The Eva Foundation: How One Woman’s Struggle to Leave Domestic Violence Became a Campaign to Help Countless Others

        

 
      Have you ever met someone whose hardship inspired them to change their world?
I met Eva at a local writer’s conference. Her quiet and gentle presence belied the fact that her fight to save the lives of her and her sons has touched thousands of lives of domestic violence victims in Alaska. Though still concerned about her safety now that her former husband is out of jail, she agreed to tell her story.
Thank you so much, Eva!
1) Please tell me a bit about your relationship. What were the early signs of abuse? When did you become of aware that things weren’t healthy?
My relationship was classic. We met on New Year’s Eve, he called two days later and then called almost every day, said I love you by Valentine’s Day. We moved in together in March, were engaged in May, and got married in November.
I ignored warning signs when we dated. Two times he got angry and yelled at me and he often made comments that were demeaning to women and was unreasonably jealous. 
Once we were married, he put me down and got angry if I said or did anything he didn’t approve of. When I was pregnant with our first son after two years of marriage, he began pushing me. Even after he threatened me with a knife, I kept thinking we would be able to work things out. He would say he was sorry and cry, and I believed if I just worked harder we could have a good marriage.
During our first few years together, I made excuses that the outbursts were just part of being a new couple adjusting to marriage and dismissed the seriousness by convincing myself that all couples go through bad times. No marriage is perfect and everyone has fights. 
 Six or seven years into the marriage, he started pulling guns on me. I knew it was wrong but by then was so afraid, exhausted and demoralized that I could not think of a way to leave.
2) What were the circumstances around your leaving?
His violence was escalating and he was more vicious; choking me, locking me in the unheated garage, throwing me down stairs and then he started talking about killing our children (we had two boys).  He jabbed me in the back with a loaded hunting rifle on a Saturday in January 2004. Tuesday of the same week he threatened to kill himself, and I called the suicide prevention line. They told me I had to call 911, and after some hesitation I called 911. The police talked with him but did not arrest him.
I did not want to go home to him. I took the boys and stayed at a motel one night, and stayed the next night with a friend. The second night he was arrested for telling the police he was going to hunt his wife down and kill her. Once he was in jail, I had the courage to tell my family (I had hidden it all for 12 years). Then a policewoman working my case said to me, “Sit down. You and I are going to have a little chat.  He is going to kill you. You have to leave him.”  
I knew then that I was never going back to him. 
3) What were helpful ways family or friends supported you while in or after leaving your relationship?
My family and friends rallied around my children and me.  They came to my house and packed up our personal items and some furniture, gave me money when I had none, arranged for a mini van to drive when my husband’s parents had his truck repossessed and taken away from me. Friends out of state sent encouraging emails and letters and three of them told me their stories of abuse.
 
4) Tell us about the Eva Foundation? How can people donate or get involved?  
My husband had attacked me several months before his arrest and he ripped my glasses off and twisted them beyond repair. For months I had been wearing a really old, large, heavy, outdated pair of glasses I dug out of drawer. 
My friend Sharon Athas Cote met me for lunch about two weeks after my husband was arrested. In the course of the meal I placed my hands on the table and said, “Look how awful my fingernails are. I look at them and realize that I don’t take care of myself anymore.” 
Sharon and her friend Carla Culbreth decided to get me a new pair of glasses and a manicure, pedicure and haircut. They got to talking about where women leaving abuse could go to get those kinds of services affordably, and saw there wasn’t any place. They decided to start a foundation with the mission of helping survivors of abuse regain their self confidence and build toward a healthy abuse free life.
In 2004, they started the foundation and asked if they could name it after me. The Eva Foundation. I was in the process of leaving the state to live in hiding  from my soon to be ex husband and had no idea that 8 years later the Eva Foundation would have helped almost 1,000 women, children and men. 
The Eva Foundation provides goods and services such as clothing, house wares, resume writing, haircuts, manicures, school and rental assistance, furniture, linens, groceries and gasoline. We have a Cakes for Kids program that provides a birthday cake and presents for kids at domestic violence shelters and a Pet Program that pays for vet services and other pet necessities so the victim can keep their pet after they leave an abusive situation.
Want to get involved in making a difference?
Visit the Eva Foundation’s website at  and fill out a volunteer or donation http://www.evafoundationalaska.org/form.  Hold a gift card drive at work or in your church group to benefit survivors.    
On November 24th, the Eva Foundation will be having the annual Christmas Tree Elegance Gala, a benefit that last year alone raised more than $140,000 to benefit domestic violence survivors and their families.
For more information, visit the Eva Foundation online or call 907-632-5666.
Nationally, the R.O.S.E. fund assists victims in need of reconstructive surgery to repair the impact of domestic violence. Contact them at http://www.rosefund.org
   
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The Furry Victims of Domestic Violence

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness month.
 
