One of the most commonly held beliefs about domestic violence is that if the victim leaves the abusive relationship, the abuse will end, said Peggy Wright, the sexual assault and counseling director of the Fort Bend Women’s Center.
“It is not unusual for abuse to continue months, if not years, after the relationship ends,” Wright countered. “For example, verbal or physical abuse during the exchange of the children, legal system abuse — constantly filing frivolous suits — to bankrupt the victim and sabotaging the victim’s jobs are common tactics used long after a break-up or divorce.”
Additionally, Wright noted, the most dangerous time for a victim is after leaving the abusive relationship.
“When you hear about a woman being murdered, you will most often hear then the murderer is an estranged boyfriend or husband, indicating that she was probably killed soon after leaving the relationship,” she said.
The topics of domestic violence and sexual assault are unfortunately surrounded by several fallacies, Wright stressed. Including that such violence only happens to women.
“These crimes happen to men as well,” she said, explaining that the center serves men of all ages. “We are called Fort Bend Women’s Center, but we help any and all victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.”
In 2018, the center assisted 23 male clients with services such as counseling, medical care, crisis intervention, legal assistance, relocation assistance, transportation, housing search and clothing.
“Sometimes it just seems to be too horrible to be true, and yet it is,” Wright said.
“If you haven’t experienced domestic violence or sexual assault personally, it’s very hard to imagine that anyone could act to violently against someone they say they love. But, the crime is becoming more and more visible through wide access to media and other outlets, so people are beginning to recognize this type of violence as a very prevalent problem.”
‘INTEGRAL SUPPORT SERVICES’
The Fort Bend Women’s Center is the only full-service domestic violence and sexual assault emergency shelter and crisis hotline in Fort Bend.
The center served 1,289 new clients in 2018 and as of June 2019 has assisted 468 clients. But, Wright noted, “this does not include the thousands that sought our help but either had to be referred to another organization due to lack of space or to have other issues addressed.
“The need is still very present in our community.”
In 2020 the center will celebrate its 40th anniversary in the community, having grown from a “tiny house that only sheltered a few victims” to the new housing program that will house as many as 72 families simultaneously.
“In the last 40 years, we have become the primary Fort Bend County provider of free, integral support services for survivors,” Wright said.
The center provides 24- hour emergency shelter and a crisis hotline, as well as long term support services including: counseling, case management, legal advocacy, employment and education assistance, children’s services, rape crisis services, rental assistance and transportation.
The center also has “a history of successfully identifying and adopting innovative approaches to victim services to address the trauma of abuse and break the cycle of violence,” Wright added.
“Over the past 10 years, Fort Bend Women’s Center has been serving survivors with increasingly complex emotional, psychological and physical needs. Many have experienced abuse throughout their lives and have suffered traumatic brain injury due to head trauma and-or strangulation.”
On top of the additional positive reinforcement, motivational interviewing and mobile advocacy services offered, the center has also introduced a behavioral therapy, called neurofeedback training, to help clients living with brain injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health disorders.
“We are currently the only agency to offer this therapy to domestic violence and sexual assault victims,” Wright said.
THE 2019 HEALING & HOPE LUNCHEON
As 2020 approaches, Wright said the center has several goals in mind — like “increase our abilities to help more survivors and their families to achieve safety and independence, free of violence and fear” — and to continue spreading awareness, education and working with the community to end the cycle of violence.
True to this effort, is hosting its 4th Annual Healing and Hope Luncheon on Oct. 17, featuring Elizabeth Smart, whose story about abduction and abuse became one of the most followed nationwide cases of child abduction in the early 2000s.
Smart was abducted from her own bed in the middle of the night on June 5, 2002. For the following nine months, Smart was victimized before being found by police and returned to her home on March 12, 2003.
At the center’s Healing and Hope Luncheon, Smart will share her personal story and how she transformed from victim to advocate, traveling the country to educate others and advocate for change in child abductions, recovery programs and national legislation.
“All of our clients have been victimized in horrific ways, whether it was through sexual abuse or physical violence,” said Wright. “Elizabeth was also victimized when she was kidnapped by her abuser. Not only can she relate from the perspective of a child victim but she can provide hope for all victims and show that they can survive and thrive after their abuse.”
“We feel Elizabeth offers so many teachings on how a survivor can find healing and succeed after being victimized but also how the people and community around them can help with that process,” Wright added.
The Healing and Hope Luncheon is Fort Bend Women’s Center’s annual keynote event, in recognition of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. This year’s event was relocated to Marriott Sugar Land Town Square to increase capacity and it is already sold out with 440 attendees, tracking to raise $95,000.
MOVED TO ACT
Several months ago there was an exhibit on display in the community called “What Were You Wearing,” and it was here that Carolyn Arnim made her first contact with the Fort Bend Women’s Center.
“As outreach coordinator for my church I wanted to see what it was all about,” Arnim said. “The exhibit was incredibly powerful and moving.”
The exhibit, created by the Women’s Center, showcased mannequins in outfits with sexual assault stories written by Fort Bend County residents.
People still believe that a woman can provoke sexual assault by the way she was dressed or if her “behavior is perceived as promiscuous,” Wright said.
“That type of thinking is comparable to an excuse such as ‘Well, you had a $100 dollar bill sticking out of your pocket so I felt like it was mine to take.’ Careless decisions or behaviors do not give others a right to commit a crime against you,” Wright said. “People who buy into this rationale do not give men who do not rape the credit they deserve.”
The exhibit was an effort to make the public aware of and to stop the trend of victim-blaming.
While viewing the exhibit, Arnim learned about the center’s STARS Volunteer Auxiliary and chose to attend one of the meetings where she signed up for the center’s Sexual Assault Advocate Training, which is a 40-hour certification course.
“This led me on a three-week journey where I had the privilege of hearing from local leaders and experts in the fields of domestic violence and sexual assault. Upon receiving my certification, I was able work directly with Fort Bend Women’s Center clients,” she said. “The more time I spent engaged with [the center’s] activities, the more I realized I knew nothing about how to really help domestic violence and sexual assault survivors in our community.”
Arnim has been a volunteer for more than a year now, and in that time at least one truth has made itself abundantly clear: domestic abuse can happen to anyone.
“It does not discriminate based on economic status, religion, race, gender or sexual orientation,” she said. “I’ve also learned that abusers don’t come with a warning label.
“Most people have the misconception that abusers are abusive because they lack self-control. When in fact, they are actually in complete control of what they are doing. That is why they can exist in our community undetected, they are superstars at their jobs, maybe even attend church every week and no one would suspect or believe that they are capable of abuse.”
Arnim said the center’s leaders and staff have a commitment to survivors that “is contagious and inspiring,” and that “we can all want to support domestic violence and sexual assault victims, but we can’t execute the healing process without the proper training.”
“The Fort Bend Women’s Center took my casual interest to get involved and upgraded it,” she said. “They didn’t just train me for a cause. They equipped me for a lifetime.”
For more information about the Fort Bend Women’s Center visit www.fbwc.org. The center’s Crisis Hotline can be reached at: 281-342-HELP (4357)