To live in an abusive relationship is to live in an elaborate trap. For Sophia*, and for many just like her, it took a collaborative effort for her and her two young children to escape.
Sophia arrived at SAFE’s shelter with a lot of fear – for herself and her children. She did not have custody of her kids at the time, which was part of the power and control issues that kept her in a long-term abusive relationship with her spouse. The same types of abuse had occurred through generations in her family.
In fact, different kinds of generational abuse – such as domestic violence, sexual abuse, and child maltreatment – are all too common. That’s part of the reason why Austin Children’s Shelter and SafePlace officially merged this year. SAFE was formed to more effectively address the intersectionality of abuse across generations.
The role of SAFE Futures in preventing abuse
SAFE Futures provides advocacy, education, and support to families and fathers in the community who are at risk of abuse and neglect. SAFE Futures and other SAFE programs provided Sophia and her children advocacy, support, safety planning, education, and legal assistance. The SafePlace shelter gave her and her children a place to stay and feel secure. The support of Sophia’s religious community helped provide guidance and support.
In Sophia’s case, it was no longer safe for her school-age child to attend the religious school where they were enrolled. Her child being able to attend the George M. Kozmetsky Charter School not only kept them up on their studies, but also provided necessary dietary accommodations based on their religious needs.
Sophia met with the SAFE Community Advocacy Department legal team, who advised her on her legal options. She was able to obtain joint custody of her children while at the SafePlace shelter, which helped give them the chance to start the healing process and allowed Sophia more freedom to make decisions to keep her and her children safe. While in the shelter, the family received therapeutic support, attended traditional support groups and art support groups. Sophia even attended free acupuncture services offered to survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.
Through SAFE Futures, Sophia took advantage of the Domestic Violence 101 course available to survivors involved in the Child Protective Services system. This class helped Sophia better understand the power and control dynamics and allowed her and her family to begin getting connected with SAFE services. She also attended Protective Parenting courses, where she really began to understand the generational cycle of abuse while picking up tools to help her keep her family safe.
SAFE Future’s efforts to prevent abuse
The advocacy Sophia received was made possible as a result of the ongoing work that SAFE Futures has done at the intersection of domestic violence and child abuse. SAFE Futures, formerly Prevention Advocacy, has spent eight years developing supports and programming for domestic violence survivors who are also involved with the CPS system. SAFE Futures staff worked directly with Sophia and her CPS caseworker to create safety for her and her children. Through advocacy and SAFE services Sophia began to find her voice and grew confident in using it to protect herself and her children.
When Mom is safer, children are safer. With the help of SAFE Futures, the shelter, managers, staff, SAFE attorneys, SAFE therapists, and support from other areas of the community, Sophia decided she had the strength to make leaving possible.
She has been tearful and sad about the difficulties of leaving her husband and the fantasies that she once had for her family. It has also been challenging and emotional for her children to experience all of the change in their lives. However, Sophia says she feels freer, and she smiles when she talks about it.
She says she has made profound self-discoveries along the way.
*name changed to protect survivor’s identity