.

"Women often have to go through many near death experiences and may still go back to the batterer," described Panlilio. "This client who came to our shelter after being stabbed, came with her children and they needed long-term service and support.

"Our housing program is an 18-month program. With the emotional connection and the financial connection, batterers do have control over the victim. When they do finally realize that they do need to leave and they do open their eyes, it does take a lot of strength."

Cynthia (not her real name) recalled her days as a college student living with her boyfriend who she said, "everyone loved for his smile" and thought was such a nice guy.

"They never knew what I went through," Cynthia said. "He hit me and beat my spirit down and told me I was disgusting. I was too ashamed to tell my family or tell anyone. People thought I was smart, and wouldn't have understood."

Cynthia told the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol that she is still troubled by her past years later.

"It is still unresolved for me," she said. "I don't know how anyone could have hurt me the way he did. I guess I still need to understand it.

"How can someone could spit in your face and slam your head against the wall? Then say, he's sorry and won't do it again and begs forgiveness? The lovemaking afterward was always intense. He started by breaking the little treasures that I collected.

Once when things got bad, I told his sisters, but they said that they thought everything looked fine and didn't see our apartment in disarray even though I told them that, of course, I would clean it up."

Cynthia said after they broke up, she later heard that he spoke ill of her to his family as his justification for hitting her.

"I will always regret that I never completed my college education because of what happened to me. The impact of being beaten as a young woman was devastating and I wasn't able to realize all of my goals and this has impacted my career too," she said.

"He went on with his life and married someone else and they divorced. Before they got married, I tried to warn her but she didn't believe me. I later heard that she suffered the same way. Now, he's married again. I wonder if she is suffering the same abuse?"

A partner who has battered previous partners will most likely batter again, said Panlilio, unless they do the hard work that it takes to change their pattern. Media and society plays a role in perpetuating violence, Panlilio maintains, through it's programming and the video games that even very young children see and play every day.

Violence, she said, is a learned behavior and is ignored as commonplace. "There are so many mixed messages given to us as a society and violence is portrayed in a way that makes it acceptable and we become numb and feel that we can't do anything about it and we ignore it," Panlilio said.

Advocating for services for men and women who are abusers is the other side of the coin that needs to be considered and there are too few services for them, Panlilio maintains.

"It's very sad because I work at a domestic violence agency and we advocate for the victim, and we don't do a lot of work with the batterers. Forcing people to go to anger management classes after they're convicted isn't enough. That kind of curriculum doesn't mean you are resolving your anger or how not to hurt other people.

"When you put batterers in a room, they aren't happy about being there and might even learn new things from each other. They don't get to the root of their issues," Panlilio said.

"Unless we provide services for them and they become part of the movement to end domestic violence, it will continue. More men need to stand up and join this movement [to end domestic violence]."

Next week: the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol talks to those involved in an organization that works with men who have battered. If you or someone you know is a victim of abuse, call the confidential, 24-hour Crisis Line at (818) 887-6589.

Last Updated on Thursday, 18 October 2012 03:23