There are a lot of reasons an abuse victim remains in a violent relationship. Want to know the reason up to half of battered women interviewed give for not leaving their violent partner?
Fear of what would happen to their pet(s) if they fled, leaving the pet behind.
 
The fear is not unfounded.
It turns out, people aren’t the only victims of domestic violence. Household pets are injured by the abuser as well. One study in the state of Wisconsin indicated nearly 70 percent of the  abuse victims interviewed stated their partner had hurt or killed a pet or livestock, and three-quarters of the incidents occurred in front of the victims or their children as a control tactic.
According to Alaska Friends of Pets board member Ruth Quinlan, her agency was recently contacted by a victim who would not leave her abuser until her 3 cats could be safe. A pet foster home was secured through their Safe Haven program  before the victim went to the local shelter.  After she secured safe housing, the woman and her cats were reunited.
At a interdisciplinary work group, I   heard a police officer talk about a German shepherd who was missing more teeth each time the officer was called to the home to respond to a domestic disturbance. No one admitted to violence in the home, and subsequently no arrests could be made without obvious injuries or other evidence. The calls kept coming in until finally the victim was ready to talk. By then, the shepherd
was nearly toothless.
But there is hope.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) is working to train district attorneys and veterinarians so that animal abuse can be prosecuted vigorously. They can also refer abuse victims to resources in their area that can assist in the domestic violence crisis.
Programs like Friends of Pets Safe Haven Program in Anchorage or Friends of Animals in Utah exist in many states.
How you can help
Report animal abuse when you see it. According to Ruth, who ran a battered women’s shelter in the past, animal abuse can be an indicator of domestic abuse towards the rest of the family. Look at the ASPCA’s website for guidelines on how.
Donate to your local nonprofit that deals with animal abuse. In Alaska, it’s Friends of Pets.
You can specify that your donation goes to the Safe Haven Rescue portion of the Friends of Pets program.
Support your local ASPCA. Shop at their thrift stores if one’s available. The ASPCA has more than 100 years of protecting animals from harm nationally.
Family violence is rampant in our country. Let us  not forget to help those who have no power to make it stop.
(The animals in this post are models only, and yes, the camera makes them look heavier than they really are. No real foster animals were filmed in order that victim confidentiality be maintained.)
ASPCA Government Relations Department 
Email contact: lobby@aspca.org
National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence 
http://www.ncdsv.org/
National Network to End Domestic Violence 
http://www.nnedv.org/
Office on Violence against Women 
www.usdoj.gov/ovw/
Pet-Abuse.com 
Email contact: info@pet-abuse.com
http://www.pet-abuse.com/

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My Path to Authorhood/ Alaska Writer’s Guild 2012 Conference

Have you ever gone to a conference or workshop that left you feeling invigorated, even in the face of apparent hopelessness?

At the Alaska Writer’s Guild’s 2012 conference http://www.alaskawritersguild.com/events?eventId=451830&EventViewMode=EventDetails this weekend, I learned that getting my memoir (about domestic violence and recovering my internationally abducted children successfully, fueled by the memories of my own kidnapping’s aftermath) traditionally published will be as likely as giving birth to conjoined twins. Post-hysterectomy. At age 48. Unless, of course, I do everything I can to have the book in perfect shape and develop a solid marketing plan before pitching it to agents.

It’s less discouraging than it sounds.

It turns out, I’ve been doing a number of things right already.

What I’ve done right:

  • Participating regularly in a writer’s group for peer critiques.
  • Creating  a blog that covers key word topics that are emphasized in my book. Domestic violence. International parental child abduction. Finding missing loved  ones.
  • Blogging consistently

 

But from each of the presenters I’ve heard thus far, there’s much more I must do.

From author/publishing guru Jerry Simmons (nothingbinding.com) I learned that it’s the breadth of writing that matters. Another words, my second book will boost sales of my first, provided their in the same genre. The third would boost the sales of the first and second book. And so on.

From literary agent Gordon Warnock from the Andrea Hurst Agency (http://www.andreahurst.com/) , I learned that that having a great pitch is key. He liked when an author of young adult lit told him her books was as if  “David Lynch met Juno.” He gave some great websites I’d  never heard of to assist debut authors to find an agent, and said writers should go to bookstores every week to look at titles and sales of books similar to their own.

Author Susan Meissner suggested fiction authors consider giving their characters the free version of the Myers-Briggs test and write the results so they can keep their characters consistent, and gave an outline of how to write 300 pages in 30 days.

Author Jan Harper Haines provided engaging writing exercises for writing both memoir and fiction, and gave out a handout that offered some challenges. My favorite? Dare to suck!

So, dear blog readers, you are an integral part of my future.  I plan to follow the directions given, but will need your help.

What I can do better:

  • My pitch: Betty Mahmoody meets Erin Brockovich. Does that sound alright? 
  • Commit to grow my blog traffic to 10,000 hits a month
  •  Locate guest bloggers on relevant topics to the book.
  • Offer a short story on Kindle for the holidays excerpted from my book for 99 cents.
  •  Strive to connect with other writers and readers, and increase the number of comments left by my weekly blog readers.
Do you have any tips for burgeoning authors? Any feedback is welcome.
Thanks goes to the Alaska Writer’s Guild for hosting accessible and affordable annual conferences in Anchorage. With the help of the annual conference and the connections I’ve made through this blog, I know that my goal of becoming an author is within reach.
Agent Gordon Warnock

 

Publishing guru Jerry Simmons
Author Jan Harper Haines
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Making Domestic Violence Disappear: A New Twist on an Old Problem

Today, I watched You Tube make-up artist and sensation Lauren Luke’s public service announcement about domestic violence, titled How to Look Your Best the Morning After.(http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/domestic-violence-psa-disguised-a-makeup-tutorial-battered-women-article-1.1108515?localLinksEnabled=false)
 
At face value, her video appears to tutor battered women on how to conceal their injuries.
As of this writing, her public service announcement has had 638,824 on You Tube. Now, that’s impact.
 
But not everyone likes Ms. Luke’s efforts. It seems some complain that teens could be exposed to the message about violence in relationships when all they really wanted was another of Luke’s tutorials on how best to use makeup.
 
Oh, please.
If a teenage girl has a television or a few friends, she knows more than she should about how a dating relationship can quickly turn into a health hazard.
 
According to the Center for Disease Control, nearly 10 percent of high school students report being intentionally struck by their boyfriend or girlfriend in the year prior to the 2009 survey. 
 
Adults victims surveyed report that 1 in five women and 1 in 7 men who experienced a form of intimate partner violence first experienced a form of domestic abuse between the ages of 11 and 17. http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/intimatepartnerviolence/teen_dating_violence.html  
Domestic violence is best bred in secrecy. When victims believe their experience is unique, they are more likely to blame themselves. And if they blame themselves, they won’t be looking for outside help that could change everything.
Congratulations to Lauren Luke for putting the message on blast in an inventive way. Personally, I’d have loved it if someone reached out to my daughters when they were teens and reinforced the message.
 
Something like
Dear Teens,
Please know that you deserve to be treated well in your relationships. And you must treat the others with respect and dignity. There’s something very wrong if you aren’t safe with your sweetie, and you don’t have to endure the pain alone. Tell your friends. Text them. Facebook them. Tweet them. And watch Lauren Luke’s video on  You Tube. The whole thing, especially the closing comment.

65% of domestic violence victims keep it hidden.
 
Don’t cover it up.

For more information about domestic violence or the public service announcement, see http://refuge.org.uk/lauren/

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Not Judging Amy/ An Employer Responds to Domestic Violence

Tonight, I went to the University of Alaska, Anchorage’s (UAA)  screening of Telling Amy’s Story, a documentary sponsored by Verizon Wireless after their long-time Pennsylvania employee was shot at point blank range in her home by her husband while her parents and her children waited for her outside in an idling vehicle.

Long before Amy’s murder ten years ago, Verizon invested in employee trainings on family violence, teaching their managers the three R’s:

            1) Recognize the signs of domestic violence.
2) Respond in a manner that promoted respect to the victim and safety to coworkers.

3) Refer the victim to a local domestic abuse agency.

That’s more than most companies do, but it wasn’t enough to save thirty-three year-old Amy Homan McGee. After her life ended abruptly, her safe and sheltered Pennsylvania community was stunned. It wasn’t until police completed a fatality review in 2005 that family, friends, and coworkers interviews pieced together the pattern of control and intimidation she had been subjected to by her husband.

It’s surprised me that the film attracted more than fifty people in the Anchorage showing. It started at 5:30 at night, after work or school for most of us. But in Alaska, the prevalence of domestic violence is high in a state with otherwise relatively low crime rate.

Nationally, 1 of every 4 women in the United States has or will experience domestic violence, according to the Center for Disease Control’s 2008 data.

In Alaska, it’s 1 out of 2 women, according to UAA’s Justice Center figures from 2010.

Of all the women murdered in America, 50% were killed by their current or former husband or lover, according to the Department of Justice in 2007.

For murdered men, that figure is 5%.

Telling Amy’s Storygives those in her life who outlived her a chance to process their devastation as they struggle to find where missed points for intervention occurred.

Most of us will have a friend, a daughter, a mother, or sister who will experience interpersonal violence within their lifetimes. Do you know what local resources in your community can help?

Pennsylvania Detective Deirdri Fishel said it best; “If you can’t be safe in your own home, does it matter if your community is safe?”

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Take It From Me: Supporting Your Abused Friend While Staying Safe and Sane

DO

  • Tell her she deserves to be treated well.
  • Tell her you’re concerned for her safety .
  • Ask questions like “Why do you think he/she does that?”
  • Limit how much time you spend listening to her vent.
  • Report abuse of children in the home, or of children witnessing the violence to child protective services.
  • Refer her to get help at the local domestic violence agency.
DON’T

  • Tell her, “I’d never put up with that.”
  • Tell her to leave her abuser.
  • State your negative opinion about her abuser.
  • Think you can rescue her.
  • Judge her decision to stay in the relationship.
  • Become her cheerleader or get invested in her decisions.

Your loved one in an abusive relationship feels plenty of judgment already. No need to add to the pressure.

A few explanations are necessary.

Why not tell her to leave her abuser?

Because more women are seriously injured or killed when leaving a violent relationship, not while remaining in it. She alone will live with the consequences of leaving, not you.

Limit how much time you spend listening to her vent. Now that’s always been a controversial one. I nearly burned through a couple of relationships, leaning so hard on a couple of friends I dared to share my scary secrets with.  It’s a lot of pressure to put on the listener. And because we’re all human, it leads the well-meaning friend or family member to become invested in the choices of the abused. After all, how long do any of us want to hear the same version of the depressing story, over and over again?

Don’t cheerlead. By that I mean, don’t say, “I knew you could do it!” if your friend leaves her partner, or gets a job, or whatever.  It seems nice. It seems harmless, right? But in the end, your abused friend, who wants your approval, may feel pressured to be less than honest with you when she waffles on her choices.

It takes most women several tries before she’s able to leave her violent relationship for good.  Pace yourself. Take care of yourself. You’ll be a better support in the long run.

What tips do you have to maintaining your support of an abused friend while staying safe and staying sane? Leave a comment below.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, and welcome to my new blog.

As I write, fireworks are sounding all around me. It’s 12:00AM in Alaska, 2012, and I’m packing to go on a big fat adventure. Vietnam and Laos. Perhaps the only two countries in the world where I won’t feel broke.
But first, about the blog.
I used to wonder why any non-celebrity would bother to blog. Who cares what I think? What do I have to say, and why would it matter?
Recently, it came to me. In the span of a day, I had two different friends e-mail to ask how to help their respective friends who are in abusive relationships.
And I thought to myself, Connecting every once in a while is a good thing. Sharing my experiences, hearing from other people about theirs, that’s the point of a blog. That’s how it matters. And everyone has something to share than can benefit another person.
In 1990, while in my twenties, I left my own oppressive marriage and took my little daughters with me. I had a high school education, and was born in Kentucky of two parents who never had the chance to even get that far. Not surprisingly, I didn’t expect much.
Now, twenty-one years later, my two lovely daughters are both in college. I’m still single. I earned a master’s degree and work a job I adore, and am flying to the other end of the globe in a few hours by myself. Because I wanted to, and because I can.
My resolution this year is to connect more with others.
Thanks for letting me connect with you.
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